Many of our clients at VOCA Center (the organization where I serve), hate their jobs. They come to us so we can help them create a map to better work: work that connects more consistently with who they are and what matters to them. So we work with them to first understand what is missing. And with a subgroup of these sincere, smart, hardworking people, is a very interesting common theme: they are dissatisfied with their current work simply because they are not as successful as they had hoped or planned. In other words, what is dogging them is an unrealized ambition.
Which raises the question we are asking and answering in this short series: when is ambition good and when is ambition bad?
A Quick Review of Bad Ambition.
Ambition is the drive to achieve.
When we are driven to achieve solely for our own security, pleasure, and recognition, ambition becomes toxic. When pursuing this path, we hurt others and hurt ourselves.
But can ambition be good?
Good Ambition is Stewardship Ambition.
Ambition becomes good when self is replaced with a sense of stewardship. Stewardship is managing well what is under your care and responsibility. It is pushing past the paralyzing individualism of our culture and embracing two fundamental points of reality.
- Everything you have, was received, including your capacity to learn and produce.
- Our greatest joy is found only in serving others rather than focusing on our own needs.
When we embrace these concepts as our foundation, we then are driven to achieve for different reasons. Our push for more is not a push that is solely about ourselves. We are not chasing the admiration of a fickle crowd. We are free to excel and perform for the sheer joy of fully using our talents and seeing the fruit of those talents positively impact other people.
How do you shift from selfish ambition to stewardship ambition?
- Keep reminding yourself of specific examples of the downside of selfish ambition. Use the stories in the news, in movies and in your own history to keep the potential disaster of ambition gone amok in the forefront of your thinking.
- Ask yourself, “what five things do I want people to say about me at my 80th birthday?” As we strive for future success, we often forget the price we are paying now. What do you aspire to? How do you want to be remembered? These kinds of questions help us dive deeper into our motives.
- Be very clear on what your greatest contributions are: what are your proven abilities and skills, what kinds of things do people consistently say you do well? Keep a short and current list.
- Ask yourself, “where are those abilities and skills most needed?”
- And then adjust your career path accordingly.
Caveat: If you’re a driven person who chose your career solely out of selfish ambition, you are not alone. Most of us start out here. A first step is to learn to approach your current work differently, looking (and praying) for ways you can make a difference in the lives of those you work with. A second step is to assess your current job in light of #3 and #4. Many will stay in the same field, with a different focus and sometimes at a different firm. It is the minority that leaves it all and does something completely different.
How About You?
- Were you raised to chase selfish ambition or stewardship ambition?
- When you think about these two types of ambition, which was most dominant in the choice of your current career?
- Do you want to move from selfish ambition to stewardship ambition? Why or why not?
- What is one change you will pursue as a result of reading this post?
About the Author and Resources for Your Career Journey
Dr. Chip Roper writes Marketplace Faith from New York City, where he is Founder and President of the VOCA Center. Under Chip’s leadership, VOCA rescues clients like you from the forces that rob them of effectiveness and joy at work. With over 30 years of P/L responsibility and experience successfully navigating career change, Dr. Chip and his team at VOCA are well-positioned to be a resource to you and your team. VOCA provides coaching, training, and consulting to individuals and organizations in NYC and beyond. Visit our faith-based website at vocacenter.org and our market-facing menu of services at www.vocacenter.com.
If your wrestling with what’s next in your career, sign up for a complimentary consult to for our Calling Discernment Program.