You Can't Teach Ambition

I never used to understand LinkedIn. I used to think it was a haven for overly pushy, Type A corporate types who wanted to show off how Type A and corporate they are. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist (it does, we’ll get to that), but it is certainly nothing like as prevalent as I thought it would be, at least with the people I am connected with.
Maslow (1943) stated that humans sought to be self-actualized, and went on to say that this may be described as “The desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” What if all everyone is capable of becoming, is to become nothing? Gandhi led a peaceful and successful revolt against the biggest superpower on the planet, probably the biggest since the height of the Roman Empire. Have you ever seen any indication that he was lacking in peace, or that he was a man living with stress in his life?
On the other side of this, and to tie with the title of this article, I recently saw a meme on LinkedIn that said simply this “You can’t teach ambition.” I agree – but not for the Type A corporate reason I believe it was implying. You can’t teach it because it is inherent in each and every person on the planet. Who achieved more, Gandhi, or some Type A middle manager who went to President’s Circle three straight years, living the corporate dream, sweating numbers, and being fluent in corp-speak? I’ve been that guy – I won awards and went on trips and you know what – it’s worthless. My kids don’t care. No one cares. I don’t care.
Here are the three take aways for today:
1 – The problem isn’t that “You can’t teach ambition!” The problem is that too many people who see themselves as “ambitious” don’t realise that not everyone has the same life goals and ambitions, and people have different definition of success.
2 – Just because someone doesn’t have blood pressure of 220/130 and show their commitment to the corporate cause by losing sleep, living with chest pains, and never seeing their wife and kids, it doesn’t make them less ambitious. It just means their ambitions are different to others who are trying to get ahead in the rat race.
3 – Don’t get sucked into the belief that you have to follow someone else’s dreams and goals in order to be productive or successful. That’s the bogus crap that burns people out and leaves them hating the world and everyone in it. You can dream your own dream – and don’t let anyone look down on your for it!
I think that one of the most powerful lessons we can learn is that maybe the fullness of self-actualisation, as put forward by Maslow is not achieving all your ambitions, but letting go of everything to the point we see beyond temporal ambition. When Gandhi was killed he put his hands on his heart in an attitude of prayer and didn’t resist – he had more peace in his moment of death than most corporate middle management types experience when they are asleep. When you think about all he achieved, do you want to tell me that Gandhi didn’t have ambition?
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Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–96.

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