Ambition has been highly valued in the last couple of decades. In the last ten years or so I would say it has been valued and promoted as a desired quality more than it should be. I like to call this period “the era of awakening of ambitions”. Everyone is talking about career, leadership, success… Movies and TV shows are promoting this culture. Magazines make a living out of it. And you might ask, what’s wrong with that?
Well, until 5-6 years ago I would have thought that there was nothing wrong. I would have actually been confused if I were to meet someone who doesn’t have high career goals. And then I attended one leadership training. A very good one. With very good and smart participants. Twelve high potentials of a big multinational. Most of them were either very good or brilliant at their jobs. Some of them I still consider best professionals I ever met in my life. But after spending quite some time with them (we were together for 3 weeks in total) I realized that even at this high level, ambitious people at their mature enough age, are often quite clear about what to do, but very unclear about how to do it. How to fulfill their ambitions?
This is the moment for the second A to get in the picture. Ambivalence. Is it really good to have so many people with high ambitions? Is that really in their DNA or has someone pushed them into such a behavior? Will they ever learn how? Will they ever be happy and make people around them happy? Recently I came across an article saying that a new research showed that investments in leadership trainings were not paying back and leadership was not improved in general compared to 20 years ago. Is that a problem of trainings? Or is it a problem of expectations?
If I analyze today the careers of 12 of us, two people stand out, being the most successful. At least when it comes to titles and probably pay checks. One of them was the ambitious one who was the best at learning how to deal with her ambivalence, and the second is the most ambitious one who never had any ambivalence. He only wanted to succeed. And he did.
What have I learned from this? Ambition is like a sleeping lion. Think twice if you are going to wake him up. Think twice if you are about to wake up ambition in other people. Because, can we all be that successful? Can we all fulfill our ambitions? Is that really what we want?
I am by nature an ambivalent person. Although many people who have worked with me might say that I’m very determined and that I make decisions easily. But, in the backend of this process I’m going through a lot of painful thinking. Some of it is helpful and is making me a better person, but some of it is comprised out of clear inhibitors of ambition and future formal successes. Why is that painful? When you are reading a good book or watching a good movie, you are always attracted the most by characters who are causing ambivalent feelings. You are going through so many different emotions because of them. Which is nice, but also painful. In most occasions those characters do not win in the end. But we still love them. It’s similar in life and career. If you don’t have any ambivalence in your life you have a much bigger chance to win. But, what is the point then? What are you going to do after you win?
It’s a very hard process but the only possible one for me – learning to love your ambivalence and to understand your ambitions. This process will either kill you or make you the king of the world!
Cheers to AA! But take it easy. We don’t want anyone in the AA!