A test for Ambition
- Do you absolutely hate your job?
- Do you hate getting up in the mornings?
- Do you go through the motions at work?
- Do you wish you could do something else, but have no idea what?
- Have you carried your job dissatisfaction for so long, you don’t even think about it anymore, and when you do think about it you blame it on life being hard, unfair, the system or other people?
- Are you resigned?
If your answer yes to any of these questions …
..then you have no story of ambition
Yep, story of ……. Note my title didn’t ask “What’s your Ambition?”
You see ambition is not merely a drive to succeed, in fact the drive to succeed comes from having ambition. Also, ambition is not a goal, or objective.
Rather, ambition is your story of what you are creating with your life, your own personal narrative that gives meaning to your life.
Either you have your own invented story of ambition or you’re using a default story given to you by the people around you. Sadly most people are using a default story, and don’t know that they are.
The most typical default story that we use in our ambition story is go to college and get a job.
Going to college is not ambition
Many people hold going to college/university as an ambition, and at some level this is valid, but to think of ambition in this way is not very powerful.
It is not powerful because it focuses on a means to an end and it doesn’t answer any important questions.
For what purpose are you going to college? If this is not clear, how will you even know what courses to take?
I expect that the most common reason most young people will give for going to college is to get a job that pays better than if they didn’t go to college—and of course Girls Gone Wild.
Two perfectly good reasons for the average Dick and Jane.
Yet this is why there are millions of people doing work that doesn’t fulfill them, living their lives never coming close to exercising their true potential. (But boy those university years were fun!)
Perhaps you’re thinking of going back for your MBA or law degree … really?
Many people, if they are perfectly honest with themselves will answer, “because I can’t think of anything else that could significantly change my life for the better.”
There are tens of thousands of unemployed and unhappy MBAs and lawyers in the world, and the business and law schools won’t tell you about them because they are in the business of selling business and law degrees.
If you don’t have a powerful answer to the question of why you are going to college in the first place, or why you are considering a second degree, then that’s another clear indication that you don’t have your story of ambition.
Ambition is an evolving story of your purpose
It takes years of thinking, exploration and reflection to craft an ambition that drives you. Ideally this process begins in one’s pre-teen years with the playful question of what do you want to be when you grow up. Sadly this question is not asked as often as it should.
Instead kids are encouraged—often forced—to study so that they can get good grades. But why? So they can get a job and work to retirement?
Eeeeeeeeehhhhhh! (Game show sound effect)
No wonder kids resist. Hell even adults resist.
Ambition is a story that drives you, a story about what you are doing with your life, what you will achieve. There is no requirement that ambition be noble—that you have to save the world—but it should be compelling for you.
Ambition should get you up in the morning
When I was a kid there was a hit song “I don’t like Mondays,” that had one line “I want to shoot the whole day down.” One clear sign that you have no ambition is if this song chorus resonates with you.
Your ambition should get you up in the morning. It’s your ambition that has you take on things that you wouldn’t ordinarily do, it’s your ambition that gives you determination, it’s your ambition that gives you your drive to succeed.
How does one develop a story of ambition?
Below, you’ll find a few things you can do to develop your story of ambition. They are never done once and then complete, but rather—like exercise—things that you continually come back to, indeed practice, to create and evolve your story of ambition.
Try different things
Ambition comes from what you are exposed to. What’s possible as ambition for the son of an African goat herder, is very different from what’s possible as ambition for the daughter of a U.S. President. Yet within that frame of possibility, ambition only becomes a powerful driving force through experiencing different things, failing at some, succeeding at others, and all the while holding in front of you the question, “What do I wish to do with my life?”
That’s how it becomes YOUR story of ambition and not someone else’s story that you unconsciously adopt. It must come from your own life experiences, and in particular from your failures.
Continually ask questions
- What do I wish to do with my life?
- Am I in it for me only?
- What kind of life do I want to have for myself and my family?
- What kind of society do I want to live in, do I want my kids to grow up in, and what actions do I have to take to contribute to creating and sustaining such a society?
- What do I like/dis-like about the jobs I’ve had?
- What is the story of my life?
Write a story
Begin writing your story about your life. If you’re an aspiring writer you could turn this into a biography, or a great story of fiction, but if you’re not ready for such a grand endeavor simply write a story of where you are now and how you got there, the choices you made, and then write two stories about your future.
Include a default future story
In “The Three Laws of Performance” Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan distinguish a ”default future.”If you continue on living life the way you have been, where will you be in 5 years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years from now? You might be surprised at how easy an exercise this is if you have no driving story of ambition. Try it yourself. You can’t get this wrong, it’s just a great way to look at the path you’re on and where it’s taking you.
Unless you have ambition, default futures are not very inspiring, but articulating yours can help you avoid trainwrecks in your future, or at the very least avoiding your exiting this life with no one noticing.
Create a future for yourself
Write another future for yourself, one where you grab the steering wheel and turn it in a different direction. This is the story that you will revisit over the coming weeks and years. This is the story to develop a practice around.
No need to craft fantasies, and indeed don’t write stories of you becoming President, or the next Bill Gates if those are clearly not possible for you. So no “Secret” bullsh!t, but stuff that you will be responsible for creating in your life.
Your job is to write a story that will begin to alter your default future. You will change it many times, but if you develop a practice of revisiting this story, re-reading, re-writing it, and tweaking it, you will develop a story that can be the story of what drives you in life, your story of ambition.
From this story you will be confronted with your philosophy of life and your personal ethics. What do you stand for? What influence will you have on people, the environment, your country and the world? It will inspire you to seek the teachers, mentors, coaches and communities that will be necessary for you to have your story unfold.
Start writing your story
We are too busy with daily life to question why we’re doing what we’re doing; to check that we’re on a path leading us on a journey of our own choosing.
We don’t know what it means to have ambition, a real story of ambition that is our own invented story. Ambition is an evolving story that is informed by the experiences we have—the more the better—and the questions we ask.
Write a story that begins with where you are now, and how you got there. Then craft two futures: the first is your default future, the one showing where you will be in different five or ten year increments if you continue as you’ve been living now. The second is your invented future. This is the one that has you dream, not fantasize about, a future that you create for yourself.
This second story is the one that you will develop a practice of revisiting, tweaking, and rewriting at frequent intervals. This is the story of your ambition that will serve to guide you to find the teachers, mentors, coaches and communities who will help you craft, realize and live your story of ambition.