Community//

In Praise of Ambition

Every day, I hear from up-and-coming superstars with big-ass goals. They tell me about their methodology, their expectations, their ten-point plans of action. But I always listen for something else—that thing they keep buried deep inside, that whisper of the unspoken dream, that person they would want to be if what they did contributed to […]

Every day, I hear from up-and-coming superstars with big-ass goals. They tell me about their methodology, their expectations, their ten-point plans of action. But I always listen for something else—that thing they keep buried deep inside, that whisper of the unspoken dream, that person they would want to be if what they did contributed to who they secretly imagined they could become.

You know which dream I mean: the one you dare not speak out loud. This is the dream that is so big, so scary, so bowel-shakingly audacious that you almost feel bad for wanting it. But you do want it. You really, really do. And having this dream—and having a reverence for this dream—well, that’s the thing that tells me who is going to succeed and who is not. Because it is that reverence that tells me someone isn’t just following his or her passion, but that they are willing to invest in that passion.

Owning the Dream

We all have goals that we think of as our own creation. But the truth is, most of them were set by someone else. Your parents told you to get good grades in school. Your boss tells you to want the big promotion. Your friends and neighbors pressure you to score the right spouse, drive the right car, live in the right apartment, wear the right clothes in exactly the right size. And on and on and on …

All too often, we get caught up in the momentum of this external motivation by pleasing someone else, following the footsteps, doing what is expected. And we don’t stop to wonder why.

What if you were being honest with yourself—truly, unflinchingly honest? What would you really want? What is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal you’re willing to fight for? What will this path, this goal, this dream contribute to the life you want to lead?

In my experience, the most successful professionals are never the ones who simply want the next promotion to the next big job just because that’s what is expected. Instead, they’re the ones who are so hungry for their own self-determined goals that they are intrinsically motivated to go after them. The most flourishing, most fulfilled workers are the ones who do the extra work, in the dark, when no one sees—the ones who own up to their BHAGs and are willing to dig deep and fight like hell to bring them to fruition. They do it for themselves, because they want to achieve those goals so badly that they can’t not do it. They know that leaning into those goals will contribute to the life they want to live, and they are insatiably hungry for that version of success. And you just can’t be insatiably hungry for someone else’s version of success, for someone else’s goal, for someone else’s cause.

All Hail Ambition!

Ambition has gotten a bad rap of late. It’s a dirty word—even more so if you are a woman. (Oh, she’s so ambitious!) Part of the reason we’ve lost ownership of our unspoken dreams is that we’ve been persuaded to allow our ambition to be subsumed into something that is more socially acceptable: faux humility.

Why do you want to get ahead? What do you want to do with that power? Do you want to change your family, your community, your country, your world? Do you want to make a mark, large or small, on this earth? What kind of life do you want to live? How do you want to raise your family? Do you want to give back? Will an elevated position, an increased salary, and a voice of leadership help you do this? Of course it will.

Yet the guilt of ambition holds us back and keeps us from becoming limitless. Somewhere along the way, we assigned sainthood to the word purpose, as if there were a picture of Mother Teresa next to its definition in the dictionary. And that’s where the train began to careen off the tracks.

If you look up the definition of purpose—and I did—it’s pretty benign: Purpose is merely the reason for which something exists or why it is done. That’s all. No picture of a saint, no finger-wagging friend, no “tsk-tsk” or assigning shame for not preceding it with the word higher. Nothing—and no one—is there saying that a job that helps you pay off your student loans faster, but fails to cure the world’s ills, isn’t purposeful.

Has it ever occurred to you that you owe it not only to yourself, but to everyone and everything you want to have an impact on to be ambitious in choosing and chasing your goals? If being in that elevated position, with that increased salary and that greater voice of leadership, allows you to make more of an impact on the very calling that you hold dear, it’s more than just your ambition. It’s your responsibility.

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