Making Space for a Gentler View of Ambition and Success

‘It’s a dog eat dog world’, ‘you can’t worry about the feelings of others, just do what needs to be done’, ‘it doesn’t matter how, if you’re serious about your ambitions then you’ll find a way to get ahead.’

Do you recognise the tone of these messages? How do you feel about them? 

For many highly sensitive people this relative attitude towards success and ambition can make us seriously recoil. And yet we are also big dreamers with lots of ambition for those things we want to achieve, create, and do in our lives.

Gentle Rebel Ambition and Success

A Deeper Why

Someone recently asked me what I do. I said that among other things I am a songwriter.

‘Ooh that’s a tough world to be in, you need to have a thick skin and plenty of resilience to do that’. 

‘Not really’, I replied. ‘You just need a way to get down your ideas and a desire to write songs, it’s quite simple’. 

Now, I knew what he was saying but my cheeky streak decided to have some fun and challenge the false assumption that underpinned his statement. The assumption being that it must be my ambition to make it to the top of the industry in which songwriters are able to make money… It is not my ambition to be a part of that world.

I don’t have a streak within that drives me to compete with other songwriters in that way. The only competitive streak that I experience is within; to write better songs by the judgement of my own yardstick. Whatever happens after that point is no more than a by-product.

We must detach our value and our ambition from the view of success that the world projects onto the stuff we care about.

As long as we know why we care about doing or accomplishing something we have a reason to do it. And as long as that reason has a sense of purpose beyond ‘because I feel I should’ or ‘because everyone’s doing it’, or even ‘because it will get people to like me’, then we will likely find the motivation and resilience to persevere.

The Creative Way

The world is changing in profound ways. And this is good news for gentle spirits like you and me.

You can speak to almost anyone who has influence in the online world and they will tell you of a common profound truth about how they built such large audiences. Success as it is perceived on the outside happens when we cast aside the competitive mentality and embrace instead a more creative mindset.

Dr Tracy Cooper writes in his book, Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career, that “being a HSP is being creative, not in the mundane sense of producing an end product, though many are in creative fields, rather creating a universe of meaning, personally defined”. 

In other words creativity is a way of life; a modality that we embrace in every aspect of existence. Relationships, work, personal development, problem solving, family life, injustice in the world, career, business and so on.

Creativity is defined by what we care about, the values that we have, and what matters to us, all of which are fluid things that are open to change over the course of a lifetime.

Those who appear to be successful in the online world are in that position because they see the value of connecting with people in real ways, building relationships and helping those around them rather than using them to ‘get ahead’.

These are the same people who might traditionally be seen as competition, and is exactly why you will even see people promoting products and services that are actively competing with their own.

There is no competition, only connection and abundance.

This is a philosophy that works for highly sensitive people and other gentle change makers because all it requires of us is to care about something and to find other people who care about that same thing. That’s the end goal. Connecting with people who care about similar things to you. It’s simple. Like writing a song.

It’s time to crush these myths and assumptions that we carry around without thinking. We don’t need them any more, and as highly sensitive people we can model an engaged, creative existence with an attractive, AND proven philosophy that counters the ‘dog eat dog’ and ‘get ahead’ mindsets that is so often pedalled in our society.

Ambition Requires You to ‘Get Ahead’

You can be both ambitious and uncompetitive. Allow your goals and aspirations to be defined by you inner compass, your desire to help, and your natural curiosity, rather than the by-products of success that most people find so alluring. Base your work on a deep and determined sense of why and you will connect with others who share it, and you will develop a resilience so strong you never realised it was possible.

Ambition Requires Competitiveness

You will know how competitive you are when you consider your response to different types of incentive. Perhaps your workplace contains different teams.

I have been in situations where a team leader attempts to mobilise better efficiency and productivity with the competition card; ‘we have to beat Team B!’ ‘Oh why?’ ‘Because they’re beating us at the moment’. Well that’s not a reason. ‘Well we will get the President’s Certificate if we do’. Again, that’s not a reason, that just makes me feel used.

Organisations often utilise competition to get people to acheive the results they want. And many people have an intrinsic drive that makes them feel good simply by beating others. I don’t know about you but I don’t have this drive. I generally require much more compelling reasons, especially if I can see the competitive streak of others being used by those at the top to make more money for themselves.

Ambition requires you to make sacrifices

Another myth has us believe that if you want to succeed then you need to make sacrifices. We may need to sacrifice our health, our families, our moral integrity, and our emotional wellbeing so that we can succeed. Why? What is this success and how will it feel when you get there?

Ambition: Be The Best

Why is being the best synonymous with ambition? I mean it’s another false goal and recipe for a lifetime of disappointment. There are more than 7 billion people on the planet, even if you manage by some miracle to ‘become the best’, you probably wont be the best for long.

As long as you equate success with being the best life is going to be pretty miserable. ‘The best’ is more often than not subjectively in the eye of the beholder anyway. A songwriter who sets out to be the best songwriter is going to be pretty confused about their success level depending on who they talk to.

Ambition requires you to step on others as you climb up

One of the biggest ideas that can put us off being ambitious is how we equate it with stepping over others to get what you want. This is why many introverts and HSPs may believe they have no ambition. We often have no interest in playing power games and bringing what feels like unnecessary conflict into our lives.

Yes there will be people who are jealous and disappointed when they see you doing what you do. That’s natural and inevitable and you must not stop doing what you do because of it. But on the other hand you can be ambitious, full of aspiration and a high achiever without deliberately screwing people over and using them to get to where you want.

Let’s model a new kind of ambition. One that is real, positive, hopeful and doesn’t see the pie as a fixed number of portions to be grabbed, but rather life as a set of bottomless ingredients for a pie we can all be a part of making together.

Over to You

Do any of these myths ring true for you? How do you feel about terms like ‘dog eat dog’ and ‘get ahead’ when it comes to accomplishing your aspirations? I’d love to hear what you think, please leave your response in the comments below.

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