In this article I clarify how ambition is distinguished from ego and how healthy ambition, together with sincere humility, can make your life and career evolve toward the goals that you have set for yourself. As a starting point, I strongly believe that Ambition is the motor that puts the bar high, even very high. It helps you build your dreams and shape your conviction that you can reach them. Ambition relies on the conviction that you are capable. It compares you to yourself. It is what makes you say: “I can do it”. It is a positive energy to get you started, to strive to do better, in general by working with others.
Ego, a noun from the Latin personal pronoun me/I, generally designates the awareness that one has of oneself. It is sometimes considered the foundation of personality (notably in psychology) or as an obstacle to our personal development (notably in spirituality). Here I use the word ego from the second viewpoint, meaning what one commonly calls a “big Ego”, and will distinguish it with a capital E. Today, this Ego is everywhere and it wreaks havoc. Ego is pretention, even the belief that you are better than the other person, that you “are worth” intrinsically more than him. And often, that other person is wrong, or bad. Ego does not position you as compared to yourself, but as compared to others. As such, it can be a powerful obstacle to self-development and reaching your full potential. Political, religious, and military systems as well as management of numerous organizations unfortunately rely on the Ego. It is the breeding ground for what psychologists call narcissists, perverts or psychotics. It is one of the reasons that these systems lead to war, be it physical or economical. In sales, the Ego is known to be a flaw when the salesperson esteems: “to know better than the client what is good for the client”, when the salesperson talks too much and doesn’t listen enough, believing to know and to have understood in the place of the client. This flaw is called arrogance. It leads to failure. Hence my conclusion: The booster of excellence is Ambition. The destructor of excellence is Ego.
One of the best ways to develop yourself and reach your objectives is to associate strong Ambition with great Humility. Humility reminds us that we are not perfect and thus we are perfectible. It helps you to learn, to question your plans, your beliefs, to take a step back with respect to your certitudes, to listen and to identify with others. Humility is a powerful motor for Empathy. To grow, it is also important to be kind to yourself and to others. Accepting to look into ourselves to explore, with kindness, our values, our underlying motivations, our hidden personalities – which Carl Jung calls our shadow. The kinder you are with yourself, the longer you can look deep inside yourself. It is the same with your employees or your clients: the kinder you are with them, the better you will get to know them.
Combining Ambition with Humility may also help you to boost your progression. Whether it be your personal or professional growth. We know from experience that almost all advancement follows an S curve. We begin in a discipline as a “junior” then, as we continue to practice it, we become an “advanced professional” and finally when we fully master it we become a “senior”. It is at this moment that the curve might invert, and if we don’t do anything, we stagnate, even descend along with it. Between the end of World War 2 and the middle of the 80s, an entire career could spread out over a single S curve. Each phase lasted between five to ten years. Today, an S curve lasts about five years and each phase (junior, advanced, senior) lasts between one to two years. This acceleration obliges us to progress by having several mini “careers” in S. It is in the moving between each S that humility plays a crucial role, because we must accept leaving a “senior” position to become “junior” on the next curve. From “master” we become “beginner”. Our status and our position changes. We are called into question. We must abandon (in part) what we know to gain new knowledge, unlearn to move forward to new instruction, leave our position to adopt new behaviors. In two words, you have to “let go”; but let go in order to get further ahead. The number of S depends on our Ambition. The bigger it is, the more we will look for new opportunities to grow, to develop, to do new things, to take new responsibilities, to face new challenges, then the more S there will be. The fluency of passing from one S to another depends on our Humility. The better you tame your Ego and develop your Humility, knowing toward which goal your Ambition is leading you, the more your rise toward this goal will be smooth.
In my book “Authentic Selling” I explore how to combine Ambition and Humility in your professional life to harness the power of your sales leadership, and in your personal life to “become all that you can be”.
Written by Guy Anastaze.