The philosophy of Karma Yoga emphasizes on cultivating detachment from outcomes. It guides us to do the right actions without expectation of any rewards, recognition or praise. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna instructs Arjun, “Desire for the fruits of your work must never be your motive in working… Renounce attachment to the fruits.” He further adds, “Work done with anxiety about the results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety in the calm of self-surrender… They who work selfishly for results are miserable.” He also reminds Arjun that those who work solely for the sake of acquiring material rewards and possessions are committing a big mistake. When they overcome hurdles or have their possessions taken away from them they become angry, bitter and resentful and step away from their natural goodness. As a result, they lose that equanimity and tranquility of mind which is the foundation of virtue.
Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, also talked about how success or wealth is out of our control and it’s best not to prize them. In his Moral Letters to Lucilius, he writes, “… the wise man regards the reason for all his actions, but not the results. The beginning is in our own power; fortune decides the issue, but I do not allow her to pass sentence upon myself.”
Many people advise us to step out of the rat race, to not follow the herd, to not desire things that other people desire, and to not get involved in futile and meaningless competition with others.
But this doesn’t mean that you need to stop being ambitious. You don’t have to live the life of a hermit and distance yourself from the ways of the world. You don’t have to stop yourself from setting lofty goals, you don’t have to resign or retire, you don’t have to stop caring about yourself and your progress, and most importantly you don’t have to let go of the pursuit of growing, developing and improving yourself.
There’s nothing wrong about being ambitious, but if you want to be a truly successful person, you need to focus on competing with yourself, not with others. You need to pay attention to your own personal scorecard, and not the external one.
Because when we win over ourselves and our shortcomings, that’s the most important victory that we can ever achieve.