Opinion

Ambition should not cause people to feel shame – it isn’t a dirty word

7 min read

28 July 2016

Here’s a question for you – if I met you in person and asked you if you were ambitious, would you say yes, or would you look a bit embarrassed and quickly try to change the subject?

Ambition is one of those words which has a really bad image problem right now. Although in reality it simply means having a strong desire to do or achieve something, over the years it has wrongly come to be seen as a dirty word, a short-hand way of describing ruthless, selfish, people trampling over each other in their efforts to achieve success.

Unfortunately, this negative image means that people can often feel they have to downplay their ambition, or even pretend they don’t actually have any.

That’s a real shame, especially for entrepreneurs, because studies show that being ambitious can not only spur you on towards success, it can actually improve your chances of success, by helping you stay motivated and focused on what you are trying to achieve. Quite simply, it’s one of the best tools there is to get you to where you want to be.

The good news is that, contrary to the stereotype, you can still be a nice person while you’re being ambitious. Indeed, I feel so strongly that having ambition is a good thing that I’ve not only written a book about it, I’m also about to take a one-woman show about it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. 

So how can you use your ambition to fulfil the dreams you have for your business? First you need to set your business a really big goal. It may sound counter intuitive but having a big challenging target actually improves your chances of success, because you know that if you are to have any hope of achieving it, you must give it absolutely everything you’ve got.

If your goal is too small, it’s too easy to think you don’t need to make much effort to achieve it, so inevitably it gets side-lined and failure ensues. The fact is even if you never actually reach the pinnacle of your big challenging goal, you will get much closer to it than you would if you had set a smaller goal.

Second, you need to demonstrate that your dream of creating a successful business is important to you by making space for it in your life – and if need be, rearranging everything else around it so it sits right at the heart of everything you do.

Read about the entrepreneurs demonstrating ambition:

That might mean moving towns or even countries to be located in the best place for your business; it might be retraining to acquire the skills you need; and it is likely to mean making sacrifices – goodbye sleep, goodbye social life, goodbye carefree summer holiday.

It might also mean sometimes saying no, which can be hard to do because it feels all wrong, but if you are going to build a successful business there will be times when you need to turn down invitations and opportunities, no matter how exciting and fun, because they don’t take you nearer to where you want to be.

Third, you need to surround yourself with a team of people who are every bit as ambitious about building your business as you are. Get your family involved in what you are doing, find a mentor who inspires you, and choose business partners, employees and investors who genuinely share your vision.

Finally – and this can sometimes be the hardest bit of all – you have to shout about your ambition and tell the world what you are trying to achieve. Yes, you have to say it out loud, and with confidence. I speak at many small business events around the country and I’m always amazed at how few people actively come up to tell me about their businesses, preferring instead to wait until it is coaxed out of them, before mumbling sheepishly about this little venture they have started.

I do understand why – they don’t want to be laughed at for having bold ideas, they don’t want to jinx it, and they don’t want to look stupid if they fail. But just as telling a friend you are running a marathon means that at some point you either have to pull on your running shoes and get moving, or else hide every time you see them.

Making your ambition public not only forces you to up your game, it also opens the door for other people to help you achieve it, through opportunities, investment, practical assistance and collaboration.

Your ambition is not something to be ashamed of – it is an incredibly effective tool to help you fulfil your business dreams. It’s time to unleash yours.

Rachel Bridge is the author of six books about entrepreneurs. Her show, Ambition, will run at the Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 3 to 29 August 2016 and her sixth book, Ambition: Why it’s good to want more and how to get it, is out now.

These are the six SMEs that took their dreams to a panel of judges including Richard Branson and Tyra Banks.

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