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Ambition and Anxiety: It’s all part of the journey

Every journey has it's ups and downs.

When I am talking to people and the subject shifts to their careers I often sense a bit of anxiety. Many of my peers are in years 1-5 of their careers and are often too completely focused on “the next milestone”. This milestone could be anything from graduation, finding a job, promotion, wage increase, starting their own business, selling their first business, or switching career paths entirely. However, it has become apparent that this anxiety about their progress against these mentally pre-defined milestones are too often causing them to be blind to the opportunities that are surrounding them in the present.

Going through the motions of daily life, waiting for the next grand milestone.

I spent 6 years in school, going straight from my bachelors to a masters degree while working part-time and full-time throughout. Many of my friends had left home and were working in areas of higher economic standing, making substantial amounts of money and traveling the world during these years. Others were carrying on with continued education much like myself, while others were getting married and starting families. I will be the first to admit that I was envious of those working in the big city and making money while I was a broke student, living on friends couches because I couldn’t afford my own place. My ambition was telling me I had to reach that next milestone, but in fact, unbeknownst to me I was actually making connections and growing a network that would lead me to my first career. The anxiety I had in those days potentially hindered my ability to take advantage of every opportunity in those moments.

Careers which are not progressing as rapidly as you might want can be frustrating, pay attention to what you are learning at the moment. Don’t ignore your day-to-day growth and all the small wins.

Your career pace is a story, whether fast or slow, and you can start editing it today.

For myself, and many others, the biggest cause of anxiety is the unknown. Of course when your career is first starting there are a million things you don’t have answers to… This is normal. A great quote from Eckhart Tolle comes to mind when I catch myself worrying about uncertainty instead of focusing on what I can do in the present.

Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose. ~Eckhart Tolle

I once told a really good friend of mine to try saying “yes” to everything that presented itself. Having no experience doing this myself, and no grounds to give such advice on, I was curious to see what the outcome would be. This exercise suddenly had my friend learning a new language and volunteering on a board for a local event – opportunities that otherwise may have been disregarded. Being aware of the fact that you must manage your time, and certainly can’t say “yes” to everything – this exercise showed me that by making yourself aware of the present you can put yourself in situations that could change your story.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~Buddha

Opportunities presented today could have the potential to drastically change your future.

What do you think will change when you reach that milestone? Do you think you will be able to do more, be more, change more and help others more? What if that milestone was achieved tomorrow, are you suddenly more qualified to do things you could not have started today? It is important when we are chasing our ambitions to not skip past opportunities to use our skills we currently have to help people or organizations today.

Volunteering is a great way to gain valuable experience, develop yourself as a leader and expose yourself to new environments. You can join an already established organization, or get creative and start something yourself. Is your community in need of a networking group for young professionals? Can you hold a workshop for something you’re interested in? Take a look around and I’m sure there are many opportunities for your skill set to fit in where you are now.

Mutar Kent toured the country in trucks selling Coca-Cola after completing his MBA – He is now the chairman and chief executive officer of The Coca-Cola Company.

I’m sure as Mr. Kent was starting his career he was anxious about the unknown, questioning whether he made the right choices after school or contemplating other career opportunities. Pick up a biography of any person who you view as successful and skip to the section where they talk about the very first job they had or the start of their career. For 99% of people, you will notice that their lives hardly went as planned and they still ended up doing alright. Read that biography and highlight the normal hurdles they had to jump over to get to where they are, then remind yourself that those pieces of their story that helped shape their success.

Hakuna Matata

The Swahili words “Hakuna Matata” popularized by Timon and Pumbaa, from Disney’s The Lion King, are literally translated to “there isn’t a problem/trouble”. Great words to think about when it comes to your career path. There is no problem or trouble with a slowly progressing career path, but the problem exists when you are not doing what is within reach. By changing your mindset to allow your ambition to dictate the present, as opposed to creating anxiety about the future, you will start to see some drastic changes take place.

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. ~Henry David Thoreau 

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