How to Know if You're Being Ambitious—or Just Plain Old Impatient
Ambition is an admirable thing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting a goal and hustling your tail off in order to reach it—hey, I’d even recommend it.
But, we all know at least one person who crosses the very fine line between ambition and impatience. He clutters your inbox with requests for answers and updates, despite the fact that you’ve already explained your timeline on multiple different occasions. He expects that big promotion—even though he’s only been with the company for two months. And he makes way too many comments about how he would run things if he was in charge. Basically, he makes everybody crazy.
Yes, there’s definitely a difference between being driven and being obnoxiously pushy. And, dealing with those overly eager co-workers can be a bit of a pain. But, have you ever stopped to consider whether or not you have the tendency to cross that line? Are you coming across as exceptionally motivated or incredibly annoying?
Well, it’s time for a little self-reflection. Ask yourself these five questions to help determine whether you’re just one heck of a go-getter—or you’re the cause of those office-wide eye rolls.
1. Have I Paid My Dues?
This is probably one of the biggest differentiators. When you’re ambitious, you’re willing to put in the effort and take the necessary steps to achieve your mission. It might take some time, but it’s worth it to you in the long run. But, when you’re impatient, you anticipate your desired result immediately.
Whether you’re chasing a promotion, a raise, or that open position at your dream company, it’s important to take some time and evaluate whether or not you’ve truly earned what you want. Have you excelled in your current position? Have you proven enough value to your employer to warrant a pay bump? Do you actually have the experience and qualifications for that coveted job—or should you hone your skills and get a few more years under your belt?
Very few people get what they want right from the get-go, no matter how entitled to that instant gratification you may feel. So, be honest with yourself about whether or not you’ve truly laid the right groundwork for your goal—or if you’re just trying to skip a few steps.
2. How Are Other People Responding to My Efforts?
Don’t worry—if you’re a little fuzzy on whether or not you’re acting like a driven professional or an irritating pest, your peers and co-workers will have no trouble cluing you in.
Do people in your office tend to look to you for guidance, instruction, or even encouragement? Or, do they blatantly ignore your 18 follow-up emails? Are you friendly with the people you work with? Or, do they scurry out of the break room whenever you enter—for fear you’re going to ask them for a status update again? If your co-workers had to describe you in three words, which three do you think they would use?
We’re not all self-aware. So, pay close attention to how others respond and react to your behaviors to get a better sense of how you’re presenting yourself. If you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to approach a co-worker you’re close to and ask his or her opinion on whether or not you should hit “send” on email number 19.
3. Am I Being Fair and Considerate of Others?
I’m all for climbing the ladder—but not if it means stepping on other people in order to do so. The best types of people are those who are not only driven and determined, but also conscientious.
Have you heard of “blind ambition?” It’s when your focus is so zoned in on your end goal, that you neglect to recognize what else is happening around you. That report you keep demanding from one of your co-workers, even though it’s not actually due for another two days? Maybe you’re failing to realize that he’s currently buried under tons of other important—and more time-pressing—projects. Instead of being a supportive team player, you’re just adding to his stress with your overwhelming and unrealistic demands and expectations.
Needless to say, you don’t want to fall victim to the blind ambition trap (although, I do think it’d make a pretty awesome band name). So, take some time to think about those who your actions directly affect. If you wind up with a laundry list of people who will be negatively impacted, perhaps it’s time you reevaluate your approach.
4. Why Do I Need This Now?
Listen, we can all be a little impatient every now and then. It’s human nature. So, asking yourself to justify exactly why you desire something immediately is a great way to determine whether you’re being realistic or just plain pushy.
Let’s take a promotion as an example. When asking yourself why you feel like you need that step up right now, what sorts of answers do you come up with? If you think things like, “Well, I’ve been here for three years and I think this position is a logical next step in my career,” or “I successfully completed XYZ in the hopes of attaining a position like this,” you’re on the right track.
But, if the only things that come to mind are simple, empty explanations such as, “Well, it’s here, and I want it,” you might be dabbling in pushy territory.
5. How Will I Respond to Rejection?
Like it or not, rejection is a part of life. Some of the most successful and notable people in the world have experienced more failure and refusal than they’d probably like to admit—although I’ll spare you another cliché Abraham Lincoln example.
As you’ve probably already guessed, ambitious people don’t let stumbling blocks stop them in their tracks. Instead, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again. Impatient people? Well, they’re much more likely to complain about their unfortunate circumstances, assign blame, and then wallow in their own self-pity.
So, although it may seem pessimistic or painful, think about how you would react if you didn’t achieve that goal. Would you keep moving forward? Or, would you just feel slighted?
There’s a notable difference between being ambitious and impatient. But, as vast as that difference is, it’s actually an incredibly fine line to walk. It’s all too easy to transition from motivated and driven to pushy and overly eager.
So, keep yourself in check with these five questions, and you’re sure to avoid those exasperated sighs and eye rolls from your irritated co-workers.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author