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6 Steps for Managing Ambition
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In the last section we discussed reducing non-productive motivators. Non-productive motivators that we discussed in this section were dealing with guilt, reducing the influence of competition, and letting go of the urge for power and control.
In the next two sections... we will discuss managing ambition. As you already know, the urge to excel at work is generally known as ambition. I find that when workaholic clients lose their ability to manage ambition that it interferes with living a balanced life. Therefore this section will cover why clients must manage ambition, compromise vs. sacrifice, and the four categories of compromise. The four categories of compromise are time, relationships, where clients live and work, and the client’s core values and principles.
♦ Why Clients Must Manage Ambition
Ambitious clients who value their home lives constantly struggle with issues of balance. Does your workaholic client want it all—business success and personal success? Drew, age 43, found that each day presented choices that had to be made. Drew often asked questions in therapy such as, "Do I stay late for that meeting or watch my daughter’s school play? Do I work through lunch or make time to see a friend? Do I have a beer with my boss or go to my softball game?" Drew’s daily choices represented daily opportunities to set priorities. And, as a workaholic, Drew almost always chose the work-related activity over the personal activity.
In one session, Drew exemplified his workaholic tendencies when he told me about a classified ad that he ran in the local paper. Drew stated, "The ad said, NEED a ship BUILDER for my 12 yr old’s 13-ft plywood runabout. Frames, stem, transom, etc., are done. Business commitments leave me no time to finish it. Looking for someone to complete hull & deck, ready for paint & rigging. Time is of the essence. Fair price paid. Please help me not disappoint my son."
In your practice, how would you evaluate Drew’s position? Drew continued, "I have a new job that requires lots of travel so I can’t finish building the runabout myself! It’s a shame, really. Shipbuilding has been my hobby since I was a teenager! And I want to be able to spend time with my son! It means a lot to both of us. But this new job is important for my career! I had to make a choice and I chose the bigger job! I just have to find someone else to finish the runabout."
Does your client, like Drew, believe a boost to his career is more important than wrapping up an important project with his son? Most clients who aspire to higher positions would make a similar decision. Yet the last line in Drew’s ad, "Please help me not disappoint my son," is an indication of the doubts the ambitious feel as they make their choices.
I find that the juggling of career ambitions with a home life involves dozens of disquieting decisions. Frequently, knowledge of Personal Priorities, as in the last section, is of little value regarding managing ambitions because for the ambitious, success at work is truly important. For clients like Drew, consistently electing home lives over the possibility of career advancement is not an option. So how then do clients make choices regarding how to spend their time, especially when both bosses and families want the client’s time?
♦ Compromise vs. Sacrifice
Next, let’s examine compromise vs. sacrifice. I stated to Drew, "Having balance while still fulfilling career ambitions requires an endless stream of compromise. But there are ways to avoid making sacrifices. Since you are ambitious, you are willing to trade certain components in your life for success. By thinking in terms of compromise, you create the paradigm of informed choices that can be negotiated."
Think of your Drew. Perhaps your workaholic client can avoid sacrifice and use compromise by asking questions like, "What can I exchange for the possibility of career success?" Generally, compromises are made within one of four categories: time, relationships, where clients live and work, and the client’s core values and principles.
4 Categories of Compromise
♦ Category #1: Time
Let's look at time first. Time is the most common exchange medium in the quest for success. Unless they have to pay for overtime, most employers have no compunction about asking people to devote more and more time to the workplace. How many hours per week does your client work? If your client is like Drew, he probably works significantly more than the "standard" 40 hours. So instead of happily spending hours in the garden, at the movies, sailing, shopping, or sleeping, our clients tend to be at work hoping to advance their careers.
Once in the pattern of working long hours, clients like Drew tend to forget they are making a compromise. Drew finally questioned if the long hours were worth the price. Drew stated, "I’ve worked an average 10-hour day for almost ten years at my company! I have been very successful, yet I’m not fulfilled! That tells me that if I envision a different scene (and I do), I better get started on it now!" How might your client benefit from renegotiating his time compromise?
♦ Category #2: Relationships
In addition to time, relationships are another frequently exchanged commodity in the career marketplace. Agree? The professional life of a workaholic client cuts into the time available for relationships and also into the emotional energy that’s required.
The consequences can be seen in relationships that grow apart, relationships that don’t advance, and potential friendships that are never created, as Ray, an advertising manager found out. Ray stated, "I worked for a marketing firm that hired young, enthusiastic, intelligent people and worked them to the bone! If you left at 5:30 people would tap their watch and say, "Well, aren’t you leaving early!"
The workload was so overwhelming that I left each day with my stress level through the roof! It took a big toll on my relationship with my wife and friends because I had no free time! Now I’m with a different firm, but the workload is the same."
♦ Category #3: Where You Live and Work
In additin to time and relationships, Where you work, where you live, and how much you travel can be categorized under geographic trade-offs. The decisions your client makes here include what city they choose for their home. Ray stated, "I loved living in Charlotte, but the real marketing opportunities are in New York City. My wife hated New York."
The length of Ray’s commute was also a geographic decision. He decided that his job was well worth a two-hour drive on a grid-locked freeway. Think of your Ray. Does his commute add to his time away from home? Another variation is how much the client travels. For example, how often does your client spend the night away from his home?
♦ Category #4: Core Values
While no one likes to admit it, many clients compromise some part of their core value system to protect or enhance career success. These value compromises are always more obvious in other people’s behavior than in the client’s own. But value conflicts encountered on the job aren’t necessarily easy to avoid and are as apt to happen to your client as anyone else.
Drew recalled a compromise of his core values when he stated, "I was working as an analyst in investment banking. Virtually all of the emotional energy in the place was around generating fees—big ones! And because one can make numbers tell any story, I was often strongly encouraged to "tweak" my assumptions and the numbers for the benefit of the firm. I must admit that, being 21 years old, I had a hard time navigating this."
Has your client, like Drew, compromised his core values to satisfy ambition? Do you have a client that would benefit from listening to this section in your next session?
In this section... we have discussed managing ambition. This section covered why clients must manage ambition, compromise vs. sacrifice, and four categories of compromise. The four categories of compromise are time, relationships, where clients live and work, and the client’s core values and principles.
In the next section we will continue to discuss managing ambition. An effective method for managing ambition is creative compromise. We’ll examine two types of creative compromise. The two types of creative compromise we will examine are compromise for relationships and compromise for core values.
What are four categories of compromise?
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