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It's OK to be Ambitious

Picture this: You have a job you like, with hours which suit you. You have this job for 7 years. Should you change your job? Do your friends ask you – “what next“? Does your sibling/friend with the exciting job in Investment Banking or Marketing or Digital Analysis (you get the drift), often pass comments on your “lack of ambition” or makes you feel inadequate for not “trying hard enough!”

Do you feel that “lack of ambition,” is a negative phrase?

Picture now: You are a 35-year-old, single, smart, good-looking woman on a fast career trajectory. Your aunt describes you to others as “Oh, she is so ambitious. No wonder, she could not settle down as yet.” Your colleague who just got laid off, says about you, “She doesn’t even have a family. She may just quit if she finds someone. Just had to take my job.” Like it or not, there are enough people on our planet who will pass prejudicial judgements on your “Single Status.”

Do you feel then that “ambition” is a negative word?

Ambition thus is extremely “Ambivalent.” How one views ambition is intricately linked to our environment and conditioning. Our innermost desires thus are held hostage to these external factors.

I believe strongly that first of all, one needs to understand Ambition or Aspiration afresh. My favorite definition is from research that Corporate Leadership Council(CLC) conducted to arrive at the definition of High Potentials in 2010.

Ambition or Aspiration can be defined as the extent to which an employee wants or desires:

1. Prestige and Recognition

2. Advancement and Influence

3. Financial Rewards

4. Work-Life Balance

5. Overall Job Enjoyment

We commonly limit our understanding of Ambition to just the first 3 categories. Work-Life Balance and Overall Job Enjoyment are simply pushed under the carpet. Increasingly, we see more and more people bucking the trend and actually prioritizing Work-Life Balance and Overall Job Enjoyment. For my generation and the one before, the latter 2 were to be enjoyed only after the 1st 3 goals had been met. Not so for the millennials. Many of them are actively choosing No 4 & 5 over the others, right at the beginning of their careers. This is a disruptive mind shift in the world of careers.

Once we and our environments internalize this new, expanded definition of ambition, we find that the path to joy and happiness starts unfolding. Of course, finding one’s drivers for ambition can be a long-winded process for some. It’s all about being in touch with one-self and exploring what gives us joy. Professional help is always available.

I love working with ambitious people. As a career coach, most of my clients are in the process of rediscovering their new paths, perhaps after a long career break or a layoff/redundancy/burn-out. “I’m not ambitious. I will take the next job. Not really looking at a very high-level job. Again, really not very ambitious.”

When I hear these words, I know my task is set. I need to first help the client discover his/her mojo or reason for the joy of living. They need to understand the wider definition of ambition, unlearn and let go of their prejudices with this word. Only then, can they embark on the next path.

Why do I love ambitious people?

1. TAKE CHARGE OF THEIR DESTINY: Ambitious people have the willpower and determination to take charge of their destiny. They go the extra mile to spot opportunities and make the most of them. This ability to embrace challenges and enjoying the process is a key differentiator. Mompreneurs are the best demographic group to explain this. Across the world, many mothers have chosen to become entrepreneurs and build a successful career story for themselves, without compromising on their work-life balance. Ask any mompreneur and typically you will find that the drive to excel and make a difference is so strong, they discover uncharted paths and create their own business models, even if no one in their family or environment has never explored those paths.

2. CONTAGIOUS ENTHUSIASM: The gleam in an ambitious person’s eyes is full of energy and joy. Ambitious folks would have higher self-esteem and a heightened sense of vision and future. This drives them and you will often find their enthusiasm contagious. When I work with C-suite executives and achievers in other fields, a common thread is their enthusiasm and ability to help you visualize their dreams. This fires you to do your best for them.

3. STRONG VALUES & ETHICS: Sure, you will find the stray person with unchecked ambition – the type whom we feel will do anything for his ambition. Fact is, most people with a healthy and positive dose of ambition are less likely to abandon their values. India’s largest business group, the TATA’s are a shining example of doing business without abandoning their core values. Kailash Satyarthy, the Indian Nobel Prize winner (2014) would not have achieved what he did for child workers if he had not set ambitious goals.

BOTTOMLINE: “Don’t be ambitious for the wrong reasons, because of expectations from others.” Unhappiness and disappointment are the usual outcomes in such cases. Work on understanding yourself and have the courage to pursue your ambitions. There is no such thing as “lack of ambition.” It is actually a lack of either self-understanding or courage.

Teach your children the power of ambition and dreaming big. Help them understand that they can benefit themselves and society with ambition. Believe in ambition.

It’s OK to be ambitious.

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