This is Part 2 of a series on ambition, written from the capital of ambition, New York City.
In New York, where we find the largest group of clients we serve, We spend a lot of time with professionals wrestling with their jobs and careers. Many of our clients at VOCA Center (the organization where I serve) hate their jobs. They come to us, so that they can create a map to better work: work that connects more consistently with who they are and with what matters to them. So we work with them to first understand what is missing. And with a subgroup of these sincere, brilliant, hardworking people is a very interesting issue: they are dissatisfied with their current work because they are not as obviously successful as they had hoped or planned. In other words, what is dogging them is unrealized ambition.
Which raises the question we are asking and answering in this short series: when is ambition good and when is ambition bad?
A Quick Review of Bad Ambition
Ambition is the drive to achieve.
When we are driven to achieve solely for our own security, pleasure, and recognition, ambition becomes toxic. When pursuing this path, we hurt others and hurt ourselves.
But can ambition be good? I believe it is good when stewardship ambition replaces selfish ambition.
Good Ambition is Stewardship Ambition
Good ambition is stewardship ambition.
Stewardship is managing well, what is under your care and responsibility.
It is pushing past the paralyzing individualism of our culture and embracing two fundamental points of reality.
- Everything you have was received, including your capacity to learn and produce.
- We find our greatest joy in serving others rather than solely focusing on our own needs.
When we embrace these concepts as foundational, we then are driven to achieve for different reasons. Our push for more is not a push that is solely about ourselves. We are not chasing the admiration of a fickle crowd. We are free to excel and perform for the sheer joy of fully using our talents and seeing the employment of those talents positively impact other people.
How do You Shift from Selfish Ambition to Stewardship Ambition?
- Keep reminding yourself of specific examples of the downside of selfish ambition. Use the stories in the news, in movies and in your history to keep the potential disaster of ambition gone amuck, in the forefront of your thinking.
- Ask yourself, “what five things do I want people to say about me at my 80thbirthday?” As we strive for future success, we often forget the pride we are paying now. What do you aspire to? How do you want to be remembered? These kinds of questions surface deeper drives, longterm drives.
- Be very clear on what your greatest contributions are: what are your proven abilities and skills, what kinds of things do people consistently say you do well? Keep a short and current list.
- Ask yourself, “where are those abilities and skills most needed?
- And then adjust your career path accordingly.
Caveat: If you’re a driven person who chose your career solely out of selfish ambition, you are not alone. Most of us start here. A first step is to learn to approach your current work differently, looking (and praying) for ways you can make a difference in the lives of those you work with. A second step is to assess your current job in light of #3 and #4. Many will stay in the same field, with a different focus and sometimes at a different firm. It is the minority that leaves it all and does something completely different.
How About You?
- Were you raised to chase selfish ambition or stewardship ambition?
- When you consider these two types of ambition, which was most dominant in the choice of your current career?
- Do you want to move from selfish ambition to stewardship ambition? Why or why not?
- What is one change you will pursue as a result of reading this post?