How many times have you dreamed of striking it rich, having that corner office, living amongst the elite or walking into a room secure in the knowledge that every single person is at your command and whether they like it or not, they must openly respect and revere you? There’s a good reason why people use the term ‘drunk with power’. It’s intoxicating and addictive and you’d be surprised at the lengths I have seen some people go to attain, maintain and protect the type of life that they believe such power affords.
Perhaps your yearnings aren’t so narcissistic, but I would venture to say that most people are unrealistically and passionately drawn to something in life that they think will give them a sense of purpose—money, that seemingly ideal job, a particular lifestyle—yet most don’t realize the double edged sword that can accompany such realized dreams. Furthermore, most are not prepared to deal with what they would have to do or the sacrifices they would have to make in order to fulfill and sustain those dreams.
Consider for example, our favorite fictional president, Fitzgerald Grant. It’s fair to say that holding the title of the President of the United States conveys a certain degree of power. In fact, most regard the position to be the most powerful one in the world. It goes unsaid that President Grant needed ambition, determination, intelligence and foresight in order to move up to the highest rank in government. Like most entering public service, Grant most likely had dreams of making a real difference in the world. But this latest episode flashes back to the campaign trail during the presidential primaries and offers a behind the scenes look at the sacrifices, tactics and less than honorable deeds behind the making of a U.S. President. As Olivia is brought in to fix the dying Grant campaign, we become witness to the morally ambiguous and downright deceitful side of presidential politics.
Needless to say, Grant, his administration and his family have much to gain by winning the presidency. What they and those around them are willing to do to secure that power knows no bounds. And even though they can delude themselves into thinking that the means are justified by the end, unfortunately, as happens in such circumstances when so much is riding on the line, people often lose their moral compass and fall victim to decisions that speak poorly to their character and integrity in order to achieve their goals.
Even if your aspirations are a little less lofty than holding the most powerful position in the free world, you still may have to consider whether your quest to attain some position or status is negatively affecting you and those around you. Having the ambition to become successful is admirable, but you need to be careful to keep those goals in perspective. When your ambition causes you to chase obsessively after something without caution and go to extreme limits to protect it, you need to ask yourself if your efforts are worth the trouble. Below is a quick checklist that can help you determine if your goals—and the ways you go about achieving them—need to be re-examined:
1. You are not afraid to sacrifice others for your own gain.
2. You have burned more bridges that you have built. You find your circle of friends growing smaller and your list of enemies growing longer.
3. You keep moving the goal post and are never satisfied—the more you achieve, the more you want.
4. You can visualize the end goal but in your eagerness to get there you cheat, lie or take shortcuts.
5. You believe that the best life for you and your family is the one in which you have an abundance of money, power or both—you make these things your priorities without considering how chasing them with reckless abandon could negatively affect you and your family.
6. You find your life is being driven by status, money and things, but not family, friends and happiness.
7. You are consumed by your goals—so much so that you don’t know how to relax or strike balance in your life.
8. Your friends and family resent you for your priorities.
9. In order to get where you want (when you want), you justify and rationalize actions that you know in your gut are wrong, illegal or, at the very least, morally ambiguous.
10. You find that you are increasingly surrounded by people who normalize your questionable behaviors, misguided priorities and those who fail to call out the imbalance in your life.
Judy A. Smith is the founder and President of Smith and Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles as well as a Co-Executive Producer of ABC's Scandal. You can follow her on Twitter (@JudySmith_) or "Like" her on Facebook, and you can get more information about managing personal and professional crisis situations by visiting her site, judysmith.com.