Ambition is Not a Dirty Word
The career landscape provides you with a myriad of choices about where to work and how to advance your career. Be proactive about how to become a promotable player and confidently consider the leaders with whom you want to work — or not.
During a mock interview with my client Collette, I asked her if she considered herself ambitious, and she recoiled as if I had used an inappropriate word. Keep in mind, Collette is a focused, smart, and confident woman pursuing her first senior executive leadership role. But this question struck a nerve. She revealed that she never wanted to be seen as the run-over- your-colleague type of ambitious person, and she thought being ambitious would jeopardize her professional brand and good coworker persona.
This led to an interesting discussion about good and bad ambitious behaviors. While we agreed that some ambitious behaviors are negative (i.e., being pushy, ruthless, power-hungry), Collette was surprised by the positive aspects of ambition. She hadn’t considered how ambition could motivate and encourage her to engage with her work in more meaningful ways. We created a list of definitions for positive ambition, including go-getter, determined, and motivated. This reframing of ambition resonated with Collette, and she now owns it as part of her brand narrative.
How Ambitious Should You Be?
Your definition of ambition is yours to design, so give yourself permission to reframe it as part of your professional aspiration. As you consider what ambition means to you, reflect on the following to help organize your thoughts:
- Define who you are on your own terms.
- Be clear about how you want others in the career world to perceive you.
- Make an effort to put that out into the world.
Focus on how ambition positively showcases your motivation and eagerness to advance. It gives you the ability to handle change and tackle new challenges with an “I’m ready for the opportunity” mindset. Then, put it into action. If your boss asks about your career goals, be prepared with an answer and ready to aim high if that reflects your intentions.
I worked with Collette to help her articulate her goals clearly and then communicate those goals with her network and in interviews, so others understood exactly what she aspired to do.
There is no mind reading in the career world, and this clarity and conviction helped Collette land the role she sought.
Aiming low and acting too humbly will inhibit your career growth because others will not believe you are interested in new challenges. If you are ambitious, as I am, wear it with pride and own your self-confidence by talking about what you want and how you will go about earning it.
Ambition Action Plan
Once you’ve defined what ambition means to you, access that power to make an action plan that will motivate you to engage with your work in more meaningful ways.
- Set goals. Set actionable goals for yourself and find account-ability partners to keep you on track.
- Take risks. Ambitious people are not afraid to take risks and make mistakes. Failing forward is an investment in your growth and illustrates your ability to be resilient.
- Invest in yourself. You are your most valuable investment. Investing in yourself isn’t just about spending your money. Take time for yourself. Make yourself a priority, and others will see you as such.
- Eliminate negativity. Negativity is debilitating — from both the outside world and from within. Negativity only holds you back; it keeps you from seeing the positive and the prospects on the horizon. Don’t tear yourself or your work apart. Don’t compare yourself to others. Work on yourself, your goals, and what you want to accomplish. Keep that end in sight. Your biggest competition is yourself and no one else. Strive to be better than you were yesterday and focus on your personal best.
- Don’t wait. If you keep waiting, you’ll never accomplish your goals. If you keep saying tomorrow, tomorrow will never come. Why not start now? You can’t expect great things to happen when you’ve done little or nothing to work for them. Push yourself, fight for what you want, and don’t take no for an answer. You must make things happen, or your career and life will happen by default.
- Surround yourself with positive, ambitious people. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up, people who will push you as they push themselves, and people who know what they want and are willing to fight for it. If you want to keep working toward your goals, you need people around you who are doing the same. Start spending time with other ambitious people, and you will energize each other.
Celebrate Your Ambition
By putting your professional goals out into the world, you are more likely to create opportunities that align with your values because others will have a clear expectation of what you want. Take pride in your ambition and own it with a confidence that is professionally palatable and will position you to be considered for new opportunities you seek.
I wrote about ambition in my new book, Your Career Advantage: Overcome Challenges to Achieve a Rewarding Work Life. This playbook provides real-time action steps and insight to tackle familiar and complex work challenges, while also empowering you to celebrate your wins and achieve your goals. It’s available in hard copy, digital, and the audio version with me narrating. I believe it can help you enjoy your career AND love your life.