Letting Go: Killing Your Vertical Ambition

When someone who was very ambitious and who was very keen on vertical progress in his/her career decides it’s time to let it go – in a way it’s comparable with a top athlete losing a leg or suffering a major career stopping injury.

I’m aware it’s not completely comparable because health is more important, but mental health also counts, and personal impression on levels of pain and suffering are the only ones that count.

First of all, let’s discuss why someone would decide to leave hierarchical career progress behind. I’m going to list 3 main reason that I have witnessed so far:

  1. Change of personal priorities – family vs. job. Unfortunately, still much more present among women and in this Eastern region compared to, for example, Benelux or Scandinavia.
  2. When one’s career is not developing according to their plans for a long period of time. It becomes more and more obvious it’s not going to work out.
  3. When one is facing big disappointments related to ethics, company culture and values needed for progress. Their illusions start falling apart.

To make it clear – I’m not discussing here situations of people being backstabbed, making major mistakes that ruin their career or having unrealistic ambitions that simply can’t be accomplished. I’m referring only to conscious decisions of professionals to take a different path or to change the focus of their efforts toward different direction.

The fact that the decision was conscious and not directly forced, doesn’t undermine the anxiety, stress and pain that is caused by amputating one important aspect of your ego and your self-perception such as ambition to reach very high levels in your career.

Two major lines of thoughts are dominant in that situation: Did I waste so many years of my life, sacrifice so much, and in the end, get nothing out of it? AND the second one: What’s next? Is this the end of the world? At least the world that I know. And, to a certain extent, love. .

My experience is that it’s not very easy to get out of this situation and way of thinking. It’s a vicious closed cycle that can drive you crazy in a very short period of time.


But let’s elaborate the first doubt: yes, you can see it as a waste of time, but you can also make a list of positive things that you are taking with you and that are staying with you forever: great people that you’ve met, skills you got, valuable life and business experience that you can apply in some other aspects of life, travels to some fantastic locations and at the end of the day, money that provided you with some important things in your life, including self-confidence, pride and dignity.

What is next? If you are not chasing new achievement and new title, maybe you should consider chasing new experiences, fulfilling some small dreams that were on hold due to your busy agenda for many years and finding new focus that can help you build new reality that fits much better into your new mindset and setup of your life.

What happens very often is that people are forced into ambitious behavior. Companies stimulate ambition because they believe that if they have ambitious employees they will work more and better. But this is not true. People who are ambitious but who streamline it into a wrong direction or set their goals too high, actually become unproductive, dangerous and toxic for the organization.

During the course of my career I rarely have had any issues with people who were not smart enough, not experienced enough or even not very nice characters. The biggest problem you’ll face is with people who have a discrepancy between abilities, their intimate visions and (sometimes forced) ambitions. So, do a double check. Maybe this was not your playground in the first place.

But if it was, and if now you feel like an elite runner at the peak of your career who ended up in a wheelchair you basically have two options. To sit and cry, feel sorry for yourself, and wait for a miracle. Or you can start working on strengthening your upper body and becoming a champion in bench press or work on the recovery of your legs – not with a goal to run on the Olympics again, but to dance at your friend’s wedding at least.

Sometimes it’s easier if some things just happen to you. If you don’t have to make any hard decisions. If you can blame someone else. But when you figure out that, during the biggest part of your life, this will actually be the case, then you can start to value much more the opportunity to be a master of your own destiny, even if it looks scary and simply too hard.

Cheers to courage to quit. Cheers to courage to face your biggest fears. And cheers to opportunity to redefine yourself and still be happy. Or even happier than before.

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