You Can’t Teach Ambition

I never used to understand LinkedIn. I used to think it was a haven for overly pushy, Type A corporate types who wanted to show off how Type A and corporate they are. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist (it does, we’ll get to that), but it is certainly nothing like as prevalent as I thought it would be, at least with the people I am connected with.

An example of how I have found LinkedIn to be an amazing resource for growth and learning came in an article by Mark Roberts, a professional soccer player who has led his team to a Trophy win at Wembley and led his team win a double promotion. He led the team that an opposing manager said was like playing against “The Land of the Giants”.

Imagine my surprise when this same player is writing about being more like Gandhi. Yes, a guy who has won championships, trophies, and caused more than his fair share of bruises has written an amazing article about emotional control. It is truly inspiring and you can find it here: Mark Roberts’ article on Staying in Control.

This genuinely hit home with me to the point I have been thinking about it often for the past three weeks – but from a different angle. Maslow (1943) stated that humans sought to be self-actualized, and went on to say that this may be described as “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” What if all everyone is capable of becoming, is to become nothing? Gandhi led a peaceful and successful revolt against the biggest superpower on the planet, possibly the biggest since the time of Rome. Have you ever seen any indication he was a man living with stress in his life?

On the other side of this, and to tie with the title of this article, I recently saw a meme on LinkedIn that said simply this “You can’t teach ambition.” I agree – but not for the Type A corporate reason I believe it was implying. You can’t teach it because it is inherent in each and every person on the planet. Who achieved more, Gandhi or some Type A middle manager who went to President’s Circle three years running through living, eating, drinking, and sweating numbers and being fluent in corp-speak? I’ve been that guy – I have awards and went on trips and you know what – it’s worthless. My kids don’t care. No one cares. I don’t care.

The problem isn’t that “you can’t teach ambition”, the problem is that too many people who see themselves as ambitious don’t realise that not everyone has the same life goals and ambitions. Just because someone doesn’t have blood pressure of 220/110 and show their commitment by losing sleep and living with chest pains, it doesn’t make them less ambitious. It just means their ambitions are different to others who are trying to get ahead in the rat race.

Mark ended his article with this “So the next time that you think that all is lost why not take a second to own your emotional state. I began this article with a proverb that says you are your own Master at the centre of your own circle. We may not have complete control over how our lives transpire but we do have the power to choose the way that we live it. Play your own drum and march to your own beat.”

I think that is one of the most powerful lessons we can learn, and maybe the fullness of self-actualisation as put forward by Maslow is not achieving all your ambitions, but letting go of everything to the point we see beyond temporal ambition. I learned in the article Mark wrote that when Gandhi was killed he put his hands on his heart in an attitude of prayer and didn’t resist – he had more peace in his moment of death than most corporate middle management types experience when they are asleep. When you think about all he achieved, do you want to tell me that Gandhi didn’t have ambition?

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–96.


Categories: Development, Goals, Hope, Mental Health, Performance

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