The Power of Ambition

I’m wary of expectations. In my experience, expectations have a way of setting firm boundaries around situations you are about to experience, and it’s far too easy for these expectations to be limiting factors.

For example, if you go into a meeting expecting it to be a waste of time, you’re likely to find it largely boring and unproductive. If you expect someone to be difficult, you’re likely to encounter miscommunication problems and interpersonal conflicts. When you expect to have trouble with an assignment or do poorly, your performance will often turn out compromised.

But it’s this latter category – your expectations of yourself – where expectations can often provide a boost to your level of productivity and success.

You can tap into this emotional power by cultivating higher – rather than lower – expectations. We call these higher expectations “ambition.”

Just as expecting less of yourself will often generate lower performance, expecting more of yourself can drive you to deliver something closer to your best.

There are several important areas where you can most fruitfully cultivate higher expectations and greatly increase your likelihood of producing better results. They include the following:

Be Ambitious About Your Ideas

In many situations, you have ideas about what’s going on, how to respond to what’s been said and done, the best course of action, and so forth. But too many people feel reluctant to give voice to their ideas for fear of being wrong, getting slapped down, stepping on others’ toes, or worse.

If you cultivate enough ambition regarding the power of your ideas, however, you can often find ways to express in positive, diplomatic, and persuasive ways whatever you’re thinking, whatever you know, and whatever you have observed in the situation at hand.

Wayne Gretzky, Hall of Fame hockey player, famously said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” The same is true of your ideas: if you don’t express them, forcefully on certain occasions, they’ll never win appreciation or adoption.

Be Ambitious About Having an Impact

It’s not only your ideas that can have an impact on the world. So can your efforts. If you’re willing to work toward completion of a task, project, or goal you feel will make the world a better place (even a little bit), then feeling ambitious about helping to create that change is entirely appropriate and probably worthwhile.

As you may have noticed, many improvements happen only after someone beats their head a great many times against a metaphorical “stone wall” of resistance to change without seeing much impact. Then, quite suddenly, after just one or two extra hits, the wall comes tumbling down.

It takes ambition to keep trying when there’s no sign of progress. It takes ambition to encourage others to do the same. It takes ambition to go up against Goliath when you’re feeling like David.

Despite the difficulties, there’s a great deal to be said in favor of feeling ambitious about your ability to have a meaningful impact.

Be Ambitious for Others

Here I am, encouraging you to be ambitious in your own work and life. Now I’ll take a step further: I would like you to do the same for the people you care about.

I believe it’s important and helpful to encourage others to dream big, work hard, and aim for the Moon. They may not get there, but they will benefit simply from making the effort. What’s more, striving for a great result will almost certainly bring them bigger and better results than being satisfied with the ordinary.

Part of this ambition for others should also be more general in nature. Beyond the people you know and love, it’s laudable to be ambitious about creating and encouraging helpful educational and occupational opportunities for young people and for generations to come. It’s noteworthy to be ambitious about improving your town, and making it a better place to live for all your neighbors you’ve never met. It’s a blessing to be ambitious about creating and supporting a positive, caring culture and society that allows others to feel hopeful rather than discouraged about the future.

Although the vast majority of expectations tend to slant toward the negative, one good thing about the expectations we call “ambitions” is they can help people look up and reach for the sky. That’s a set of expectations I can get behind. Can you?

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