"they're a bit ambitious"

Hi again,

Right, I remember it like it was yesterday. Two years ago, I was at a drinks/networking type thing. I was talking to a very old friend of mine, we were having a great chat and then a contact of his turned up. The three of us had a chat, all very normal stuff, “oh, that’s interesting” “wow, was that as interesting as it sounds?” “did you enjoy it?” (open questions!) and he made a “I must quickly go and…” and left me and my friend to it.

“He seems nice” – “yes he is, really nice” – “you don’t sound convinced” – “no I guess he’s great, he’s quite ambitious”.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing?”

I remember it so clearly, because up until that point I wasn't aware that being called ambitious could theoretically mean more than “they’re amazing, motivated, switched on” etc, but I’d never actually heard someone use the word to mean anything other than a compliment.

Today, here, now, in this very blog (or “post” if you’re on Linkedin) I’m going to explain why sometimes describing people as ‘ambitious’ is meant as a warning and sometimes it’s meant as a huge compliment.

Now I will set the scene - people talk about ‘building a career’ like it’s a science. I’m not so sure. I think that building a career is a series of decisions, the better decisions you make then the faster you’ll get to where you want to be and the more you’ll enjoy the journey there. Two massively important comments on that one, your career IS “the journey there” and two, that the most important decision of them all is the “where you want to get” bit.

Let’s imagine that one day you dream of owning your own digital agency. GREAT – what an awesome career goal. If that’s your career goal, and you’re sure of it, then every single career decision you make should be informed by the fact that you’re trying to own your own digital agency one day. In order to make career decisions you should be asking questions like “will this get me experience that will help me one day own my own digital agency?” “Will I meet people that I will learn useful things from about agencies?” “Will this help me ‘build’ a CV that one day means someone will invest in me to build a digital agency?”

Ok, that make sense? This ‘technique’ kind of works for any career minded decision – and kind of for life decisions too, but that’s for another blog (or post).

Let me tell you what ambition is. In my mind ambition is simply what that goal is. In some cases it’s having a goal at all. Lots of people don’t, lots of people are very passive in their careers –I’d strongly advise you to be entirely active with your careers. The ambition is the goal, or the destination that you’re working towards. How ambitious? You measure how ambitious you are based on how far away the goal is from where you are when you set it.

Quick example on ‘how ambitious is it?” – take the ‘owning my own digital agency’ goal. If you’re a senior partner in a digital agency then you’re quite close to it already – perhaps not that ambitious. If you’re an unproven grad then it’s very ambitious. Make sense?

How ambitious is where the goal is relative to where you are.

But what about ambition being a compliment or a warning thing? The “good ambitious” vs. “bad ambitious”?

It’s nothing to do with the goal or how ambitious you’re being. This comes down to your own morality. Is the goal so important to you that it means you’re willing to compromise your own morality to get there? Is the goal more important to you than friendships? Is the goal more important to you than trust? Honesty? Integrity?

If the answer to these sorts of questions is ‘yes’ – then it will likely come across as the wrong kind of ambition. It will be perceived as imbalanced, unattractive, unproductive and probably end up being a blocker to you getting there altogether because you will inevitably need other people’s help along the way.

Ambition is the goal you set

How ambitious you are is down to how far that goal is from your current spot

If you’re the good or bad kind of ambitious is down to you and your own moral compass.

Hope you all have wonderful ends to the week. ‘See’ you next Friday.