I wanted to take a few moments to share some thoughts with you about the cult of ambition. It’s something that seems rife on LinkedIn, where you’ve probably seen quite a lot of people equating sustained “hustle” with success.
That is to be expected on a global networking platform of over 600 million users that has become a shop window for hiring and talent-spotting. In fact I would go so far as to recommend that networkers and career-oriented professionals generally self-promote (tastefully) and use LinkedIn to do so.
But does this amount to a subtle implication that, if you’re not continually hustling, you’re somehow missing out?
For a silent number, their desire to remain exactly where they are, finish work at a respectable hour and (whisper it) simply use their job as a means to more important ends, has become something of a dirty secret.
Success is subjective. Certainly it can be about earning a lot of money, or getting to the top. It can also be about making a difference to people or society. Or to your family, or friends, or partner. Or about being a good person, or parent, or getting fit. It can be about enjoying the things you love, or not dreading Mondays. If we take our big career cues only from networking media, we may be taking the wrong cues, or at least the wrong cues for us.
I love working with ambitious people and helping them to plan and achieve career goals. In many ways my industry thrives on ambition. But it’s also great to find you’re perfectly happy where you are right now. If you’re lucky enough to be one of those people, the world needs you.
I will always remember a conversation I had with a member of a large finance department at one of my early employers. A competent, bright and professional individual, he had been enrolled into a management training class I also joined. And during the process, he decided that he didn’t want to be promoted or manage more people than the couple he already was. He was happy with his life.
Years later I recall this conversation with unusual clarity. Why was it such a memorable conversation? Probably because we tend to remember emotions more than anything else, and at the time I was so accustomed to the driving ambition of those around me that I was deeply surprised by his admission, which ran so counter to the norm. I was also secretly envious of the degree of his self-knowledge and his contentedness. Perhaps others felt the same, but feared to say so.
In the normal scheme of things, a number of people will interview for every advertised vacancy in every company. And some of those people will be asked “Where do you see yourself in five years?” If someone doesn’t know the answer to that question, does it mean they’re incapable? Of course not. But good interview protocol is important, so a pretty decent answer those individuals could give might be “I don’t know yet, because I’m hoping this company will be the opportunity I’m looking for, and if it is, I will be able to plan my career with this company in mind”. To join a company without a five year personal development plan in your pocket is something a lot of people do – many of them great potential employees.
Employers don’t hire only for ambition (which in itself is no guarantee of quality). They hire for cultural fit, team-working skills, empathy, emotional intelligence, honesty, fairness, creativity, ownership and all sorts of other traits. Good employers try to find ways to develop people horizontally as well as vertically, helping employees to gain skills in work they enjoy, and that allow them to perform well in their role. And simply being the best you can be at your job is a commitment that shouldn’t be overlooked or escape praise.
It might sound counterintuitive, a recruitment manager blogging as if they’re trying to persuade other professionals to stick, not twist, in their career. But I’ve always been about finding the right job for people – the one they don’t want to leave, the one that makes them feel like they’re in precisely the right place, as least for a few years. This seems a pretty reasonable definition of success to me.
Not everyone is motivated by moving upwards. Perhaps success is simply not dreading Mondays. Or just being the best version of yourself, with whatever values that entails.
I hope you’re happy in your work. I think it’s important you are.