Is ambition critical to success or can it block it? That climb to the top can not only filled with rickety ladder rungs but if you’re not careful, can lead you not to success, but empty air and a dangerous drop.
Here are four classic ways that ambition can get in the way of success and what you can do to keep your path to greatness free and clear.
1. Ambition can change you for the worse.
Ambition has a way of driving us to places we no longer recognize in ourselves. We can become self-absorbed, impatient, and less empathetic to our colleagues and followers. Let’s face it, it takes a lot of energy and focus to climb that ladder and becoming all about “me, me, ME” can happen. But that self-centeredness can trigger warnings for the people holding your ascension in their hands. Remember they’re looking for someone who will be a good leader in the face and if they see you becoming detached and self-absorbed, you may not tick all the boxes for them.
Recognizing whether you’re sacrificing your authenticity or humanity for recognition is critical to true success. Whomever you’re perceived to be in this process is who you’ll be expected to be when you arrive.
2. Ambition can trigger massive insecurity.
When we’re aiming for the top, we think we’re going to need to be perfect to get there. We shove down the more messy, human parts of ourselves and live in fear that we’ll be found out as lacking in some essential skill or trait, regardless of whether we have it or not. And we buy into the whole “fake it ‘til you make it” paradigm in order to compensate – resulting in various degrees of terror. The Imposter Syndrome becomes our constant companion, and we cease being comfortable owning where we actually are in our journey.
Remember that the entire point of getting to the next level is what we’re going to learn and experience there! If we’re already amazing at everything, we’ve likely waited too long to push for our rightful place. A combination of hustle and humility is the key to secure success. Shout happily about accomplishments, own what you’re still learning and keep it real. Not only will you worry less about being ‘found out’, but people will be more happy to help and support you in filling in your experience gaps.
3. Ambition can become a meter of our worth.
Too often, we use ambition as external proof of our value. If we can get that recognition, promotion, or title, then we must be good! And if we don’t, we must not be. This hands over our sense of self-worth to forces we can’t control. Politics and policies can hold our ascent back. Promotions and reviews can be subjective or ill-fated. Just ask anyone who’s ever been up for a new role only to discover their sponsor has just left the company without so much as a backward glance.
If ambition is your sole source of validation, you’re setting yourself up for a world of potential hurt. But if you have a strong sense of your strengths, abilities and value separate from the opinion of others, your all-important internal validation system will keep your swagger intact no matter what setbacks you might face.
4. Ambition can make you stop improving.
Sure, we need confidence to aim high in this life. But what we need even more is competence. Waling a good game beats talking one every time. When we start believing our own hype too much, we can fall victim to the dreaded Dunning-Kruger Effect , causing us to think we’re better and more informed than we actually are! This is dangerous not just to our long-term success, but to the people who rely on us to lead, teach, and better them. It can also lead to half-baked, uninformed decisions and that’s a recipe for arrogance and ignorance. Sure, it’s good to be great, but it’s great to want to be better. Strive to be in your place of excellence first and trust that success will find you there.
Leslie Ehms is the author of SWAGGER: Unleash Everything You Are and Become Everything you Want.