Ambition: The Fire in the Belly Employers Want

ambition at work Ambition, that old-fashioned fire in the belly, is what employers are looking for in 2011.

Job applicants who demonstrate drive have the edge over even more technically qualified candidates. And, if you're ambitious, the timing is great for a job search. During 2011, the job market is picking up significantly in fields such as health care, food preparation, retail, accounting, information technology, beauty, and social work.

The ambitious are now in demand because of changes in the economy during the 21st century. "Those hiring and promoting learned from the downturn and intense economic volatility that's it's no longer enough to do 'just a job,'" says Michael Francoeur, Dale Carnegie Training instructor and executive coach.

The science behind drive

As Francour explained to AOL Jobs, "Employers now know that what kept their business growing or even saved it were the employees who saw beyond their job description. They pushed to do whatever was needed at the time. Often their most important contribution is persistence. The ambitious stay with a project, no matter how bad things seem. That's usually because they have the confidence to believe in themselves. The less ambitious would have become discouraged."

As you know, not everyone is ambitious. That's one reason employers are competing to recruit those who are, often offering them incentives to join their organizations. In essence, ambition comes half from nature or inner wiring, and half from nurture or the influence of authority figures, ranging from parents to educators to mentors and bosses.

This nature/nurture mix is what Amy Karnilowicz LMFT, cognitive behavioral therapist, believes underlies ambition. However, Karnilowicz explains, "During difficult economic or emotional times, ambition may seem to skip a generation or generations. A family gets so weighed down in troubles that their ability to nurture and empower their children to be ambitious is squashed.

This is reflected in generational patterns where children succumb to their parents' destructive habits. But then I have seen that drive surface in the children who are determined not to do what their parents have done. Against all odds that generation gains access to what they need to succeed."

Yet, not all the ambitious do well professionally. Some even get turned down for jobs and promotions, over and over again. So what goes so wrong? The missing ingredient is a lack of what's referred to as emotional intelligence (EI). Executive coaches like Francoeur and psychotherapists like Karnilowicz explain EI as the ability to focus outside yourself, understand what others need and want, and create mutually beneficial work conditions. That entails basic skills like speed reading people, listening, negotiating, acknowledging input from others, and recognizing your own mistakes.

So, how can you present yourself as having both drive and EI? The more you understand the dynamics of ambition, the smarter you can be about managing it, and your career. Getting your head around the notion that there is both good and bad ambition, might provide some difficulty since so many myths have become associated with drive. Let's clear up some of those misconceptions:

Myth: There is only one kind of ambition

mark herrmann Actually, ambition comes in many forms, ranging from the push to run a company to the burning desire to run the New York City marathon. Mark Herrmann is a practicing lawyer, author, and family man. He has managed to balance all those ambitions but, he admits, "not easily." His job is vice president and chief counsel of litigation at Aon. One of his books -- 'The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law' -- is required reading in a growing number of law schools and firms. His marriage as well as his children are thriving.

But, even within the practice of law, Herrmann notes, the ambitious may have several goals, some of which conflict. Simultaneously, a lawyer might want to be made partner, become a brand name in a particular field of law, do right by the client, and protect themselves against burnout. The truly ambitious get the hang of being able to establish priorities and implement them.

Myth: Saints can't be ambitious

Think about it enough and you will probably conclude that Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King had plenty of fire in their bellies. Author of best selling spiritual books Mark Matousek writes and teaches about the inner yearning to grow in spirit, share wisdom, and make the world better. His book 'When You're Falling, Dive' describes the internal shift that drives human beings from living ordinary lives to doing things like starting movements, or producing great art. Matousek himself migrated from being a pop culture journalist for publications like Interview Magazine, to becoming a spiritual guide after he faced a life-threatening crisis.

Myth: Ambitions are forever

Some believe that the business tycoon will always pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. That might be true for some but not for all.

Nick Williams is what some might call a renaissance man when it comes to his career. He started out selling cars, and later moved to financial products. Then when he realized that the sizable income didn't satisfy his drive, he decided to attend college -- and encouraged by professors continued onto law school. When he graduated a Manhattan law firm hired him. Then his ambition became to operate his own small firm which he launched as Sondhi Williams, LLP, New York, N.Y.

Now with Sondhi Williams, LLP as his base, Williams wants to create a professional life in which no one line of work, no one set of skills, and no one type of client will limit him.

Myth: Ambition and family are mutually exclusive

Horror stories of stage mothers and the like have created the illusion that good parents let their children find their own way, especially professionally. The reality is that children flourish when parents deliberately create environments in which children can try out personas, skills, and have the opportunity to handle success and failure.

Baby boomer Lee Hansen Harrison is just realizing this. Harrison used to define "ambition as a competitive striving for success that can be seen and measured by fame and fortune." After Harrison thought about ambition in preparation for this interview, she recognized that she has been ambitious in helping her daughter Erica and son Tim become confident and fearless. Those were traits she hadn't had when she was coming of age professionally in the 1960s. Erica became an attorney and Tim an engineer. And, along the way, Harrison became motivated to do her own work on herself, "conquering personal demons." She has also attended graduate school to work as a reference librarian and has learned to ride English saddle, sew, and do gourmet cooking.

Takeaways for your own drive

Remember that ambition, as long as it's kept in moderation, is that extra quality that many employers are looking for in new hires. Ambition is great in those who can exhibit at least a little Emotional Intelligence. This means having the ability to pursue goals effectively, without alienating the majority of your co-workers.

Keep in mind that ambition, like most human behaviors comes from a combination of genetic an environmental factors. That means that if you feel as if you were born with less ambition than you'd like to have, it is always something you can work on. Ambition has many forms; even if you have ambition throughout your entire career, the way that this ambition manifests it self may change over time, with changing goals and desires.

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These articles always make me vomit. Work double hard for the employer, don't expect decent wages, and show them you have AMBITION. After the company tires of you, they'll show you the door. The American business model is broken. Totally. I am afraid we'll soon have uprisings in the streets like Europe.

January 17 2011 at 10:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gloria Gomez

By the way fellow posters, my response is to the rant that "Tommy Truth" went on in the beginning of these posts.

January 17 2011 at 3:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gloria Gomez

Tommy Truth
Then do us all a favor and move somewhere else.

January 17 2011 at 3:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phil Bittle

You left out the most important thing ... being willing to work 7 days a week for minimum wage and no benefits.

January 16 2011 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These companies are in bushiness to make money. Try to understand that they don't want clock watchers or slackers. Remember you only have one chance to make a first impression. Dress neatly.

January 16 2011 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steven R. Russell

Certain people think that our self worth is determined on how well we perform, and on what other people think about us.

Both of these are lies which Satan has in his arsenal of countless weapons, Satan being the father of all lies.

The only thing that determines our self worth, is what God thinks about us.

January 16 2011 at 6:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

By the way, if I could work at "what turns me on" I would be starving as it is a business that uses a lot of descretionery income. As for being self employed, I was for many years, and was very happy doing what I did. Unfortunately, I was a Realtor, and making any money in that business nowadays is almost impossible, it's a business where under the best economies, 20% of the people make 80% of the money, and much of what you make goes out in the form of taxes, advertising, MLS and computer fees, and much more, as well as the split with the broker.

January 16 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ambition??!!! Translate to: we want an employee that we can use and abuse and underpay who will not complain or make any demands because they know that there are ten other people waiting who are also "ambitious"!! I lost my job a year and half ago and can't even get hired at the local supermarket because I am "overqualified". Ambition has nothing to do with it.

January 16 2011 at 6:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
R. Michael Lawrence

You, too, can build pyramids--so long as you are promised the good life in the Halls of Osiris.
If you are supposed to be soooo ambitious--why not become self-employed?
Now that's "fire in the belly"!
Now, as to what employers are really looking for:
You must know the job, and how to do it with
very little on-the-job training;
You must have experience in the field--period;
And you must get it done now, and work with
others on doing what needs to be done, no
questions asked;
And a few other things as well. I think you know what they are.

January 16 2011 at 5:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, this article has certainly provoked some visceral responses, mine included (see previous on page 5).
To the following:
KC: (page 5) in referring to spoiled baby boomers ( I am a Boomer and I am not spoiled), I did not vote in Medicare or Social Security, both were there when I began my working life in the early 1970's and I have paid into them all my working life (almost 40 years), too, so it is not unfair to expect at least some of that back when I might need it. I do not expect to retire, can't afford to, so may be a moot point.
Barbara:(page 5) regarding long posts: yes, some are rants, I agree, but some have some darn good ideas, mine included. Don't want to read them, don't read them... but you just might learn something from some of them. There is tremendous wisdom/experience out there in our USA!

Jim (page 2): GREAT post! Thanks for sharing some real wisdom, I agree 100%, especially with "work at whatever turns you on". Very very true, especially over the long haul of life.
gr8bsn: (page 2): Also great post, especially in response to Jim!

I encourage all of us, myself included in this: return to the roots of this great nation and do not forget we got here by helping one another. WORK FOR YOURSELF,help someone else,encourage each other, pray for each other. It works! I am personally praying for every person on this post who is in need of work.

January 16 2011 at 4:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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