The Difference Between Ambition and Intention
“Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” You might have heard this phrase repeated by entrepreneurs, coaches, and visionaries in the thought leadership space. This new era of mindful ambition and self-awareness has ushered in a wave of heightened consciousness when it comes to business ethics and perspectives on work. But, what does it all mean? Why is it that many high performers feel that success and ambition cannot coexist with soul-satisfying fulfillment?
Recently, I had a chat with a very successful entrepreneur-turned-life coach who works with business leaders and talented millennials who have, in the traditional sense, “made it.” When I asked him why the life-coaching industry seems to be exponentially growing, he told me that many business executives and top-tier talent have found themselves unfulfilled and unable to connect with their work — feelings of misdirection that are spilling over into other areas of life. When I looked at my own non-linear career path and those of my friends, it seems that there is indeed a max-exodus of millennial workers taking place at unprecedented rates. Highly sought after industry giants such as Google and Amazon have some of the highest employee turnover rates with an average tenure of only one year according to PayScale. Even federal employment retention rates are slipping despite the low industry volatility, perks of tenure and the allure of a worry-free retirement.
Then I got to thinking, why are our traditional views on success and ambition so limiting? Employee turnover comes at a huge cost in the form of loss of institutional knowledge and potentially loss of revenue, not to mention the cost of recruiting and training new talent and the overall impact attrition has on company morale. With the age of a singular career path well behind us, it is worthwhile to expand our definition of success, currently measured by external achievement markers (money, job title, awards and public recognition), to one that is more holistic in its ability to create space for other markers of well-being such as joy, happiness, mindfulness and fulfillment. These non-quantifiable measures of success can shed light on why so many driven professionals feel an internal restlessness and loss of inspiration after starting off their careers with passion and zeal.
The traditional view of success suggests that one can attain it through clearly defined goals, ambitions, plans of action, and good old fashioned hard work. It leaves little room for distinction between goals and the deeper motivation behind these goals: the intention. Intention sets the tone for the entire course of thoughts and actions grounded in an internal truth that serves to motivate an individual beyond money and fame. It is the “why” to our “how” and recognizes that our innate feeling of success is not solely derived from exemplary performance reviews and data-driven growth. The difference between intention and ambition is seemingly subtle yet paramount, as a small shift in perspective can relieve us from a lifetime of struggle to align our authentic self (where in which we feel most alive as we live our values) with our false self (a façade of our true self that leads to feelings of restlessness and depletion). Ambitions and goals dissipate, evolve, and become outdated through judgment, characterization, and public opinion. Intention is one with truth and courage, void of ego and the need to perform for others because that is what we “think” society expects from us. When intention is practiced in the workplace, it paves the way for empathy, a style of leadership proven to correlate with increased revenue, retention, and innovation.
Think about it this way: how many times have you been asked what your goals are for the next 1 to 5 years? How many times have you been asked the same of your intentions? How does this latter make you feel when asked? When we shift our perspective to prioritize intention over ambition, the need for validation and measure of self-worthiness from external sources takes a back seat to your most curious, free and open-minded self. An intention can set us free from a life of the perpetual chase for the ‘next best thing,’ and clear away the fog of ego, shame, and guilt to reveal our deepest and most worthwhile desires while keeping us grounded in our truth. Perhaps if we recalibrate the way we view our work and career path we will find more peace and fulfillment in this instant gratification day and age.
Wayne Dyer defines the power of intention as “the power to manifest, to create, to live a life of unlimited abundance, and to attract into your life the right people at the right moments.” By shifting our values, thoughts, speech, and actions to reveal our truest and highest intentions, we shift our limited energy to focus on the reasons we do what we are doing. This way, we allow all things to flow from our intention which frees us to make decisions based on our ability to discern our heart’s desire as opposed to striving for a fleeing and narrow definition of success defined by the expectations of others. There is enough struggle in our daily lives already; what if we instead use that energy to narrow the gap between intention and action, rather than chasing unfulfilling dreams, feeling defeated, and asking ourselves the soul numbing question of “how did I get here?”