Have you ever been told off for being too ambitious? Have you ever been reprimanded for trying too hard? For working too hard? For not taking a break from something that you were really passionate about?
I have, and I’ll tell you that it doesn’t feel good. Ambition is defined as a strong desire to do or achieve something, or the desire and determination to achieve success. It is a state of being and a mindset that requires training to cultivate, and it is something that should be nurtured when it is found. While it comes naturally to some, others need to put in long hours to make ambition part of them.
The case for being ambitious is strong. Ambition has been key to human survival, and a strong sense of purpose and determination to achieve something is something that runs through each level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you are going hungry and you don’t have food or clothing, your life is at risk and your physiological needs are put into stark relief. The solution to these needs is also clear – find food or die. Find clothing to keep warm or die. This strong desire to get food and clothing is ambition, albeit basic ambition.
“All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” – Calvin Coolidge
So why has ambition become a bad word in recent years?
The importance of ambition has been brought into question in recent decades as the standard of living and the overall quality of life has increased. Most people in the west have brought themselves out of poverty and no longer live hand to mouth. The two base requirements as outlined in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (physiological and safety) have for the most part been taken care of. The world is now inundated with a variety of services and solutions to help people with the next two steps in the hierarchy (love / belonging and self esteem).
As an American living in London, I’ve experienced a wide range of thoughts and feelings about ambition and workaholic habits. In U.S. cities such as New York and Washington D.C., people tend to be more vocally ambitious than those I have met in London. At the same time, people in the UK seem to have a greater appreciation for work-life balance. I’ve also found that often times people will mirror the general sentiments of those around them in relation to their ambitions, and this will spill over from work into social lives and vice versa.
If you surround yourself with people at work that waste time, don’t make real efforts to progress, or constantly look for ways to avoid necessary tasks, you will find it nearly impossible to develop or grow an ambitious mindset. At the same time, if you surround yourself with people who are driven to succeed, who care about being recognized for their skills, and appreciate the value of hard work, you will be better positioned to succeed in your own search for ambition.
Here are 7 ways to support ambition in your life:
1. Conduct an audit of what is most important to you
Take a half an hour out of your life and sit down somewhere quiet where you can think and write. Take out a pen and paper and write down and rank the top 5 things that are most important to you in your life (i.e. your health, your career, your relationships, etc.). Once you’ve written down the top 5 things that are most important to you in a short sentence each, write 2 to 3 more sentences about why each is important to you.
2. Develop an ambition habit
Once you’ve written down and ranked your most important aspects of your life, consider what success means in each of these areas. Sure, you may not have the body you want right now, or the relationship with the perfect girl, so consider the steps that are required to reach those goals.
3. Create a system for taking regular action
A key part of this process is the development of a system for taking regular action. Write down a list of tasks that would help you get closer to achieving your ambitions for each of the 5 things that are important to you. Once you have a list of between 5 and 10 tasks listed per key area, choose 1 to complete per day. Break out one target area to focus on per day of the week, with one task to complete for that activity each day. The more closely you track these actions, the stronger your action habit will become.
4. Visualize success and clearly define a BHAG
BHAG stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. Pick one focus area (ideally your most important focus area) and define what your BHAG is for that area. What does the dream scenario look like for you? Break down that BHAG into smaller steps and start moving forward, using the action habits you’ve created.
“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
5. Look for support from people that are smarter than you
Look for opportunities to develop a Mastermind Group or a network of mentors that can help you to achieve your goals. There is a saying that goes “your network is your net worth”. This means that your value increases based on the connections you make and the smart people you can ask for assistance.
6. Focus on small successes
Not everything will go according to plan. In the Silicon Valley people see failure as a badge of honor and an opportunity for learning. But failure can be disheartening. Ambition can be cultivated by regularly attempting to see the small successes among the failures and finding ways to take insights away from those mistakes.
7. Make your ambition about bringing others up with you
The best way to cultivate a lasting sense of ambition is to focus on bringing up those around you to your level of understanding. Help those less fortunate than you reach the next highest rung on the later to self fulfillment and self discovery, and you will never be at a loss for ambition.