‘Why do we do what we do?’ – Ambition

The importance of ‘Ambition’:

We’ve touched upon Ambition already in a couple of our prior blog posts, but this week we shall focus on it specifically. Ambitions are, generally, linked to a combination of factors that influence us, and our actions, in a variety of ways: current priorities, short/long-term goals, desires etc.

Our Pilot Study Group demonstrated that their ambitions were bound-up with similar considerations, and were largely driven by their affirmed views on Priorities and Values. This is particularly interesting as it implies a correlation between work and lifestyle choices that otherwise may not have been evident.

When they were asked how significant they viewed Ambition to be in achieving success, all-but-one of our respondents considered it to be at least as significant as Motivation, and indeed many went as far as to call it vital.

A couple of things are of particular interest here:

  1. One person considered Ambition to be of only occasional importance to achieving success! While clearly a minority view, it is worth noting that there is not a necessary link drawn between ambition and success, or at least not a consistent one. Perhaps, this is simply a reflection on a balanced attitude; this individual may be concerned to show that they are prepared to temper their ambition with pragmatism. However, it could also imply that, one respondent at least, doesn’t rate ambition as being particularly important.
  1. An overwhelming percentage of our respondents considered ambition of extreme importance. It is interesting to note that, while many identified the importance of having goals and objectives, and indeed achieving success as motivational, none of them identified working as such. It could be asked, in what way these ambitions are supposed to manifest if none of our respondents are motivated by work. For example, do these people attach time-frames (not matter how vague) to their ambitions (and goals/objectives etc.), and if so how long/short are they?


The long and the short:

The above question is, to some extent, answered by the responses in the second section of Topic 5; there was an even split between people who considered their goals long-term and those who considered them short-term. Additionally, almost half of the respondents stated that being financially secure was one their primary ambitions.

These individuals are prioritising being financially secure over making a lot of money (which was an option none chose). The interest in money then is, at most, a means to an end; that of living in a desired way. Of course, it could then be asked to what standard of living are these individuals accustomed, and is their attitude towards money reflective of that.

Consistent with these findings on lifestyle, a significant percentage of the respondents also identified ‘travelling widely and experiencing different cultures’ and ‘contributing to environmental/societal improvement’ as foremost among their ambitions.


‘Ambition’ is not (necessarily) a desire to be ‘Rich’:

When the previous section on Motivations is taken into account this paints a more complex picture. These individuals are not motivated by pure financial gain, and indeed show real concern for being practically engaged with worthy causes aligned to their values, and show a long-term concern not just for their future but for those of others. This view is reinforced by over half of our Pilot Study identifying ‘training and development’, ‘career planning’ and ‘level of interest shown in me and my specific ambition’ as being the primary areas where they would evaluate an employer’s potential to fulfil their own ambitions.

While this demonstrates clear self-interest, it also shows an understanding that, as an employee, our employer can (and will) see us as an investment. These respondents appear to be very clear on this, going so far as to expect it, and in so-doing, want it to be mutually profitable for both parties. This also shows an appreciation for long-term ambitions and interest that are to be fulfilled, in part at least, by continued investment, training and development on behalf of the employer. What is less clear however is what our respondents are prepared to give back!


Is ‘Ambition’ the right term?

There was a trend among our respondents to remark on the vagueness of the term ambition, and how there should be further clarification as to its meaning. Several individuals openly pondered what it meant for them: short/long term, the nature of the spread across personal/employment ambitions etc. Another commented on their ambition to seek employment in something that is relevant to their studies, and yet another observed the fact that their ambitions are bound to change over time.


Thinking about ‘Ambition’ – the wider picture

What all of this should tell us is that, while people are often pretty clear on what their ambitions are in life, when asked to really think about them, they become far less confident. Financial security (rather than outright wealth) is key, but that goes hand-in-hand with the freedom to pursue more personal goals, many of which appear to be almost altruistic in nature.


Final thoughts:

To have Ambition, for these individuals at least, is to have and develop a variety of interests and goals, and for those to manifest as drivers for a working life. There does not appear to be a clear division between work-related and external ambitions, and indeed, many of our respondents seemed to hold them to be intertwined. It is not as simple as ‘what I want’, it is a hydra of beliefs, desires and goals, with an understanding of how they are to be brought about.

(Image courtesy of www.higherambition.org)