Bianca B. King suggests this rebranded ambition is not crammed full of sacrifice, regret, and fear.
BY BIANCA B. KING
Originally published on fastcompany.com
The aftershocks from the spate of workplace phenomena over the last few years can still be palpably felt by every employee from entry level to senior management alike. The repercussions from the Great Resignation, the duel rise of quiet quitting and burnout, bracketed with a looming recession and whispers of more layoffs further exacerbate an already fragile environment.
Many leaders are paralyzed with fear, just hoping to have a job in 2023, as they attempt to refocus and reenergize their remaining teams. So, why would we try to be ambitious or even talk about ambition at a time like this? Is there still space for ambition? Deeper yet, do we even need ambition in this post-pandemic work culture? The simple answer is yes. But it comes with a caveat: It’s time to think about ambition in a completely new way. It’s time to give ambition a rebrand.
First, what is ambition? Congratulations if you read the word and did not have a visceral response. You’re among the few that don’t. The word itself is teeming with almost as emotional baggage as money. While Google defines ambition as “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work,” around the office, we often define it as someone who is driven or even sometimes has a “do whatever it takes to make it” mentality, often to the detriment of those around them. By embodying this definition, men, mainly cis, heterosexual white men, receive applause and accolades. They win not only coveted positions and salaries but are also often clapped on the back by the rest of the indulgent patriarchy.
However, ambition takes on a different hue regarding women and people of color. For historically disenfranchised groups, being ambitious has been problematic, especially when it disrupts the status quo. Adopting the patriarchy’s behavior of ambition might eventually result in getting to their desired outcome, but it’s often at a high cost and, at times, compounded by losses in relationships and reputation. We know there’s a better way.
It’s time we reject the harmful “do whatever it takes” definition of ambition and write a new one—one specifically for women business leaders and people of color living and working in the 21st century. This rebranded ambition looks like:
1. A core values-based pursuit of success on your terms.
2: The joyful, diligent pursuit of success informed by one’s ideals.
This rebranded ambition I present is not your grandmother’s ambition, crammed full of sacrifice, regret, and fear. Instead, it’s one full of choice and joy, guided by values steeped in deep-rooted ideals and dreams. It’s a version of ambition that can help you reach your purpose without requiring you to reject your values. This new version of ambition still allows you to have complete control in accomplishing your aims but does not ask you to deny the softer side of ambition. Oh yes, there’s a softer side. It’s time to permit yourself to be ambitious, as you define it.
AGENCY OVER AMBITION
Understanding that your ambition is not conditional is essential. You have full agency—or control and influence—over how you employ it to reach your goals. Agency over ambition means throwing out all the stereotypical expectations associated with the old definition. It means you can decide what success means and how you pursue it.
Ambition was once (and sometimes still is) presented as synonymous with chasing materialism, and I reject that. Our new definition says ambition is simply the means by which we pursue success. And yes, there’s room in this definition for commas in bank accounts and luxury cars in the driveway, but there’s also room for the person whose ambition is to plant a thousand trees daily.
single societal measure. The deployment of ambition is only relevant to the pursuant. Adopting the new definition frees us from the old archetype, allowing us to embrace the full depth and breadth of what ambition solely means to us.
AMBITION’S SOFTER SIDE
Impossible standards, perfection, and overworking are no longer acceptable norms to any of us. They’re also antithetical to the softer side of ambition which has been ignored and stifled for decades.
If your quest for success is causing you unbearable struggle and too much sacrifice, lay it down. Investigate why it’s asking so much of you.
Is the object of your pursuit really in line with what you desire or is it merely what you’ve been told you should want?
Is the definition of success you’re striving to meet really one that resonates with you or simply one you’ve adopted because everyone else has?
Instead of the succeeding through an at-all-costs mentality, the softer side of ambition asks to meet us exactly where we are. Instead of being a prisoner of ambition, we can co-create with it to achieve our version of success through insightful intentions, ensuring our ambitions align with our values and happiness. Embracing the softer side of ambition can help us all maximize outcomes with more enjoyment while avoiding burnout and undue stress.
PERMISSION TO BE AMBITIOUS
Yes, it is still good to be ambitious. How else will we meet challenges we must overcome to get what we want? The critical word here is “want.” Permit yourself to be ambitious about what you want—your substantive dreams.
The anti-ambition movement recently materialized and for a good reason as most of us have been doing it wrong. The world finally shifted from old paradigms into being more conscious about how we view our work and our definition of achievement beyond it. However, there is no doubt that ambition is still relevant and needed. Reevaluating how we manage our pursuit of success is one of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves.
Ambition no longer needs to be the word we use to describe the sacrificial, clawing, grasping measure for obtaining success. Imagine the possibilities that will emerge as we redefine ambition on our terms, removing the negative connotations, and previous baggage.
If we’re able to forge ambition into an innovative resource, we leverage at will to pursue our goals. Connecting to our personalized desire for success and aligning work with our values is the quiet calculus we all must perform to obtain growth and achievement without suffering sacrifice and regret.
Bianca B. King is an entrepreneur and the founder of the exclusive collective Pretty Damn Ambitious™.