Is Your Ambition Making You Miserable?

Ambitious people

Ambition is powerful.  In the field of recruiting, it is universally sought after in every candidate.  Ambitious people have high expectations and strong intrinsic motivation.  But, is there a line between healthy ambition and unrealistic expectations?  When does unrealized ambition turn into daily frustration?  Is your ambition making you miserable?

Be Ambitious, but set SMART Goals 

It feels good to set high expectations.  But it’s easy to feel out of control and disappointed when they are not met.  For example, you have the ambition to make a certain six figure salary in the next five years.  If it doesn’t happen, it is easy to feel like you didn’t work hard enough or aren’t good enough.  You start to experience stress, disappointment, and feel weighed down.  Your goals are unattainable: “Granted, most women who work with me are serious about reaching their full potential and capitalizing on their talent,” says Executive Coach Bonnie Marcus in Forbes, “but they are unaware of how they set themselves up for failure by developing unattainable goals and then using their inability to reach those goals to spin negative self talk. Ambition breeds a certain amount of discontent with the status quo.” 

As a leader, disappointment in failed ambitions can easily trickle down to employees. Author Ron Carucci of Harvard Business Review states: “Conventional wisdom suggests that setting a high bar for employees is a good thing.  But when employees can never reach that bar, those high standards become weapons, leaving bitterness and unrealized potential in their wake.” If you are a leader, ask yourself if your employees can reach the bar you are setting.

Bonnie Marcus recommends setting SMART goals. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  SMART goals address more specific ambitions.  Instead of working towards a certain salary, a SMART goal might focus on just the next step in your career.  Here’s a good example of a SMART goal from Madeline Miles, Better Up

  • Specific: I’d like to start training every day to run a marathon.
  • Measurable: I will use a fitness tracking device to track my training progress as my mileage increases.
  • Attainable: I’ve already run a half-marathon this year and have a solid baseline fitness level.
  • Relevant: I value my health and wellness, and this fitness goal will help me sustain that.
  • Time-bound: The marathon is in June of next year, so I must be ready by then.

Be Ambitious, but Be in the Present

You will be happier with yourself and your team if you think about your ambitions in shorter time frames and focus on what’s happening in the present moment.  Expectations can easily dictate our emotional states.  In the book, The Present, author Spencer Johnson offers profound insights into the importance of embracing the present moment.  

One of the central themes of the book is the idea that by focusing on the present moment, we can experience a sense of freedom and inner peace.  When we relinquish the need to control outcomes and instead immerse ourselves fully in the here and now, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities and opportunities.

Long term ambitions can be motivators, but be aware of the uncertainties of life. Life can stop you in your tracks and you can become instantly out of control (think pandemic).  And if life does stop you in your tracks, you may even realize that life’s changes wind up being blessings in disguise, completely off of your expectation radar.

Be ambitious, but set SMART goals and know when to let go and live in the moment.  

Artemis Consultants is invested in long term relationships with clients and candidates.  Since 2005, we have built a community of highly coveted candidates who aren’t “looking” for job changes, but are willing to be “found.” 

-Written exclusively for Artemis Consultants by Business Content Writer Mellody Melville

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