A healthy dose of ambition can help you to succeed in your career, but how much ambition is "healthy"? Last week's #MTtalk Twitter chat was about finding the balance between too much ambition and not enough.
"Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in."
– Bill Bradley (1943- ), U.S. politician.
I love food and I love cooking, and I try to make almost everything we eat at home.
Mayonnaise was one of the things that I still bought, but last weekend I decided to make that, too. And it turns out that it's a tricky process!
For example, after beating the egg yolks, you have to add the oil very slowly. If you add it too fast, the mixture will split. Once split, it won't emulsify and thicken, and therefore can't become mayonnaise. The only remedy is to start again. My dog loved the unsuccessful attempts!
What if your career is like trying to make mayonnaise, and your ambition is represented by the oil in the recipe?
If you have too little ambition (you don't add oil), your career will quickly stagnate. The secret is balance: not too little, and not too much; not too fast and not too slow – it has to be just right.
What's just right for you might not be the same as what's just right for me. However, here are some factors to take into consideration:
Chances are, if you have low ambition, you'll likely put too little effort into your career growth and personal development. As a result, your accomplishments won't equal your potential, and you'll likely not be successful.
It could even cause you to criticize yourself, and those who enjoy success. Remember, the less you like yourself, the more you criticize others.
Biting into a fruit that isn't ripe is unpleasant. It's unpalatable, the texture is weird, and it often ends up in the trash.
This reminds me of a person with too much ambition. They're often pushy and lack the ability to evaluate themselves realistically. They're not yet ready to move forward, but their desire for advancement is the only criterion that counts.
Being too ambitious can lead to egotistical behavior, and a false belief that you deserve opportunities, and should be seen. There's one set of rules for you, and another for everybody else.
Overambitious people often like to ingratiate themselves with people they perceive as powerful, and who are able to help them along in their careers.
Please note, by "overambitious" I don't mean a healthy dose of ambition and high goals. Overambitiousness is a problem when a person engages in negative behavior to reach their goals, and it becomes normal to them.
Ambition can be your best friend when you want to grow your career, especially if you have a balanced outlook on life.
Balanced ambition gives you the time to plan and set realistic goals. It will also help you to be level-headed and, as a result, make better decisions. If you're balanced you are more likely to be grounded and your sense of identity or self-worth won't depend on your perceived success (or lack of it).
A balanced person knows when, and for how long, they can push hard, and when they need to take a step back.
In our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week, we discussed "Is ambition a friend or an enemy?"
You can read the questions we asked, and a selection of our participants' responses, below.
Q1. Would you characterize yourself as ambitious? Why, or why not?
@ChayneDaisy I don't believe I am, as I only want to do as good a job as I can. That does not mean that being promoted based on merit would not be welcomed.
@DigitalHarshit Yes, there's a thrust inside me to become more successful.
Q2. How would you describe someone who is overambitious? What behaviors do they exhibit?
@B2the7 For someone that is overambitious, they may not be aware of their surrounds, their health, the way they treat or communicate with others, lack of respect and no practicality.
@GThakore They take short cuts! Overambitious people don't connect well - they often behave in a selfish manner.
Q3. How can ambition hurt your career?
@lg217 Ambition can hurt your career because you might be more individualistic and not a team player. You can also be too focused on your career and not enough of your personal time with loved ones. Stress can take over your career as well, which isn't healthy.
Q4. Has there been a time in your career when you were too ambitious? What happened?
@PG_pmp When I started my career I was too ambitious. I wanted to do too many things at the same time for growth.
@J_Stephens_CPA I was so focused on the job that I let some of those moments with my boys slip by when they were little, and I took my wife for granted, too. Life is better, but still need time to heal the wounds I caused with the eldest.
Q5. What effect does an overambitious person have on their team?
@Midgie_MT They might not be considerate towards others, they might try to take all the recognition for a team effort and might undermine others.
@harrisonia An overambitious person affects their team by: unintentionally lighting a fire beneath the team to push healthy competition; causing the team to question their individual drives and/or second-guess themselves.
Q6. When is ambition your friend? What do ambitious people do to further their careers?
@Ganesh_Sabari When ambition is well within your conscious control, and it helps you explore, learn and develop new skills, it is a friend. Otherwise, it's your worst enemy.
@thevijaymahajan Ambitious people: 1 Make simple adjustments, 2 continuously update themselves, 3 are cautious about thoughts and words, 4 keep open communication, 5 set goals within time frames.
Q7. How has your ambition served you?
@Yolande_MT Ambition has kept me hungry: eager to learn, sensitive to developing the right instinct, open to exploring new opportunities and willing to take risks.
@MicheleDD_MT Ambition has shaped the person I am today. I am the child of 1sts in my family – 1st with a degree, 1st with a Masters.
Q8. How do you manage someone who is ambitious and expects to be promoted, but isn't competent enough to promote?
@BrainBlenderTec It has to be more than ambition: it has to be skill and ability to consider others. It might get you in the door, but it’s what you do inside that gauges where you go.
@thevijaymahajan Pride in the office, without competence, is as much a sin as competence without confidence.
Q9. How do you motivate people who have no interest in advancing their career?
@harrisonia I can't say that I would try to motivate people who have no interest in advancing their career. My plan for them would be to go back to the question, why? Why are they here, where do they want to go in their career, is being here beneficial for their goals?
@ot_sheffield This is tricky. I'm not sure you can force this. The person has got to want to develop or further their career path.
Q10. How can your ambition help others to get ahead?
@SizweMoyo "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together," an African proverb goes something like that. I can invite a friend to join in my ambitious endeavours and we could recruit as we go along.
@JKatzaman Let others see your success. Make yourself available as a mentor for those who want to taste your secret sauce.
To read all the tweets, see the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.
People who are overambitious tend to promote themselves when and where they can. In our next #MTtalk we'll explore the self-promotion trap.
In this week's Twitter poll we'd like to know why you think self-promotion often does more harm than good. Cast your vote here.
If you'd like to read more Mind Tools resources related to ambition, we've compiled a list of resources for you to browse.
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