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Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition

There's more to life than leaving home.

by Emily Esfahani Smith
Publication: The Atlantic

April 16, 2013


The following is an excerpt from an article in The Atlantic that mentions research conducted by Management Professor Tim Judge on the characteristics of ambitious people and the connection between ambition and a good life. To read the entire article visit: Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition


This month, many of the nation's best and brightest high school seniors will receive thick envelopes in the mail announcing their admission to the college of their dreams. According to a 2011 survey, about 60 percent of them will go to their first-choice schools. For many of them, going away to college will be like crossing the Rubicon. They will leave their families -- their homes -- and probably not return for many years, if at all.

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In psychology, there is surprisingly little research on ambition, let alone the effect it has on human happiness. But a new study, forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, sheds some light on the connection between ambition and the good life. Using longitudinal data from the nine-decade-long Terman life-cycle study, which has followed the lives and career outcomes of a group of gifted children since 1922, researchers Timothy A. Judge of Notre Dame and John D. Kammeyer-Mueller of the University of Florida analyzed the characteristics of the most ambitious among them. How did their lives turn out?

The causes of ambition were clear, as were its career consequences. The researchers found that the children who were the most conscientious (organized, disciplined, and goal-seeking), extroverted, and from a strong socioeconomic background were also the most ambitious. The ambitious members of the sample went on to become more educated and at more prestigious institutions than the less ambitious. They also made more money in the long run and secured more high-status jobs.