By Margie Mandli

Girl climbing a tall mountain at sunset

Mountain Climber by Rob, courtesy of Fotolia. Used with permission.

Have you ever met someone who was really ambitious? You know those kinds of people. They may even scare you. They never stop thinking or doing. Always on the run, trying to do the next best, great thing in the world. You wonder sometimes, “Where do they get their energy?” or “If I did half of what he/she did, I’d be okay.” Or, worse: You steer clear of them because they simply grate on your nerves. Why? Because maybe they make you feel like a slacker. Or, maybe you think they’re in the business of self-promotion?

Either way, sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in comparing yourself with others. Instead we should ask ourselves: What is healthy and unhealthy ambition? Today’s Gospel of Mark gives way to deep reflection of true ambition.

In one of his past homilies, Bishop Robert Barron commented on unhealthy ambition, “It is a dysfunctional desire for power and honor. God is described as all-powerful, and honor is a flag of virtue. It is the indicator that we use to show that something is good, or virtuous, but when sought as a means of boosting the ego, they become corrupt. That’s ambition in the negative sense.”

On the contrary, Barron says that a healthy ambition is total self-sacrifice for the common good. He adds, “Be magnanimous doing the little things, be as ambitious as you want, as long as it is done with great love.”

This got me thinking. How do we apply true ambition in our areas of life? Have I been guilty of unhealthy ambition? Recently, my pastor, Fr. Bob Weighner, gave a homily about work in our lives. He said, “We were all made for work—whether we are paid for it or not. Through our work, we are able to give God glory and to experience a deeper communion with each other and with God.”

That gave me good clarity in various facets of my life. Am I giving God glory in this or that task or responsibility? For further clarity, I examined my own life and compared and contrasted healthy and unhealthy ambition. Truth be told: I’ve seen some of this firsthand, and I’ve also been guilty of being on both sides of the spectrum on some of these ambitions. And, some of these insights were also provided by many generous peeps on Facebook. I hope these serve as a helpful compass!


Healthy Ambition Unhealthy Ambition
Servant leadership—being at the service
of those who’ve been entrusted to you in
the workplace; guiding, mentoring and coaching are the norms for the good of the overall business
Climbing your way to the top through gossip, slandering and dictating your ways; creating a culture of oppression and fear
Saying yes to a new project that expands your horizons and unveils new gifts you have to share Taking on more work that brings you further away from your primary vocation
as husband or wife
Healthy Ambition Unhealthy Ambition
Using your gifts to serve a need in your parish, i.e., teaching children, ministering
to the sick, leading a bible study; cleaning the parish
Creating negative favor toward your pastor to elevate your agenda; creating divisiveness within pockets of communities
Enthusiastically spreading the Gospel message through witness of your own life—being a positive force within the parish Preaching or judging others’ outwardly; assuming the worst in individuals
Healthy Ambition Unhealthy Ambition
Uncovering your children’s God-given talents by encouraging them to try new things in extracurricular activities and sports Living vicariously through your children and aggressively pushing them to be the next professional athlete at the age of 7
Teaching your children how to pray; bringing them to Mass and encouraging
a service-oriented family life
Being over-aggressive with your teens in the faith; not knowing when to let go or not knowing how/when to open the door to candid dialogue on questions they may have
Encouraging your kids’ to do well in school, recognizing their God-given potential Creating a god out of academics as the end in and of itself
Healthy Ambition Unhealthy Ambition
Total self-giving; being at the service of your spouse for the good of the marriage Making your priorities the priorities for your spouse; neglecting the needs of your spouse and family
Seeking out creative ways to find time
for one another
Seeking out ways to increase time with your friends
Creating order in the home through housework and organization Imposing unrealistic or unnecessary organization on your spouse, which causes unrest in the home


“Striving for excellence is definitely a Catholic way of life,” emphasized Fr. Bob. “However, there’s a difference between excellence for self-serving purposes and excellence for building the Kingdom of God.”

In the Gospel of Mark, Bishop Barron points out this difference, “James and John were thinking of thrones, great things, being at the right and left hand of Jesus, while it was the thieves who were at Christ’s right and left hand when he came into his Glory. Were James and John willing to assume those positions of crucified, self-forgetting love when their master came into his glory?”

Here are some questions to ponder as we think about ambition in our own lives:

  • Am I willing to totally give of myself in my primary vocation?
  • Am I able to do good things even when not noticed by others? Am I quick to post a good deed on Facebook as a way to promote myself?
  • Do I commit myself in relationships—in work, home or parish—out of pure love and good for the other? Or, do I use people for my own purpose?
  • Do I strive for excellence in all areas of life, knowing that God is the giver of all good gifts and being excellent will ultimately bring Him glory?

Only our Lord knows our true ambitions. However he makes clear for us his teaching, “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mark 10:43).

If you’d like to grow in true ambition, pray to Blessed Mother Teresa who lived a virtuous life in this regard and was famous for her words, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?’”


About the Author:

margie mandliMargie Mandli is a wife, mother, business owner and ministry servant. She has spent 25 years in marketing communications in the corporate sector and as the owner of GEM Communications and Consulting, LLC. She left the corporate world five years ago to follow what she considered a calling from God to use her gifts to help the Church in the New Evangelization. She has led a variety of communications efforts, including a lead marketing role for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Synod, which took place in June 2014; and currently sits on the Archdiocesan Synod Implementation Commission. Her most recent labor of love was serving as executive producer for the video Mass: The Heart of the Matter, a new piece intended to promote the Mass and Evangelization across the archdiocese. She led the marketing for the formation of a new regional school model, All Saints Catholic School of Kenosha. She is a 2011 Vatican II award recipient. As a parishioner of St. Anne Catholic Church, she is the Chair for the Evangelization Commission. Her greatest joy is her husband, Mark, and three children. Her favorite scripture is: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6)