Career Ambitions

Quite often during a job interview the interviewer will ask something like “What are your 5 and 10 year career goals?”.  It’s an answer that does not come easy – as most people simply don’t know what to say.   But if you want to progress in today’s profession you will need to take a close look at your career ambitions and decide which are good to have and which may be detrimental.

So, what is ambition and how should you manage it – and is being ambitious good or bad?

Your ambition can be directed in a number of ways – a promotion, higher salary, increased client satisfaction or improved manager opinions of your quality of work.    Ambitious people are people striving for some sort of honour or recognition in their career.  They are motivated to strive for their goals, even in the face of adversity and failure.    An ambition can be compared to a mountaineer placing a flag on a mountain top – effectively saying “I was here, I actually did something”.

Ambition can have its negative side too.   As soon as you attend to one ambition you see another one higher up – once you reach your career goal you quickly formulate another.   As such, ambitious people can be in a state of constant frustration as their tasks are never quite finished.   They can feel as if they are pushing a large rock uphill, only to have it constantly slide down again, which can leave them wondering if they will ever be happy.

The idea that you must constantly strive for a pay rise, or better position, can lead to problems occurring when you forgot why you formulated these goals in the first place.   If you are not enjoying trying to achieve your career goals then these goals need to change.   You need to constantly examine why you are trying to reach your goals.  The answer should be because you love doing it and want to do more.  If you are not enjoying your current role then you should direct your ambitions elsewhere.

There are also practical limits to career ambitions.  Some find that constant ambition just leads to more work and stress, whereby physical and mental well-being can be adversely affected.  To live with constant ambition can also be to live with fear and anxiety – unless the weight of those ambitions can be relieved in some way.

Relief can come from having a feeling of being satisfied and grateful for past achievements.  Once you achieve a career goal it is important to take a breather, celebrate and enjoy your achievement.    There is no need to immediately rush towards another goal, take time out and enjoy the view from the mountain top.   Be grateful for what you have.  Acknowledge your ambition, but recognise that in the end your ambitions are all in your mind.  There is a life beyond your ambitions.  So be careful not to commit to too many goals or else you may end up being irritated and agitated most of the time.

Recognise that life has a habit of getting in the way of your ambitions.  Life is complex and people’s ambitions change, especially when they have a family.  At this stage in life career ambitions tend to give way to family needs.

By now you may be thinking “Is there any point in having career ambitions anyway? Couldn’t we just relieve a lot of stress by not having them?”.     The good news is that many studies have shown that, despite some of the negative side effects, ambitious people tend to have higher levels of education, income and life satisfaction.