Future of Ambition

Why your ambition is failing & new kinds of ambition that’s more balanced, sustainable, and leads to real success.


“If we look at the world around us, some of the most insidious and damaging things are caused by ambition. People hunger for power and for status and for money, without any regard for others. These things aren’t necessarily bad in themselves. They are simply tools.”

@Zat_Rana on @Medium [10]
Photo by Harsch Shivam from Pexels

We all have ambition, but sometimes that word gives off a sense of corruption, negativity. As if having ambition must mean compromising how many meaningful relationships we can have along the way.

In this article, we’ll dig into why ambition goes off the rails and then new tactics on how to get back on track.

Why It’s Not Working

From an Entrepreneur magazine article on excessive ambition, here are some negative traits:

Fixation on an end goal. You’ve got tunnel vision, can’t process new data that might change your strategy, and believe that the ends justify the means. Worse yet, you’re no longer enjoying the journey and leaving a trail of dead relationships along the way.

Negative reactions to failure. Best case here is that you simply can’t hear bad news and personal feedback. Worst case you’re blaming others for your failure.

Selfishness & the definition of success. This trait emerges over time, since we’re constantly focused on ourselves. We define success as something that we get. Spend enough time thinking about yourself, you might start believing you’re the only person in the world.

Call-to-Action: Ask yourself these 3 questions to make sure you stay on the right path. As the great Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.”

  1. Are you happy pursuing the goal, or is it a grind?
  2. How do you react when receiving feedback? Appreciative or defensive?
  3. Do you think you’re in the Truman Show and you’re the star of the show?

Multi-Ambition

When I think of some of the great icons, I can see a theme.

I’m in the middle of Obama’s latest book, The Promised Land (holy cow it’s long!). Clearly he had the ambition to pursue politics, but he also had other ambitions that he had cultivated, including being a community organizer, attorney, teacher, and writer. Since leaving office, he’s still writing, got a podcast (who doesn’t), and is producing Netflix shows.

Or let’s take Elon Musk, revolutionizing the world with Tesla, SpaceX, and the Boring Company. Rihanna with her Fenty Beauty and clothing line. Oprah. ‘Nuff said.

The theme is that it’s not a single ambition, but rather multiple ambitions.

“Instead of pursuing a single ambition, such as profits, employees defined a collective ambition. As a result, those organizations deepened their engagement with employees and other stakeholders and became sustainably profitable.” 

@HarvardBiz [4]

The future of ambition is to have multiples of them. Adapted from The Higher-Ambition Leader by @reisenstat & @TobiasFredberg in @HarvardBiz, here’s your Call-to-Action:

  • Forge a Grander Identity. Obama isn’t just an ex-President, he’s an advocate for civic duty. Elon Musk isn’t just a CEO, he’s a disrupter of industries. Rihanna isn’t just a musician, she’s bringing inclusion to beauty. For me, I like to think I’m bringing positivity & productivity into your life. What’s your thing?
  • Build a Community of Shared Purpose. For most of us, this is defacto our friends. But the point here is in order to cultivate multiple ambitions, perhaps you need to have multiple circles of friends. For example, friends that you go travel and spend the outdoors with. Friends you exercise with, to keep you in prime shape. Friends to discuss business ideas and money investments with.
  • Lead with Guts. In other words, be bold and make things happen. We may not have the answers, don’t know if this is the right move, and have intense doubt on what to do… but at least we’re doing something. Just putting ourselves out there by extending an invitation, opening a conversation, or throwing the first idea out there.

Build Ambition Into Your Daily Workflow

When I think about “powerful” people, such as the POTUS, CEOs, and cultural leaders, what’s the difference between their daily workflow and ours? Does Oprah wake up and ponder, “I wonder what I’ll do today?” Of course not, she’s got a schedule that’s booked for probably weeks out! If she wants a day to relax, she prob has to schedule it in advance by months!

So, how can we live our life closer to the effectiveness of these powerful people? I read The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple and am a tad obsessed with the role of the Chief of Staff, who has tremendous influence on the leader or organization they are managing.

Here’s the Call-to-Action, since we are our own CoS.

  • Prioritize Time to Consume (useful stuff). The goal here is to invest in how knowledgeable you are about relevant topics and be able to innovate, or draw connections. For example, if you’re into marketing, you should read some marketing books, in-depth articles, and about the brands/industry you’re promoting. This can be at any time during the day. For Obama, he’s a night owl…

“For me, these were often the quietest and most product hours of the day, a time when I could catch up on work and prepare myself for whatever was coming next, poring over the stacks of material my staff secretary sent up to the residence for my review,” he wrote in his 2020 memoir, A Promised Land. [11]

  • Each Day Prepare and Recap. One job that a CoS has is to be the “gatekeeper” to the President. If you’re your own gatekeeper, then start each day reviewing what’s on your calendar. Move things around if need be, push off the unimportant things, and schedule in high priority stuff if it’s not on your calendar. Then at the end of your day, review all your notes and what happened. Track any loose actions or things you said you’d do.

“When Obama arrives in the office this morning, just before 9:30, the first item on his agenda, as always, is a meeting with his chief of staff for a quick rundown of the coming day: “three minutes, four minutes, five minutes — whatever it takes, but you’ve got to make it quick.” 

Vanity Fair [11]

Build Ambition With Your Morning Routine

Been a long time since I’ve subjected you to some of my horrible analogies. You’re in luck, today is the day. If the goal is to fuel our ambition, then let’s compare getting gas to our morning routine.

Pay at the Pump. If you want your mind and body to keep going, then you have to pay the price for it. Here are some ideas on how to pay back your mind and body during your morning routine:

  • Exercise
  • Cold Shower
  • Meditate
  • Journaling

Select Type of Fuel. Don’t treat yourself like a Ford Focus (my apologies if you own a Ford Focus!). You’re a luxury, high end machine! Select Premium gas for a higher quality ambition. What that means is the ambition should be focused on not just yourself, but on others. How will your ambition improve the life of others? Do this:

  • Positive Affirmation for yourself
  • Gratitude for someone else
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Fill Up! What’s the equivalent of gallons of gas flowing into your car in terms of a morning routine? That’s the consumption of high grade, quality information, that we can tap into when we need it. Morning routine translation:

  • Books, podcasts, in-depth articles, long-form content
  • NOT social media (unless you’re a social media influencer, then go at it!)

“The most difficult thing is to carve out time to think, which is probably the most important time for somebody who’s trying to shift an organization, or in this case, the country, as opposed to doing the same things that have been done before. And I find that time slips away,” 

Obama, Men’s Health. [11]

Ambitious Relationships

“Ambition drives people forward; relationships and community, by imposing limits, hold people back.” 

@EmEsfahaniSmith in @TheAtlantic [7]
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

That’s from an Atlantic article describing a specific person’s experience leaving a small town to pursue their ambitions. The moral of the story is something, I bet, most of us experience and learn as we get more experience.

A few years ago, I was chatting with someone who had taken on a new job. He was switching from a highly technical and milestone driven position to a new one responsible for creating new partnerships. He had achieved great success in his previous role by staying aggressive and pushing hard to keep milestone dates, but may have ruffled people’s feathers along the way. I suggested that since he was so goal oriented (love it!), that he redefine what success looks like in his new job. That success is cultivating positive relationships, with milestones defined as advancing closer in the “circle of trust,” and day-to-day goals of people leaving every interaction feeling better.

Relationships can be ambitious if you dare to delve deeper with them, gaining their trust and exposing your insecurities along the way.

Call-to-Action for ambitious relationships:

  • Assume You’re Their Best Friend. I started doing this in college, when I had to get over my shyness. If I could pretend that this new stranger was actually my best friend, I would behave more naturally and let the inner me shine through. As a result, I’d find out much quicker if that new person was someone I’m compatible with or not, saving us both time. This strategy works everywhere, especially in the workplace, with just a bit more mindfulness for the hierarchy of the organization. But even then, I would rather err on being too friendly than being too robotic in front of a senior manager. From their perspective, it might be refreshing to talk to someone ‘real’ versus all the ‘yes people’ that clings to them.

“They found that social connections — in the form of marriage, family, ties to friends and neighbors, civic engagement, workplace ties, and social trust — “all appear independently and robustly related to happiness and life satisfaction, both directly and through their impact on health.”” [7]

How Gender Affects Ambition

In researching ambition from one of my goto sources, the Harvard Business Review, I came across a few articles that disturbed me, and in doing so, revealed me living under the proverbial rock.

“A recent study shows that, after just two years on the job, women’s aspirations and confidence to reach senior management plummet compared to men’s.” [2]

By now, we’ve discussed how personal ambition is better when it’s multi-ambition and rooted deeply in ambitious relationships. In that spirit, our ambition needs to be directly linked to others. Our success is their success, and vice versa.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

So when it came to the realization that women’s ambition is so drastically hindered from the get-go, well, that’s just unfair. In the HBR article, a research study showed how, “when female students thought that their answers would only be viewed by their career counselor, women who were single and women who weren’t answered similarly. However, when single women expected their classmates to see their answers, they portrayed themselves much less favorably to the labor market.” In other words, single women who thought others would see their responses said that they’d be less willing to work long hours and travel for work, because they thought it would make them less likely to get married.

“One study by the Center for Talent Innovation even showed that two-thirds of male managers balk at counseling more-junior women; if the conversations don’t take place, the needed affirmation simply can’t happen.” [2]

Call-to-Action to support others (and yours) ambition:

Coach and Mentor More People. Besides building a strong network for yourself and hearing the perspective of others (which is priceless), you can pay forward to others. Use your established power to help propel their ambitions. Besides, you worked hard to gain this level of power, so what good is it unless you use it!

Educate Yourself. I was embarrassed to learn the gender gap in ambition. But with the newfound education, I can now do more than before. I can take more strategic and thoughtful action. Take the time to consume information about people who are different, which might take the form of a great movie or documentary.


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REFERENCES:

  1. The Ambition-Marriage Trade-Off Too Many Single Women Face by Leonardo Bursztyn, Thomas Fujiwara, and Amanda Pallais
  2. Companies Drain Women’s Ambition After Only 2 Years by Orit Gadiesh and Julie Coffman
  3. Higher Ambition: How Great Leaders Create Economic and Social Value by Michael Beer and Edward Ludwig
  4. The Power of Collective Ambition by Douglas A. Ready and Emily Truelove
  5. The Higher-Ambition Leader by Nathaniel Foote, Russell Eisenstat, and Tobias Fredberg
  6. Can Excessive Ambition Actually Ruin Your Chances of Success?
  7. Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition by Emily Esfahani Smith
  8. The 6 Internal Motivations of Pure, Unadulterated Ambition by Sherrie Campbell
  9. Where Did My Ambition Go? by Maris Kreizman
  10. Beyond Insecurity: The Positive Power of the Right Kind of Ambition by Zat Rana
  11. Barack Obama: Daily Routine by Hao

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