Speaking for myself, this notion always felt wrong as it insinuates that any other kind of achievement is somehow ‘lesser’ and ultimately undesirable. “Working for the man is the best way of life and the only way to be recognised” seems to be a very common theme, but it doesn’t account for other worthy achievements: what about being a carer for a family member, bringing up kids, working in a charity shop, giving your time to help others or simply follow your dreams and develop a hobby to perfection. Is being the world’s best matchstick builder not as ambitious as receiving a huge salary at the end of the month? Currently, clearly it isn’t!
That particular feeling does not just come up with this idea of working for money, but also when going through an interview to secure a job. Who hasn’t had this one moment where you are about to crack over the sheer idiosyncrasy of the question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
I’d posit this is a question that may have been suitable 30 years ago, but these days? Who can honestly plan that far ahead in a time where jobs are no longer about getting employed and staying with one company until retirement? Who knows what is going to happen to the company, your own situation, your love life, your health, within the next five years? Plans change and what holds true today may be out of date in 6 months time. And that’s without even taking into account that some employers actually count it against you if you work for one company for more than a couple of years!
Quite apart from that, what would the interviewer realistically expect you to answer? If you see yourself in a drastically different situation, they might think you are too ambitious for the position your try to get into. If you see yourself in exactly that job for the next 5 years, they might think you are too lazy (unambitious) to get up on that ladder and move forward. It’s a Catch-22, right? Whenever I was in that situation I always asked myself why they even want to know: aren’t they looking to fill a specific post and find the person who not only fits the bill but actually WANTS to do that job? Is that lack of ambition? Or is it knowing what you really, really want?
Let’s stay with the job situation for a moment longer: what if – after years of working for a company in the same position – you develop the ambition to climb the ladder and enter middle-management? Is that ambition welcome? Or will it throw a huge spanner in the works because you suddenly ‘step out of line’ and ‘create an upset in the status quo’? Either way, you are challenging your employer with a change of ambition they may not be ready for.
If, however, we move away from this narrow (work-related) definition of ambition to a much wider one, you’ll find that a growing number of people no longer define themselves and their sense of achievement exclusively through the work arena, or not at all. In the recent past (let’s say 50 years ago) work was a means to an end: making enough money to support yourself, maybe your family, putting food on the table and generally go through life without financial worries. Satisfaction was assumed to be part of this equation (even though it often was not, for sure). These days, satisfaction over achieving one’s ambitions comes in many other shapes and sizes and work ambition has taken a back seat for many people. We see a lot more people working part-time to earn just enough to make it through the month, but putting a lot of energy in what is considered side-lines by others, but are perceived as the REAL reason for living by the person who does it (and often, the recipients of the products or services they deliver).
Ambition and achievement are terms that, for some, have a meaning that has shifted from a purely work-related arena to one that is much wider, and good for all of them! Well done! Work is NOT everything. If you have the impression that work dominates your life, day in day out, then you are living for your work. For some, that is a perfect life. For many, this is a sad necessity, though. We have to remember that it really works the other way round: we work to live!
This subtle shift in perception changes everything: “we live to work” puts a definite negative slant on the whole issue of ‘work’, it feels like an obligation and if you are stuck in a job that you hate, but cannot leave because you’ll starve if you do, you can see how this is not a good way to live your life. If we understand that work is just a means to an end, and work is just a necessary PART of our lives, accompanied by other parts that may hold equal, slightly less or more value in terms of achievement and ambition for us, we are on the right way. That doesn’t take away the need to earn money, of course, but it helps put things into perspective, allows you to evaluate things more clearly and – maybe, just maybe – make decisions that are difficult to understand to your employer, but make perfect sense to you and those who appreciate the change it brings about in you.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.