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10 Ways Ambition Can Wreck Your Career

11/26/2014 05:53 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST
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"What are your career aspirations?"

That is one of most frequently asked interview questions of people ranging from young job seekers to C-Suite executives being considered to run a multinational company.

Success defines many of us. We are often judged by our lifestyle, our clothes, our cars and the company we keep. Whether we truly love the work we do and look beyond our job status as a way of validating ourselves varies from person to person.

It's important to note the difference between working 60 hours a week to provide a high standard of living for yourself and your family while remaining happy and productive versus working 60 hours per week with the sole purpose of impressing others.

After three decades as a practicing professional working within a variety of industries and with many accomplished and committed individuals, I have been able to explore my own ambition. It has both changed me, and shifted to a more balanced state over the course of my career. In short, I've learned a lot.

If ambition trumps all else, here are 10 ways that it can wreck your career.

  1. Work life balance is ignored and leads to burn out, which can trigger poor work performance and the start of a slippery slope. The further you fall behind, the more you have to struggle to regain lost ground.
  2. Personal life suffers, which causes stress, affecting you, your partner, children, close friends and even pets.
  3. Inability to form trusting relationships with colleagues who you perceive to be competitive threats. You may act outside your comfort zone as you contemplate unfair tactics to discredit a colleague vying with you for the same position. You run the risk of losing the support of allies, which can be vital to your long term success.
  4. Impatience with peers and superiors who you believe are making decisions to short circuit your efforts. You start to focus on their perceived motives and become a little paranoid as you lose sight of the real situation as it unfolds.
  5. You make decisions too quickly in an effort to gain a short term advantage, either in the office hierarchy or in the marketplace. Career success is like running a marathon, not a 100 metre Olympic final where your success is determined in a matter of seconds.
  6. Feelings of low self-esteem and resentment about not getting promoted when you expect that all important act of recognition can deflate you and hurt your job performance.
  7. Reading too much into company setbacks and feeling that "it's over" just because you have heard rumours about cutbacks or layoffs emanating from head office thousands of miles away.
  8. Your emotional intelligence and all important "niceness factor" may diminish as you become self-absorbed and so pumped up about your short term goals attainment that you distance yourself from friends and colleagues who have supported you in the past. You may burn bridges as you move from one job to the next and give yourself a bad reputation for your ongoing restlessness and self-serving behaviour.
  9. Your ambition makes you define yourself by your anticipated career success and you begin to live for your job rather than live life to the fullest.
  10. In your haste to succeed, your tunnel vision may block out subtle cues that could guide you to a career that is even more fulfilling than the one you are so relentlessly pursuing.

As with anything, finding a balance is essential. It is important to have ambition, and to strive to better yourself. However, if you don't keep yourself in check, your quest can become detrimental to the very thing you are working to achieve.

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