125 Stoic Quotes on Success and Ambition

Updated October 5, 2022

Being both ambitious and Stoic might seem contradictory, but the ancient Stoics were doers rather than monk-like scholars. At the same time, these Stoic quotes on success and ambition make it clear that the common goals of riches, fame, prestige and luxury aren't outcomes that necessarily lead to a happy life.

Being Stoic doesn't mean you have to give up your earthly ambitions, but it does mean you need to make sure your happiness is tied to "your own actions" rather than to "what other people say or do."

Stoic Quotes on Ambition

What do you want to do with your life? When you are near death, what do you want to look back and see that you have accomplished?

When you're analyzing your own ambitions, it's important, to be honest with yourself about why you have those goals. Are you driven by a sense of duty and purpose, or are you driven by a desire for fame and fortune?

marcus aurelius image and stoic quote about ambition

"A man's worth is no greater than his ambitions.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you. Sanity means tying it to your own actions.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"When once ambition has passed its natural limits, its progress is boundless.”

– Seneca

"It is the constant fault and inseparable evil quality of ambition, that it never looks behind it.”

– Seneca

"That which is given with pride and ostentation is rather an ambition than a bounty.”

– Seneca

"Take away ambition and vanity, and where will be your heroes and patriots?”

– Seneca

"A king is he who has laid fear aside and the base longings of an evil heart; whom ambition unrestrained and the fickle favor of the reckless mob move not.”

– Seneca

"There is no evil that does not promise inducements. Avarice promises money; luxury, a varied assortment of pleasures; ambition, a purple robe and applause. Vices tempt you by the rewards they offer.”

– Seneca

"Study rather to fill your mind than your coffers; knowing that gold and silver were originally mingled with dirt, until avarice or ambition parted them.”

– Seneca

"As long as your shallow worldly ambitions exist, the door will not open.”

– Laozi

"The True Person governs by emptying the heart of desire and filling the belly with food, weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.”

– Laozi

“Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.”

– Washington Irving

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

– Helen Keller

"Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte

"Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When ambition ends, happiness begins.”

– Thomas Merton

Stoic Quotes on Success

At some level, we all know that conventional success won't necessarily make us happy. That doesn't stop us from getting caught up in desiring the accolades and head-pats that come along with being successful. Taking a deeper look at what success really means in life can help ensure that you are on a path of virtuousness that will lead to a good life.

seneca image and quote about difficulty

"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”

– Seneca

"Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; but if a thing is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"The true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"No man is happy who does not think himself so.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"If you seek truth you will not seek victory by dishonorable means, and if you find truth you will become invincible.”

– Epictetus

"Neither the victories of the Olympic Games nor those achieved in battles make the man happy. The only victories that make him happy are those achieved against himself. Temptations and tests are combats. You have beaten one, two, many times; still fight. If you defeat at last you will be happy your entire life, as if you have always defeated.”

– Epictetus

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

– Seneca

"It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.”

– Seneca

"Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”

– Seneca

"It is within the power of every man to live his life nobly, but of no man to live forever. Yet so many of us hope that life will go on forever, and so few aspire to live nobly.”

– Seneca

"Success consecrates the most offensive crimes.”

– Seneca

"Success is not greedy, as people think, but insignificant. That is why it satisfies nobody.”

– Seneca

"Great men rejoice in adversity, just as brave soldiers triumph in war.”

– Seneca

"Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

– William James

"Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity successful men act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon it becomes a reality. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results.”

– William James

"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.”

– William James

"It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.”

– William James

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

– Henry David Thoreau

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

– Henry David Thoreau

"We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.”

– Henry David Thoreau

"When you move your focus from competition to contribution life becomes a celebration. Never try to defeat people, just win their hearts.”

– Gautama Buddha

"It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.”

– Gautama Buddha

"If you wish to be out front, then act as if you were behind.”

– Laozi

"Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”

– Laozi

“An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox.”

– Laozi

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

– Laozi

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

– Will Durant

Stoic Quotes on Achievement

The Stoics weren't scholars that sat back in dusty studies enraptured by their own minds. They were men of action, men of achievement. They were well aware that difficulty and adversity are gifts that allow you to become stronger, wiser, and better, and that the last thing you want to do is let the opinions of others get in the way of what you know you need to achieve.

epictetus quote and image about accomplishments

"The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”

– Epictetus

"One that desires to excel should endeavor in those things that are in themselves most excellent.”

– Epictetus

"Be not diverted from your duty by any idle reflections the silly world may make upon you, for their censures are not in your power and should not be at all your concerns.”

– Epictetus

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work must no longer be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Self-trust is the first secret of success.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”

– Henry David Thoreau

"The secret of achievement is to hold a picture of a successful outcome in mind.”

– Henry David Thoreau

"If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.”

– Henry David Thoreau

"If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

– Laozi

"Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.”

– Henry David Thoreau

"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

– Laozi

"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

– William James

"That which is achieved the most, still has the whole of its future yet to be achieved.”

– Laozi

Stoic Quotes on Desire

Inherently connected to the ideas of ambition and success is that of desire. What is the outcome that you expect from your ambitions? What do you want to come out of your success?

The Stoics believed that we need to learn to love our fate, even when the things that happen to us seem grim and undesirable. Let's see what they have to say about desire and how this ties into living a successful life.

epictetus image and quote about success and desire

"Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire.”

– Epictetus

"Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Never value anything as profitable to thyself which shall compel thee to break thy promise, to lose thy self-respect, to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to act the hypocrite, to desire anything which needs walls and curtains.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Death is a release from the impressions of the senses, and from desires that make us their puppets, and from the vagaries of the mind, and from the hard service of the flesh."

– Marcus Aurelius

"Remember that there is a God who desires neither praise nor glory from men created in his image, but rather that they, guided by the understanding given them, should in their actions become like unto him.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Body. Soul. Mind. Sensations: the body. Desires: the soul. Reasoning: the mind."

– Marcus Aurelius

"When men hate or blame you, or say hurtful things about you, look deeply into their hearts and see what kind of men they are. You'll see how unnecessary it is to strain after their good opinion. Yet you must still think kindly of them. they are your neighbors. The gods help them as they do you, by dreams and oracles, to win their hearts' desires.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"I can at once become happy anywhere, for he is happy who has found himself a happy lot. In a word, happiness lies all in the functions of reason, in warrantable desires and virtuous practice.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

– Epictetus

"If you desire to be good, begin by believing that you are wicked.”

– Epictetus

"The flourishing life cannot be achieved until we moderate our desires and see how superficial and fleeting they are.”

– Epictetus

"He is free who lives as he wishes to live; who is neither subject to compulsion nor to hindrance, nor to force; whose movements to action are not impeded, whose desires attain their purpose, and who does not fall into that which he would avoid.”

– Epictetus

"Learn to distinguish what you can and can't control. Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires and the things that repel us. They are directly subject to our influence.”

– Epictetus

"Desire and happiness cannot live together.”

– Epictetus

"Freedom is secured not by the fulfillment of one's desires, but by the removal of desire.”

– Epictetus

"Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth.”

– Epictetus

"To get or not to get what we desire can be equally disappointing.”

– Epictetus

"When you feel the desire for power, you should stay in solitude for some time.”

– Leo Tolstoy

Stoic Quotes on Failure

There are so many things we don't try because we are afraid of failing. How is failure defined, though? If you learn from an endeavor gone awry, was it really a failure after all?

marcus aurelius quote about success

"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Everything that happens happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"When you are annoyed at someone's mistake, immediately look at yourself and reflect how you also fail; for example, in thinking that good equals money, or pleasure, or a bit of fame. By being mindful of this you'll quickly forget your anger, especially if you realize that the person was under stress, and could do little else. And, if you can, find a way to alleviate that stress.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"No matter what happens, it is within my power to turn it to my advantage.”

– Epictetus

"When you are offended at any man's fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.”

– Epictetus

"To err is human. To repeat error is of the Devil.”

– Seneca

"Happy is the man who can endure the highest and lowest fortune. He who has endured such vicissitudes with equanimity has deprived misfortune of its power.”

– Seneca

"I was shipwrecked before I got aboard.”

– Seneca

"If thou art a man, admire those who attempt great things, even though they fail.”

– Seneca

"It is a youthful failing to be unable to control one's impulses.”

– Seneca

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Failure is an opportunity. If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame. Therefore the Master fulfills her own obligations and corrects her own mistakes. She does what she needs to do and demands nothing of others.”

– Laozi

“Success is as dangerous as failure. Hope is as hollow as fear.”

– Laozi

"People in their handlings of affairs often fail when they are about to succeed. If one remains as careful at the end as he was at the beginning, there will be no failure.”

– Laozi

"Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.”

– Laozi

Stoic Quotes on Fame

Ah, fame. Many people chase it only to find that it has an infinitely dark shadow. Marcus Aurelius was well aware of the pitfalls of fame, finding himself in the position of Emperor of Rome.

If your desired outcome from success is fame, be wary.

"All things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit to a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion."

– Marcus Aurelius

"All is ephemeral - fame and the famous as well.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"How many after being celebrated by fame have been given up to oblivion; and how many who have celebrated the fame of others have long been dead.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"God sees the inner spirit stripped of flesh, skin, and all debris. For his own mind only touches the spirit that he has allowed to flow from himself into our bodies. And if you can act the same way, you will rid yourself of all suffering. For surely if you are not preoccupied with the body that encloses you, you will not trouble yourself about clothes, houses, fame, and other showy trappings.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Letting go all else, cling to the following few truths. Remember that man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant: all the rest of his life is either past and gone, or not yet revealed. This mortal life is a little thing, lived in a little corner of the earth; and little, too, is the longest fame to come - dependent as it is on a succession of fast-perishing little men who have no knowledge even of their own selves, much less of one long dead and gone.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"As for life, it is a battle and a sojourning in a strange land; but the fame that comes after is oblivion.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"In man's life, time is but a moment; being, a flux; sense is dim; the material frame corruptible; soul, an eddy of breath; fortune a thing inscrutable, and fame precarious."

– Marcus Aurelius

"So you know how things stand. Now forget what they think of you. Be satisfied if you can live the rest of your life, however short, as your nature demands. Focus on that, and don't let anything distract you. You've wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"After all, what does fame everlasting mean? Mere vanity.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"We all want to be famous people, and the moment we want to be something we are no longer free.”

– Jiddu Krishnamurti

"Fame! it is the flower of a day, that dies when the next sun rises.”

– Ouida

Stoic Quotes on Mistakes

We hate making mistakes, but mistakes are how we learn. If you don't fulfill your deepest ambitions because you are afraid of making mistakes, you won't grow.

It's often the case that we don't want to make mistakes because we are worried about what others will think of us. The reality is, though, that we can't control what others think of us in any instance. If you're chasing success because you think it will reward you with the love of everyone around you, you'll likely be disappointed.

"If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Through error you come to the truth! I am a man because I err! You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes and very likely a hundred and fourteen.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky

"A just cause is not ruined by a few mistakes.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky

"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly. There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”

– Gautama Buddha

"A good friend who points out mistakes is to be respected, as if he reveals a secret of hidden treasure.” 

– Gautama Buddha

"Do not carry with you your mistakes. Do not carry your cares. Travel on alone. Like an elephant in the forest.” 

– Gautama Buddha

"Forget mistakes. Forget failure. Forget everything except what you're going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day.”

– Will Durant

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

– Albert Einstein

"All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”

– Winston Churchill

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

– Henry Ford

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”

– James Joyce

There are many philosophical schools that tell us not to strive in this life, but Stoicism isn't one of them. The Stoics believed that we are all a part of a grand, ordered universe in which we each have a role to play. That means waking up in the morning and doing your duty, whatever it may be.

At the same time, we have to try and avoid the temptations that can come along with our accomplishments, whether it be riches, fame, or pride. We have to remember that no matter how high we fly in life, we are all made equal by the shared reality of death and the inherent brief nature of life.

In our lives, we have the opportunity to live virtuously and contribute to the lives of the people around us. There's nothing wrong with having ambitions, seeking achievements, and becoming successful, but we must always stay self-aware of whether we are driven by virtuous or vicious intents.

Be sure to check out some more of our inspirational Stoic quotes on topics like adversity, hard work, control, and change.

Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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This website provides the best stoic quotations on the topics of life, death, control, anxiety, and wisdom in general.

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