An Absence of Ambition

Going nowhere?

In the first weeks of the pandemic response, we were focused. Now that we know we are focusing on a short term long term problem, we need new ambitions.

Ambition – Greasing the Wheels

Australian’s have a complex relationship to ambition. You ideally have some but not too much. You know you have to get a little dirty with it. It is on everything we do. It will get on your hands and clothes. Just makes sure that it is not so much that it shows to everyone all the time.

Ambition is an important part of performance. As a colleague once said to me:

if you don’t stretch, how do you know where the edge is?

Reaching for the edge

Stretching for boundaries and limits is a key part of the contribution of ambition. Another part is that ambition is choice and brings with it focus. To seek to succeed in one thing, means chosing that thing over others. Focus is a critical component of success in a world of many distractions. We need to know what we go back to and put our efforts behind.

An absence of ambition suits some but can be devastating for others, particularly those who may still yearn but act out their lack of ambition. The wheels of talent and capability can grind to a halt. Whether because of hostile circumstances, past disappointments, a desire for comfort, or other issues, I have met many talented people who have surrendered their ambition to do more, to do different, to change themselves and their circumstances. Their lack of ambition flowed into lesser performance, growth and their personal satisfaction. If you always choose to step off the path, don’t be surprised if you don’t get anywhere.

We tend to associate ambition with ruling the world. If any time demonstrates that vexed ambition, it is this one. Ambitions don’t have to be big or even to be more. However, they have to be ambitions to at least make change – slighly better, a little more, a bit different or something less. In what domain this change occurs is entirely ours to choose.

We can even have an ambition to stop. The difference between abandonment and an ambition to stop comes in the choice, the control and the sustainability of the latter.

Sustaining Ambition in a Pandemic

When the Pandemic began, our ambitions were clear and focused. Projects rocked forward under the simple ambitions of “We can do this. We can keep going. We will survive.” There was surprise and elation as people showed themselves that collaboration technology worked and that working from home, while different and stressful at times, could be productive.

As we move out of the short term experience and into the longer term response, our ambitions are less clear and less focused. It is time for new choices. We need to set out goals for December, for next year and the years beyond. We need to find new stretch and start to contribute to it day-by-day and week-by-week. We can find new partners and new collaborators to help us live up and grow up to this stretch.

I’m fond of the old mantra that

a vision without execution is a delusion

Our ambitions will not be realised if we don’t make choices, focus, get some grease on our hands and start working forward and learning day-by-day. Now is the time to decide what it is we do next.

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