During my twenties, people called me ambitious, and in the post-communist environment in my little country Slovakia, where I grew up in, it felt like a swearword. The word ambition felt loaded with the expectations that I will drop my ethical and moral values, dedicate 24/7 to climbing the hierarchical ladder like a power-hungry vampire, and die alone in a big, cold villa with only my dog noticing that I am missing.
I instinctively fought that perceived description and, when hit with the word “ambition,” clumsily tried to explain that I simply do my best in any situation as anything less seems to be a waste – why would I do something just halfway? When I’m not entirely focused, it means I’m not interested. I can drop whatever it is I’m doing and do something that I find more meaningful instead.
I quickly realized that people were not interested in how I perceived my reality. I recall losing a group of dear friends because of my focus on my university studies.
That was a harsh lesson. It taught me that sometimes your explanations don’t matter and you have to stay true to what you believe is right for you.
However, somewhere on a subconscious level, a seed of doubt was planted: What if I really couldn’t combine fulfilling my ambitions for life, my inner drive for exploring all this world has to offer, and the healthy relationships and family life that I envisioned?
I wasn’t sure it was possible, but that lack of assurance didn’t stop me from exploring HOW it would be possible to pursue what I felt was my purpose.
Do you also perceive the word ambition in a negative context? Are you holding back on some of your deep desires or your wish to fulfill your mission because it may not be viewed favorably?
I have a few thoughts to share, a few nuggets of wisdom I acquired along the way that may help.
So what is ambition?
You will find varying definitions out there, for example this definition from www.Wiktionary.com.
“Eager or inordinate desire for some object that confers distinction, as preferment, honor, superiority, political power, or literary fame; desire to distinguish one’s self from other people.”
Looking for further examples, I also came across: “A personal quality similar to motivation, not necessarily tied to a single goal.”
What a difference, right?
Not yet having the right words, the second option is what I attempted to explain whenever my ambition came up. I tried to say that my ambition is not about superiority. An ambitious person’s intentions may not always be about acquiring power or a floating feeling of superiority.
As I experience it, ambition is an inborn drive to use your talents for the good of all and to become the best person you can be. Fighting that drive, or suppressing it, may not be helpful in the long run.
Ambition in the sense of an inner drive and curiosity will bring you opportunities you can’t begin to imagine. It will allow you to meet and learn from people you admire. And you may even find yourself in places in the world you didn’t know existed.
How do you pursue your ambition without compromising on life?
Here are a few pointers for you; I learned them by experience and from my wise friends. This is what worked and still works for me when it comes to following my inner drive and search for fulfillment without compromising on life and relationships:
- Define your goals so that you recognize when you achieve them.
Celebrate, when you get there; pause, take a deep breath and enjoy what is.
- Take others with you on the journey.
Involve the people closest to you in your quest for growth, discuss what is essential, when, and why. Express what you can compromise on and on what you cannot. Listen and adjust to their needs, too; they may be on the same boat, just paddling on another side.
- Know it’s okay to feel overwhelmed from time to time; dealing with that feeling is what makes the difference.
Acknowledge the overwhelm and consider all life factors, including those around family and friends, as you make decisions. Also consider external help: call a friend, or speak to another person whose opinion you trust. When I was in overwhelm, involving a mentor always proved to be the right next step.
- Don’t dwell on an ideal; enjoy short, crazy, unforgettable moments instead.
My mentor has cautioned me about holding on to an ideal or an ideal situation. I would like to caution you as well, as it’s an incredibly important message that applies not only to your professional life but also to your relationships, lifestyle … it applies to all areas of life!
Because nothing is static, no ideal state will persist. Even if you find yourself in the perfect situation, chances are, if you hold on too tightly, you will be disappointed when things change again.
Two types of executives come to mind here; I’ve been privileged to witness both in action. You may recognize yourself or people you know in these descriptions as well.
The first executive is recognized for their contribution and wants to sustain their status of “being the right person in the right place.” You can almost sense the effort they put into keeping that status.
The second executive often surprises by showcasing new talents that allow them to shine in every situation. These executives want to be the “right person in the right situation.” Observing these executives is like witnessing dancers—you never know what their next move will be but you sense it will be elegant and graceful.
Both types of leaders know how to face changes in business and in career. But the “dancers” seem to enjoy the changes more and adapt to them with grace.
The point here for you? Enjoy the fantastic moments that are LIFE. Don’t dwell on your ideal; be ready to find the beauty in ever-evolving situations.
Notice the moments when you’re holding on and when you’re dancing. Make a conscious effort to understand the elements of those moments, too. Once you dissect them, you’ll build the foundation of an inner compass that will lead you towards the best of all worlds.
- Develop a sense of inner compass.
Make it a habit to be conscious about what’s going on: why are you feeling the way you are? When you are “out of sorts,” what underlying situations, feelings, and thoughts caused you to feel that way? Question yourself with gentleness until you arrive at the root cause. Be honest with yourself to be sure you move in the right direction. If you discover that you took a wrong turn, you can always change direction!
- Work for balance (it’s worth it!).
How will you know when you’re pushing too hard? For me, it’s when I overthink. When that happens, I dwell for far too long on what will be. My brain begins to move too fast; I can’t patiently listen to my child and have the urge to “throw myself at the computer” and stay there. When this happens, I’m no longer enjoying beautiful moments; I’m missing out on them instead. Too much ambition has the power to cloud my NOW, and I don’t like feeling that way. I’m (still!) learning how not to let that happen, and how to pull the break early on so I can be there for the people I love and enjoy what is happening NOW. There is plenty of that to cherish.
- Don’t rush – it’s a journey.
In a recent conversation with my husband, who has a similar work ethic and hunger for life, we discussed how healthy ambition never stops. It’s an ever-ongoing re-discovery process of following your curiosity. It helps us to enjoy the ride as we hang on for this crazy, beautiful road trip of life, where new possibilities await around every corner. The same is true for you, so please, enjoy every moment of it! What’s waiting for you tomorrow?
These days, I don’t react to being called “ambitious.” I smile and embrace it, and encourage you to do the same. And if you know someone who seems to always be pushing forward, support them!
What have you learned while pushing for your dreams? What support do you need to stay on track and not cloud your NOW?