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Go Ahead, Be Ambitious!

Go Ahead, Be Ambitious!

I was conducting a mock interview for a client, a focused, smart, and confident woman pursuing an executive leadership role. When I asked her if she considered herself ambitious she recoiled as if I used an inappropriate word. After further inquiry she revealed that she never wanted to be seen as the "run over your colleague" type of ambitious person and she thought it would jeopardize her professionalism and good-colleague persona in the workplace.

While some ambitious negative stereotypes may include pushy and ruthless, the positive definitions include go-getting, determined, and motivated. I encourage those of you whose values align with ambition to own this adjective as a positive one and drive your own marketing message. Define who you are on your terms and don’t fear what others will interpret if you are clear about how you want others in the career world to perceive you.

[Related: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose at Work in a Global Pandemic]

How ambitious should you be?

Ron Carucci wrote a great piece in the Harvard Business Review addressing this very question.

In excess, ambition damages reputations, relationships, and can lead to catastrophic failure. On the other hand, too little ambition can make the person in question look lazy and unmotivated. Further, it can result in mediocre performance, boredom, and a bleak sense of futility.

If your boss asks what your career goals are, have an answer and be ready to aim high if that honors what you value. You must articulate your goals in the workplace, and with your network, so others perceive your accurate intentions.

Aiming low and acting too humbly will inhibit your career growth because others will not believe you are interested in new challenges. So, if you are ambitious, as I am, wear it with pride and own your self-confidence by talking about what you want.

Strive for a healthy level of ambition.

Give yourself permission to reframe ambition as your professional aspiration and focus on your performance, growth, and achievements. Strive for your personal best to achieve rewards that you seek from the hard work you do.

Ambition action plan.

Check out these success habits of ambitious people from Kristina Udice’s insightful piece in Fairygodboss.

1) Set goals.

Set actionable goals for yourself and find accountability partners to keep you on track.

2) 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.

[Related: Six Steps to Bounce Back When You’re Feeling Lost in Your Career]

3) Invest in yourself.

You are your most valuable investment. Investing in yourself isn’t just about spending your money. Take time for yourself. Get enough sleep. Make yourself a priority, and others will see you as one.

4) Eliminate negativity.

Negativity is your enemy — both from the outside world and from within. Negativity only holds you back; it keeps you from seeing the positivity and the prospects on the horizon. Don’t tear yourself or your work apart. Don’t compare yourself to others. Work on yourself and your goals and what you want to accomplish and keep that end in sight. Your biggest competitor is yourself and no one else. Strive to be better than you were yesterday.

5) Don’t wait.

If you keep waiting, you’ll never accomplish your goals. If you keep saying tomorrow, tomorrow will never come. You can’t expect great things to happen when you’ve done nothing to work for it. Being ambitious means pushing yourself, fighting for what you want, and not taking “no” for an answer. You must make things happen, or your career and life will happen by default.

6) Surround yourself with healthy ambitious people.

Surround yourself with people who will lift you up, people who will stretch you like they push themselves, and people who know what they want and are willing to fight for it. We often surround ourselves with people who share similar qualities and habits. If you want to keep working toward your goals, you need people around you who are doing the same.

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 humble confidence that is professionally palatable and will position you to be considered for the new opportunities you seek.

[Related: Ambition and Happiness: Having Both at the Same Time]


Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community College system and contributes to Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, Medium, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. Her online video series about career and life empowerment for women is on YouTube. She hosts the three-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life, on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube.

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