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First person

Navigating ambition and nuances in relationships 



Ambition, inadequacy and fulfilment are common stumbling blocks in relationships. Edikan Umoh investigates.


Recently, ambition has become an important factor in my life.

I mean it always has been, I don’t remember ever stopping. It just declined because of a change of environment but I’m getting myself back and it’s one of my most important things. I would define ambition as one’s self-actualisation. It is an affirmation of life, an attempt to do the most that one can do with the body one has been given. It doesn’t compete with others but with itself. It’s capped at the level you want it to be. 

Heaven Smith, an author, has found that her level of ambition has made her sit at extraordinary tables. “As someone with a rare disorder and complex traumas, I frequently find myself in situations that others have considered “baffling” or “unprecedented” – and yet my drive to find solutions where there are none has led to multi-sector and multi-national advancement; so, I suppose my level of ambition is of high caliber if I must say so.”

Ambition is usually tied to career or academic spaces but I’ve noticed it being a factor in forming and maintaining relationships. There are nuances existing that will influence the formation of a fulfilling relationship. At different stages of our lives, we look for different determining criteria in a relationship and for me right now, ambition is of prime importance. 

Lynn, a life coach and movie therapist, also outlines why ambition is important in forming her relationships. 

“I would consider what effect the connection would have on me gaining what I wanted work-wise, so it would have to be someone who can take themselves off and do their own thing.”, Lynn says, “We all need to have goals and that it’s good to feel that you can achieve something, this adds to any relationship as it brings in our individuality.”

This takes me back to my secondary school period where I had a tonne of friends with the same level of ambition or most times even higher. It was a competitive environment, I miss that and I think I took it for granted a little bit. I thought it was normal till I changed environments. I’ve had to shrink myself in relationships and settle for what these relationships supposedly had to offer. Even till now, I’ve still not got myself into a relationship where I can let my guard down and nerd out. Or one where we just at least want the same things, career-wise. Maybe, I’ve found one but I guess I don’t want to jinx it. 

Lynn can relate to this exactly. She says she sometimes made the mistake of ‘shrinking to fit’ because of people’s insecurities and it did not serve her well as she turned into someone who’s just as needy at times.

Heaven also noticed that she has either encouraged positive or negative thought processes in her significant others but she never felt that was reciprocated. “Struggles with developing and maintaining relationships due to this quality have been a constant occurrence for me,” Heaven says. 

“I often hear that I trigger the other person’s deepest fears and that they subsequently feel inadequate to me as a result; although they are also grateful for the healing that this introspection brings to them. While it is an honour to be a catalyst in this way, it’s also becoming profoundly lonely, as well. I was left to, essentially, raise myself because my parents were at a loss and many romantic relationships were hardly given a chance to happen before the person would abruptly walk away. The lack of support and connection means that there’s always a nagging sense of emptiness and lack of fulfilment.”

Lynn and Heaven Smith talk about how they navigated this in their relationships.

“An old friend once came around to pursue me, lamenting about his missed chance from high school; though I quickly realised that his lack of ambition would have meant that I would be carrying the bulk of the relationship as a breadwinner and that my nurturing would likely be taken for granted,” Heaven says.

“I knew that I needed and deserve more than that, so it felt bittersweet to me. On one side, I knew that this was a chance to step into self-love and I was proud to uphold that but, on the other, I felt conflicted and sad about giving up the moments of tenderness and affection on offer; as this is the type of tenderness that I still find myself craving. But, ultimately, I have to be wise enough to know that functional and healthy connections need more than physical activity.”

Lynn also recognised that her level of ambition has led to her partner experiencing negative emotions, “My ambition has made partners feel uncomfortable mainly because they were insecure in themselves, I’m not a bragger, I won’t necessarily go out of my way to make someone feel insecure.”

Experiencing this loss of relationships they’ve had to develop a certain mindset around navigating ambition in relationships.

“I wish I had more words, but: my ambition has equally been both my deepest pain and my greatest point of faith. I am reaching burnout. I have no regrets, but I’m left with deep longing and I grieve heavily for the distortions that fear caused.” Heaven says

“To my end, I am also, stubbornly, full of hope that our skills and said ambitious nature will carry us through and am equally terrified that all this hope is becoming hollow. I ache to find a safe truce for all of our fears and am yet to find a circle of love to celebrate these victories with but, most days, it all seems so much bigger than me; and that is some cruel irony, considering that this ambition means that I’m known for handling the things that “no one else” can.”

Although ambition is important to me, I can understand how it may not be as important to other people and I can still form a relationship regardless of that. But I still recognise a need for relationships with ambitious people and that’s something I’m pursuing right now.