Cain and Abel. Mary and Anne Boleyn. Cleopatra and Ptolemy. King Lear’s daughters. Cinderella and her three stepsisters. William and Harry. Whether fictional or factual, we can trace sibling rivalries back to the beginning of time.
Brothers and sisters can be competitive, especially when it comes to their parents’ approval. And typically, this favor — often in tandem with the standards of their society — falls on the more ambitious one. But does higher ambition necessarily lead to a “better” life?
Ignore the dogma you were fed as a kid. There’s a cost to everything, and today, I’ll reveal three common misconceptions about ambition to help you define what that word means to you.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve explained the foundation of the ATT method, which is the acronym for Ambitious Transformation in Transition. This term represents the newly branded name for the coaching system I’ve successfully used with clients for nearly a decade, with a fresh twist.
In part one, I challenged misinterpretations around transition. Then, I exposed myths and mistakes about the transformation process for part two. And this week, to conclude the ATT method official release series, I’m coming after toxic versions of ambition.
I’ll show you ways to take your individualized description and apply it in a manner that’s achievable when tested against your real life.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Compare & despair
- Confronting ambition’s bad reputation
- Pinterest moms vs. clean Superman underwear
- The influencing factors behind your definition
- Not enough, too much, just right
Listen to the Full Episode
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, It is 6:30 am in New York, 1:30 pm in Johannesburg, and 6:30 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean. I am an intercultural strategist, transformation facilitator, and solution-oriented coach, and I am on a mission to help you adapt & succeed through ANY life transition.
You know those Pinterest moms who share pictures of the snacks that they pack their kids to school. It might include, peanut butter sandwiches in the shape of stars or hand-rolled sushi, or maybe a sandwich that looks like a clown. I am not one of those Pinterest moms. I’m the type of person who was so excited at the end of the week that my kids had clean underwear. And the thing is you couldn’t blame me because I had been solo parenting on my own while my partner was in Burkina Faso and we were suddenly in Switzerland and for me, clean Superman underwear in the laundry basket was absolutely something to celebrate. In fact, it was ambitious.
I’m going to say more about ambition in this episode. This is part of our three-part series on Ambitious Transformation in Transition. The first episode was on Transitions, what we’re really meaning when we say living life in transit. In episode 267, we then focus on Transformation, 1 of the 3 types that you might be experiencing and we also talked about the importance of being able to shape transformation where you can.
So this week in part 3 of this series we will focus on ambition as part of wrapping up our focus on Ambitious Transformation in Transition. So listen I’m gonna go a lot further than Superman underwear. If you’ve been in my community long enough, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t support externally imposed toxic versions of ambitious. I am all about ambition but with a twist. Ambition must always be on your own terms. I am not going to take the Pinterest level ambition from this mama who’s packing origami versions of snacks in the lunchbox and insert it into my life. Because if I were to do that in those circumstances that would have broken me, right? And so I understand how important it is for ambition to be there in terms of looking forward at our goals and matching what we’re really capable of and making space for our dreams and our goals but on our own terms, and in relation to reality.
So too often when I work with clients when we’re looking at what they want out of their lives, what their goals are, it’s inevitable. One client will suddenly discover that they were actually chasing a level of ambition that was using someone else’s values. Or they were working toward a goal that actually someone else decided was worthy. Or maybe they were setting the bar too low because they weren’t giving their skills and abilities enough credit. Or too high because they were setting up unattainable standards. Ambition can have a bad rep. It’s often associated with being too much or something that is so driven that they are losing sight of what’s possible or what matters.
So today in this episode I want us to create a new definition of ambitious as I define it for Ambitious Transformation in Transition. One that is healthier. One that is on your own terms. One that brings you closer to your goals inevitably. So here it is. Ambitious defined is a strong desire for success achievement or personal power defined on your own terms and disconnected from external scope or scale.
That is a definition of ambitious that I work with. Notice how personal power is there. Not power, right? Power for power’s sake, money-hungry power-hungry. No, personal power. And that ambition is on our own terms. So how you see success, how you see achievement, like me achieving the laundry was a MASSIVE success. Disconnected from some external definition like Pinterest moms who nobody can keep up with. Disconnected from an external standard of scope and scale. Why? So it will actually fit your life. Why? So it’ll actually be feasible based on what you’re capable of. Why? So it will actually mirror what’s possible in reality.
So what does that mean? That means, let’s say you are a newly arrived expat and you’ve got a brand new baby, ambition might look like finally blocking off 20 minutes a day for a nap, right? Maybe you’re recovering perfectionist so it would look like doing less. Or you could be a coach and that could mean, taking yourself seriously enough to carve out a regular schedule and work towards your revenue goal consistently.
So I know it sounds simple. But as you know it’s not that simple. So before we dive in I want to look at some of your desires right now. What’s on your heart? In what areas of your life would you like more personal power? What’s coming to mind? What’s that feel like? What if I had more personal power? Would you have more of a voice when you’re on a family vacation and actually do things that you want and not just make everybody else happy? Would you advocate for more creative control at work? Or would you take steps to have greater financial independence, right? What would more personal power look like for you? What is it that right now you’re feeling a strong desire for? Maybe it’s like more time to think. Or it could be a stronger connection to someone that you care about. Or a house that you would actually feel at home in. What is it that you want to achieve? Do you want to have a business with predictable income? Maybe reach a health goal? Or parent without yelling as a default. And where would you like to see success? And what would that look and feel like? Maybe for you, it would feel like peace and for others, it might feel like freedom.
I hope that you’ve given yourself permission to actually think about what you desire right now. It’s the first step in actually naming an ambitious goal. What would ambitious transformation look like for you? Just allowing ideas to percolate in your head and heart on your desires and what success would look like. But before we go any further I want to avoid some of the common mistakes around ambition. Here are the 3 mistakes I see people make when they think about ambition:
- The higher the ambition, the better. The higher the ambition the better. This is so not true. Even when you’re thinking about business, usually it’s like, oh the more clients the better, the more money the better, the bigger the better, right? That’s not true, because not everybody wants to take on the responsibility that comes with those higher levels of not just ambition but responsibility. So the higher the ambition, the better isn’t true. So are you shaming yourself for saying? “Yeah, I just kind of want to like have my own thing and you know maybe have someone help me part-time.” Is it okay that you don’t want to start a brick and mortar business? Or have an empire? It’s absolutely okay. Sometimes, the higher the ambition, the “better” gets further and further away from what you really want. Or even what’s feasible.
- Ambition is always healthy. Ambition is always healthy. We’re told that being ambitious is a positive quality. So is it true that ambition is always healthy? Absolutely not. What I’ve seen is people who are top talent, concert performers, perfectionists, people who are driven really hesitate to adapt their goals when their outside circumstances change. And putting their actual health and relationships at risk. So ambition is only as healthy as the level of support that you have to meet those ambitions. So let’s say you have an ambitious goal and you want to write? Let’s say 5000 words a week for a book that you’re doing. And you get sick. And you have conflict at home but you push through to try to meet that ambitious goal of 5000 words. What does that do for your health and your recovery time? What does that do to your focus on the relationship conflict that’s going on? Is that, in that context, healthy? So automatically tying ambition to healthy is not always the case.
- You look to those who came before you for ambitious goals. Really wise advice, “If you can’t see it, you can’t become it,” I get that. But sometimes we do compare and despair where we look at others who have achieved the thing that you want to achieve, and then we tell ourselves we’re not doing it fast enough. Because what we’ve done is we’ve completely ignored, maybe the access to resources that they had, or the head start that they had, or the network that they could tap in that you didn’t. Looking to those who came before you without seeing their actual context in relation to yours. It’s just unfair to you, right?
So these are 3 mistakes that I see people making, the higher the ambition the better, depending on what your goals are it might make you unhappy, they say that you know the more money you have the happy you’ll be is a fallacy. When ambition is unhealthy, they say, “Reach for the stars you might hit the moon,” but it might land you in the hospital or divorced. And number 3, look to those who came before you for ambitious goals. Maybe they started on a completely different playing field. Now, Salvador Dali who is a Spanish painter known for surrealism that I highly respect, he says, “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” But when I think about this context what I’m saying is actually, “Ambition without intelligence is a dead bird,” right?
What we need to do is, we define ambition on our own terms, based on our values. Our goals. Our dreams. Not our parents, not our national cultures. Not our corporate bosses. Not our neighbor down the street. Not that one kid in third grade. Whatever those things that are planted into us as a kid or through television through media. Our own terms. And then we define the scope and the scale of our goals.
So what’s ambitious for you? You start there.
And what we do is we consider all the layers of transition that you’re navigating, all the forms of transition that you’re currently are shaping your life. So you might ask yourself, “All right Sundae, I get it. But how do I define ambitious on my own terms?” Because the danger is that we’ll aim too low or will be unrealistic. So what we’re gonna do together right now is simply Goldilocks your ambition. To Goldilocks your ambition, you’re gonna have to check in right now with your body. We’re gonna look in at what is, like Goldilocks too much, too little, or just right. Okay, so go back to some of the ideas that came up to you at the top of this episode I was asking you about where you’d like more personal power, where you’re feeling desire. What would feel like success and achievement for you? So think about those things. Get those clear in your mind.
So now. Let’s pick one of them. Pick your health goal. Pick your professional goal. Or pick your relationship goal. Whatever the thing is. Now, Goldilocks it. What would not ambitious enough be, according to you? Like, if you’re honest with yourself, you know you got more. So for example, what one of my clients, we were talking about some of her goals and in terms of self-care, it’s like, “What would that look like?”And she’s like, “I would like to be able to wash my hair in the morning.” And I’m like, “Really, that’s all you got? Is that ambitious or is do you got more in you?” And in the process of our work together, she was like, “No actually, that is just hygiene. I can take better care of myself,” right? So what would not ambitious enough look like for you, for self-care. Where are you not owning what you deserve? What would that look like in your relationships or in your work? As soon as you know that you’re honest that you’ve got more. Then you know it is too small, not ambitious enough.
So then let’s look at the other side. What would be too ambitious? What would that look like? I like to call this the dark side of ambition. And this falls very much into the category of Bending Reality from episode 159, where we actually do not take in realities. Like, I don’t know, that they’re only 24 hours in a day or that humans get tired after 12 hours. Where they’re not taking in their context and challenges. So what would be too ambitious? For example, if you are working full time. You have a family. You’ve got community commitments. And you say you want to take on a part-time leadership role with another organization. That would be, if it starts to fall into, bending reality, if your schedule is already full that would fall under too ambitious. That would fall into this idea of being ambitious is “always healthy. It’s always a good thing,” where it could actually hurt or threaten your health.
So not ambitious enough and too ambitious. So for you think about what would be just right? What would be ambitious on your own terms? And in alignment with the scope and scale of what makes you feel alive. And when I go back to that moment in my apartment where I was celebrating the clean Superman underwear, that was just right because I was getting my kids to school on time. I was making sure they had food on the table. The house was not disgusting. They had clean clothes I was still serving my clients. I wasn’t yelling at my kids, I was still happy and balanced. I was able to maintain my long-distance relationship now that my partner was on another continent. And on the weekends I wasn’t working. So that was just right. More would have put me over the edge.
So now I want you to step back and what is just right for you, for your current definition of ambition. And make sure that you go back to what we were talking about with the first episode of the series, around transitions. Think of all the transitions you’re going through and acknowledging the kind of transformation that you’re experiencing right now. Okay. And here’s the thing if in light of that, you’re getting nervous. That you’re like, “Ah, is this too ambitious,” here’s the good news too ambitious is only the case when you don’t have the level of support that matches it.
So if there’s something in your heart that you really want and you’re feeling nervous that you’re getting close to too ambitious, then who can support you? Or what structures can you put in place to give you support? How do you need to take care of yourself differently to be able to show up for this ambitious goal? That is something that a lot of people ignore so I am not the person to say, “Oh that’s too hard. Don’t do it.” No no no, I’m saying, “If that’s truly something that you want, if that’s something in your heart that you want to say ‘yes’ to, then we get creative.” We say, “Okay, what has to happen for you to reach that goal without bending reality?” Usually goes to what level of support has to happen to get there. What has to change?
And on the other side when you’re like, “Oh no, I found that one. It’s just right. Well, maybe it’s just a little bit too little. But I don’t know if I’m ready to do more.” That is where the danger zone of not ambitious enough is and how do you get out of that? You gotta do what we call: Thought Work. What are the lies that you’re telling yourself? “I don’t got it in me. I’m not good enough. It’ll take it too long.” If you are feeling like you are heading towards the not ambitious zone check out your mindset. You are probably in the not ambitious enough zone because you are believing the crap that’s coming from your mind. “I can’t do it I’m too old, or I’m too young. It’ll be too hard. It’s going to be difficult.” That is what is holding you back from just right. So if you are there if you are teetering on wanting to go with not ambitious enough definitions and scope, what you know you got to do is your work on your mindset.
And you know, I’m talking to you, you know I know, right? We know when we’re believing our own mind crap, right? We know when we’re underestimating ourselves. We know when we’re letting ourselves get away with that. So that is how you Goldilocks your ambition. The first step is you go through and you think about the desires and the success and the achievement that you want. And then you look at it, is it: not enough, too much, or just right. If in your body you know you were on the edges of not enough or too much, then you look at, for too much, what kind of support do I need? Or not enough is, what thoughts are you believing?
Okay, so there you go. You have already got so much artillery in your back pocket to fight for what you want. To create Ambitious Transformation in Transition.
It’s so important that you can really look at this on your own terms and you define the scope and scale for your desires. Because the truth is about ambition is that the scope needs to be in relation to your desires, your definition of success, and how it is in relation to the transitions and transformation you’re going to. That’s why there’s no right external ambition because it is so personal. Second, ambition when not seen in relation to your context of transition and transformation can quickly go to the dark side. You can quickly be bending reality and it will actually lead to disappointment. Or worse, it’ll put your success, relationships, or health at risk. And third, for you to define your ambitious goals, for your personal power and your context, and what you want to desire, the answer is to look within. This is not on the outside. We do not look to the dogma that we were fed when we were kids. We looked to within because we are the ones who have to work towards the goals. We are the ones who put in the energy. And we are the ones who are going to be satisfied or not when we get to the other side. That is the truth of ambition.
And it matters. It matters because we can throw off those external definitions and find what is a just right fit for you and once we’ve done that we are ready to get clear on our mindset and identify the support that we’re going to need. And then you’re going to be living by your values, right? I’m saying this from over a decade of work with individuals who are doing the work to reach their goals, to have that Ambitious Transformation in Transition. It’s always centered on your values and finding that just right fit for you. Do this in advance and you save yourself a lot of time and headache.
And this also matters for others when you’re able to see ambition and in other people and look at their context. And appreciate where they were, that it’s for their goals, and it’s for their context. And ditch this compare and despair. And be able to just honor them and where they’re at or even support and empower them the way they need it. So far we’ve talked about transitions, living life in transit. We looked at transformation and how you might be experiencing 1 of 3 forms: internal led, external led, or performance led. And today we talked about ambition and how important that is for you to define it on your own terms, disconnected from external scope or scale. And really tapping into your personal power, giving you that ability to goldilocks your ambition.
All of this is about ATT. Ambitious Transformation and Transition and success with that. It enables us to understand ourselves and others in relation to our reality to our environment. Our relationships how we engage inside of our own culture and outside of other cultures so that we have power to develop strategies for change. We have now a roadmap for OUR personal success. Not someone else’s. And I’m really excited about that.
And in the coming podcast, we’re going to keep ATT in mind as we explore transformation. As we look at the many ways our lives are in transit and facing the challenges that we do along the way as we pursue our ambitious goals. I’m really excited for you to be on this journey with me with IN TRANSIT and there’s more to come. So stay tuned. You’ve been listening to IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean, steady advice for an unsteady world. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with this anonymous quote: “Embrace your ambition.”
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