In my last article I discussed how, to fully function as human beings, we must notice, manage, and learn from our moods and emotions.
They are our greatest teachers. Given the pressures on us to succeed from an early age and the stress this can cause in our families and workplaces, I foreshadowed I would discuss in a follow-up article what ontological coaching calls the mood of ambition.
A reminder: testing our opinions
A core skill in managing and learning from our moods is to test our opinions that inform these moods, a topic I discussed in an earlier article.
Opinions motivate our mood of ambition
We are ‘in ambition’ when we believe things can be different and make declarations, such as:
- there are other possibilities for me
- I will take action to bring these possibilities about.
Lexico’s definition of ambition — ‘desire and determination to achieve success’ — raises how we go about our ambition (desire and determination) and what we aim to do by our efforts (achieve success).
Desire and determination
I interpret ambition as opening ourselves to possibilities as they arise and saying, ‘Why not?’ Like the voyage in C.P. Cavafy’s poem Ithaka, the journey to Ithaka is full of adventure and discovery. We relish the journey, even if we do not reach Ithaka.
Others may be more focused on reaching their Ithaka – their specific goal, such as becoming a lawyer in as short a time as possible. It is easy to understand how setting a goal is productive in terms of time, focus, and achievement. My caution is to avoid tunnel vision by being so focused on your goal that you may close yourself to other possibilities, including failing to observe a range of skills you possess beyond those required for a particular career goal.
At the start of my corporate legal career, a very senior lawyer suggested I decide whether I wanted a career as a professional lawyer or a lawyer in a managing/leadership capacity. If I wanted to be a manager/leader, he advised me to consider developing what we would now call ‘soft skills’. This re-focused my thinking. Today, there are a multitude of avenues to practice law and use the skills learnt as a law student and practitioner in other areas, always asking:
What requests can I make to understand the range of possibilities for me, and to whom can I make these requests?
Once you focus, you will be surprised at the range of people you know, and the willingness of people to support you. LinkedIn is a great tool.
You may consider yourself a failure if you do not achieve a goal, notwithstanding many factors that are relevant to reaching it are out of your control. You may fail to notice your many wins along the way.
After writing and performing three award winning plays1 that were outcomes of her PhD research, my partner Margi Brown Ash may have decided not to complete the dissertation required for her PhD. Would Margi have been a failure, or would she have just redesigned her ‘desire and determination’?
In the family context, one partner driving for specific goals in their career may lose focus on the ‘we’. It is helpful to apply the opinion test (see my earlier article) and ask, ‘for the sake of what am I doing this?’
If the answer is ‘for me,’ you could ask, ‘what would it take to expand for me to for me in the service of my relationships with my partner and children?’ That is, ‘for us?’
This leads to how we may achieve joy in our ambition. I see this in having our ambition grounded in hope in the sense espoused by Václav Havel, a Czech writer, dissident, and first President of the Czech Republic. To Havel, hope is born from our heart, relishing the process because what we are doing feels worthwhile, no matter how it turns out. Hope gives us strength to experiment with possibilities.2
Do you want to be successful? Why? It’s astounding how a simple ‘why’ leaves people speechless.3
When I heard these words, I sat up. The character in the television series Bad Banks nailed it. How often do we step back and apply the opinion test to our opinion of success? How often do we ask:
- for the sake of what am I having this opinion?
- from what standards am I having this opinion?
These are powerful questions, bringing up questions as to where we find our success. Is it in:
- our relationships (family, workplace, friends)
- our children’s success
- our wealth (houses, cars, overseas trips)
- our honours/awards (receiving an Order of Australia or an award for best teacher/lawyer/employee)
- our fame (being a social influencer, the number of social media connections and hits)
- our expertise (being the go-to person to be interviewed on a particular topic, or sought after by clients)
- being a tireless helper (at the school canteen or for a charity)?
Me? When I look back on my legal and corporate career, it is not my apparent successes that I treasure. Rather, it is how my career has been an enabler of amazing professional relationships and opportunities outside of that career. It is these relationships and opportunities that reflect my desire, determination, and success – my ambition.
Do you try to be perfect?
Our ambition may be informed by our desire to be perfect. Over my lifetime, I have witnessed an increasing pressure to be seen as the perfect parent or, for example, leader. Fear, judgment, and striving to be perfect are natural inclinations.
In our parenting and work lives, we must notice, manage, and learn from these inclinations, recognising that the closest we can get to being the perfect parent or leader is to be able to say upon our deathbed, ‘I strove to be the best parent/leader I could be.’
Being transparent about our fears and not being perfect in our parenting or leading is great role modelling for our children and our team members, in the face of research declaring perfectionism to be an ‘epidemic’ among millennials, leading to anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.4
Imagine you have come out of a month-long coma, fully recovered.
- What aspect of your life would you change?
- Think of one small step you may take to achieve that – this could be discussing it with your partner or a colleague or seeking support from a professional.
- Are you able to commit to take that step within a defined time?
- Is there any aspect of this article that has resonated with you?
- Would it be useful to discuss that aspect with your partner, children, or colleagues?
- If so, are you able to commit to take that step within a defined time?
All the best in crafting your journey.
Bill Ash practised as a corporate lawyer and executive for more than 30 years, and recently as a coach, after gaining post-graduate degrees in counselling and coaching. He has recently published a book, Redesigning Conversations: A Guide to Communicating Effectively in the Family, Workplace, and Society.
1 Margi Brown Ash, The Belonging Trilogy: Home, Eve, He Dreamed a Train, Playlab Theatre, 2019.
2 Václav Havel (Paul Wilson, translated), Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvížd̕ala, Alfred A. Knopf, 1990, pp.181, 2.
3 My memory of a line by a character in Bad Banks, a 2018 German-Luxembourgian television series.
4 Caroline Praderio, Trying to be perfect has become an ‘epidemic’ among young people, and it’s taking a toll on their health, Insider, 28 November 2018, https://www.insider.com/perfectionism-definition-depression-anxiety-mental-health-2018-11, viewed 1 June 2021.