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What does ambition mean to you?
For me, it’s a constant positive force. It’s having a consistent bold vision of what I want in life and a burning desire to achieve it. This theme has become really important to me lately with the imminent release of my second book, ‘Be the First: People of Colour, Imposter Syndrome and the struggle to succeed in a white world.’ Not only has it taken a fair old dose of ambition to bring to fruition the writing and publishing of a book during the chaos of a global pandemic, but in a nutshell, the book is about the value and necessity of ambition. When there are more obstacles in your way because of your race, gender, or other life circumstances, then a laser-focused, grand vision and unrelenting determination are what you need to succeed.
Here are some other great reasons to embrace ambition and use it as a positive force for good in your life.
Reasons to embrace ambition
- You’ll discover your true capabilities.
You don’t know how capable you are, or the things you could achieve unless you are ambitious enough to try. Many of us are guilty of living our lives passively, resisting change and fearing the unknown. But what if the only thing standing between you and real success was an unwillingness to imagine a bigger, better life for yourself? Why not find out what you’re truly capable of?
- You can control your subconscious mind.
Your subconscious mind is like a sponge where your long-term thoughts, attitudes, feelings and memories are stored. It’s the powerful machine that controls your beliefs, determines your behaviour, and shapes the results you get. You can repeatedly feed your subconscious mind ambitious thoughts and images, and it will soak them right up and get to work on making them happen.
- You can get the universe onside.
Have you ever just put something “out there” – voiced an idea, desire or want only to see an opportunity for that very idea crop up seemingly out of the blue? This is the universe doing its thing, responding to the energy of your thoughts in a way that can blow your mind. Sometimes the things you focus on are the things that have a habit of popping up, however ambitious and far fetched they may have seemed. So with the universe on your side, why wouldn’t you dream big?
- You most probably underestimate yourself.
People of high ability tend to underestimate their competence, often to the extent that they feel everyone else is more capable than they are. This is imposter syndrome, and is a big focus of my upcoming book, Be the First. It’s a phenomenon first identified by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, which typically affects high achievers. The implication is that our recurring doubts or worries about our ability to succeed despite a catalogue of previous achievements, is in fact, an indicator that we are highly capable! So when you feel it, embrace it and recognise it for what it is: a sign of how far you’ve come and a pointer to how far your ambition can take you.
- Your brain likes goals – ambition is natural.
It’s a fact – ambition is biological – don’t fight it! When you achieve a goal, your body releases dopamine into your brain which makes you feel good and in turn, motivated and focused on tasks (Mehta 2013). So the more ambitious you are, the better you feel, the more you achieve, and the better you are likely to perform.
- Your life is there to be lived!
As the saying goes, a life lived in fear is a life half lived. Not trying at all is much worse than making a few mistakes along the way, and how often is it said that people regret the things they don’t do, more than the things they do? Your life can be a “brief candle” or a “splendid torch”. Choose ambition, Choose life!
That said, some people naturally have this laser focus, self-belief and drive, but for others ambition is harder to find and to sustain. So if you’re in the latter group, here are my top tips for helping you discover and channel a powerful sense of ambition.
How to embrace ambition
- Tackle your limiting beliefs.
If you grew up with a negative view of ambition – thinking that it is perhaps a selfish or undignified trait – reflect on where those beliefs came from and why. Find evidence to back the opposing view and do your own research. Find stories of positive and honourable ambition and be reassured!
- Seek out a role model.
Look for people who embody the ambitious values you admire. Use their qualities and successes as motivation for your own ambition.
- Be proud of your ambition.
Be out and proud with your ambition. Practise saying the phrase repeatedly, ‘I am ambitious’. Some friends at a networking group once described me as ambitious and I initially felt self-conscious and uncomfortable about it. But then I realised that THIS is what my work is all about. I have a vision, and a desire to succeed. I AM ambitious. And it feels great!
- Create an ambitious, audacious goal.
Take the biggest most ambitious one you can think of, and write it down. Then say it aloud repeatedly for 7 days. You’ll be amazed at how positive and dynamic you feel about that goal by the end of the week. That’s ambition!
- Reflect on your past achievements!
Think of a goal you achieved in the past that had seemed really ambitious – bold and terrifying. Try to remember how you felt about that goal before you achieved it. Have you run a marathon? Started a business? Learned a skill that seemed impossible at first? All these things are positive affirmations of your abilities – and your ambitions. Remember them.
- Vanquish the fear of failure.
We so often avoid ambitious goals for fear of what will happen if we fail. But that’s only if you see failure as a negative. Learn to see failure for what it really is – a chance to learn, an opportunity to improve and a stepping stone on the way to eventual success.
- Let go of the fear of success.
Sometimes, you’re not only scared of failing, but scared of succeeding and of the extra challenges that success might bring. What if you get the job/the promotion.. what then? Will you cope, will you be happy? Let go of these ‘what if’ thoughts. They will keep you from progressing or cause you to feel regretful about opportunities missed.
- Spend more time with ambitious people.
Join networking groups and surround yourself with people who also have the desire and momentum to achieve. You’ll be be pulled along on the tidal wave of others’ positivity and ambition which will help you get where you want to go.
- Ensure your ambition is authentic.
It’s not just what you want but why you want it. You will only find real motivation in your work/life choices if you are authentic and stay true to your core values. Reflect on your past experiences and try to identify your ‘why’ – when were you happiest or most energised? When disappointed or bored? This will help you focus your ambition on things that have meaning for you. And once you’ve channelled that truly authentic ambition, there’ll be no holding you back!
So now you know why you need it and how to get it – but did you know there are some key mistakes you need to avoid on your journey towards finding ambition?
Mistakes to avoid
- Not recognising your Imposter Syndrome.
The greater your competence, the more likely you are to analyse risks and outcomes logically. If you dare to have a big goal, you might well then qualify it due to a cognitive understanding of the scientific probability of success (or failure). But don’t let this ‘imposter syndrome’ hold you back. Accept your inner imposter, be aware that your rational tendency to self-edit does not take into account your own high ability and agency as author of your own destiny. Reclaim ownership of your audacious dreams.
- Thinking that ambition means ruthlessness.
I am a firm believer in the power of the role model – but your role model for ambition doesn’t need to be an arrogant, hard-nosed achiever who succeeds at any cost. Find someone whose qualities and values you admire too. If you respect thoughtful and facilitative leadership, there’s no point in focusing on a ruthless autocrat as the epitome of successful ambition. Being ambitious does not have to mean being arrogant or ruthless. Don’t be put off by those you see around you who are. Find YOUR style of ambition and do it YOUR way.
- Surrounding yourself with negative people.
Negativity can hugely impact your thinking and actions by draining your energy and willpower – it can effectively squash your ambition. Get yourself out of a rut by joining a network of like-minded people who share your vision, positive mindset and drive. Ditch the doom-mongers and embrace the energetic!
- Thinking you can’t ‘have it all’.
Striving to be superhuman is never going to be attainable or even desirable, but you can ‘have it all’, (if you know what you truly want.) What are your values, your hopes and your dreams? There is no universal standard, it is just about identifying what makes YOU happy and fulfilling your potential. You know what your own personal ‘all’ is; therefore YOU can absolutely make it happen.
- Thinking that ambition is a selfish trait.
Many of us have grown up surrounded by slightly negative attitudes towards ambition – that it is vain or selfish. If you find that these feelings are limiting your potential, tackle them head on. Reflect on their origins and challenge them. Do your research and find evidence to the contrary. Seek out role models who do not fit the negative stereotypes. Ambition should be whatever you want it to be!
Finally – to help you get your journey towards ambition off to the best start, here are some great resources to help you focus your drive and maintain your momentum. And remember: “Ambition beats genius 99% of the time” – Jay Leno.
- Where better to start than with my new book Be the First: People of Colour, Imposter Syndrome and the struggle to succeed in a white world (available to preorder here). Vision and drive are the essence of ambition and with the issues people of colour face time and time again in a white world, positioning our thinking ambitiously is the way to achieve success.
- Ambition: why it’s good to want more and how to get it by Rachel Bridge. If you want to get that promotion, achieve that big life-changing goal, or start your own successful business, then this book asserts that you already have the fuel of ambition in you. It describes how to tap into it to drive your success and to reach these goals.
- Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook’s COO and one of the world’s most powerful business women set the world alight with her ground-breaking work on women’s ambition. In it, she examines what women can do to help themselves get on in business and shows how individual women making small changes can effect larger change on an institutional scale.
- Women in the Law UK. A women’s not-for-profit networking organisation providing members with an array of resources and events designed to encourage, inspire and support the next generation of Lawyers and Women in Business.
- City Women Network. Another London-based network, the CWN is a selective group representing senior level women from varying professions. Their aim is to further the professional development of female talent in business by enabling members to make valuable connections with each other and build their influence.
If you’re leading a busy life, a goal tracking or coaching app may be just what you need to channel that naked ambition into positive achievements. Here are a few suggestions.
- Strides (available on IoS) (link) This app allows you to set goals, targets and keep track of habits. You get flexible reminders – and if you love stats, lots of lovely charts to illustrate your progress.nks. The journal feature allows you to record your goals and progress in a bit more depth.
- Remente (available on IOS and Android) gets you to assess your life in terms of your relationships, health and fitness, personal development, family life, social life, recreation, and finance. It helps you set SMART goals to achieve your ambitions in these areas.
- Coach.me (available for IoS and Andriod). This app lets you develop good habits in any sphere of your life by encouraging you to build a chain of achievements and to resist breaking the chain. The app allows you to interact with other users for motivation and get advice.
Good luck with finding that powerful sense of ambition! If you’d like help with setting and achieving ambitious goals, contact me Caroline@babyproofyourlife.com for more information about my Having It All coaching programme.