My heart got broken tonight.
Not by a significant other, friend, or Donald Trump (that’s a daily occurrence). I was in a coaching session with a client when it happened.
“I just don’t want to come off as being too driven or ambitious. I don’t want to be seen as greedy or disloyal to the institution for wanting to find a higher-level job.”
Did you hear that? That was the sound of my heart breaking.
This isn’t the first time I heard similar sentiments. So many people struggle with owning their career aspirations because they are concerned that a) they don’t deserve to move up, b) they worry about being seen as disloyal by their supervisor, c) they fear that their peers will negatively react to their ambition.
That fear can be real. I’m not saying that ambition is consequence-free, but rather it’s about framing your aspirations in such a way that it can be a win for all involved. Below are some things that I inherently believe about ambition and opportunity:
1) Every time a talented colleague gets an award, promotion or a great opportunity it’s a win for the department, the university and our students.
2) If you are good, you get to stay in your job. If you are great, you get to move on. Loyalty to the firm no longer exists. Instead, it’s about loyalty to the cause—student success. Sometimes this means moving functional areas, jobs, and/or relocating.
3) We need to stop valuing stability of our units over individual success. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Strong supervisors know that they need to do both—create a vision and team that will strengthen the department and also individually developing each person in a way that is supportive of their future goals and aspirations.
If an employee gets a great new opportunity, let’s celebrate them! Our departments will always be okay. We will find another strong candidate to replace the great employee who left us.
When I meet with new employees on their first day, we have a frank discussion about the potential for growth in role and I will often say something like “I see this being a 2-4 year job for you based on your previous experiences. Let me know what opportunities you are looking for to prepare you for next role so I can help you get them during your time here. When you are ready to start looking for your next job, keep me in the loop so I can support you in that process.” This takes away the potential awkwardness of when an employee wants to start the job search process because we have already laid the foundation for transparency.
4) Good supervisors look for ways to enhance individual ambition: A supervisor once took me out to dinner and said “What do you need to stay here longer?” I was surprised at the initial question, as I was not currently job searching. But in retrospect, it was a very smart question. My supervisor knew that I was more likely to stay when I am given more opportunities. He was feeding my ambition, and it was a win for him and for me.
As you assess your own ambition there are a few things to consider about how you navigate your work, develop your goals and articulate your hopes and dreams
1) Consider how you frame your language. Make sure you can demonstrate how your ambition is not just “me-centered,” it’s “we-centered.” Team-focused aspiration is a critical part of your larger, individual, ambition. No one creates success by themselves. Whenever I express my ambition I am able to share how it is a win for the university and our students.
At NYIT, we are seeking to enhance our name recognition and brand. Every time I am granted permission to present on a topic outside of my institution I (hopefully!) am a credit to the university and can enhance the profile of the NYIT. My goal is to increase the value of the NYIT degree so that when our students apply for jobs, employees will want to hire them based on what they have heard about the university. Does this benefit me? Yes. But does it benefit our university and students as well? Without a doubt. I can share the stories of how our students have gotten internships, jobs and other opportunities because of an employers’ experience with seeing the talent of our staff and faculty outside of the university.
2) Who do you trust to share your hopes and dreams? Who are your people, your cheerleaders, the people who can speak to your work and open doors for you? Let them know about your aspirations so they can help you get there. I have been supported, advocated for, and sponsored throughout my career when I dared to share my professional hopes and aspirations. This can be scary. But as one of my favorite university presidents often says “Being risk-averse offers no reward.” Take the plunge!
3) There is no substitution for excellence: A mentor told me today, “Ambition cannot take the place of skill.” Doing your job excellently every day will always remain the number one priority. Becoming excellent is a non-negotiable factor in developing your ambition and attaining your goals.
But back to the initial conversation:
Me: “I understand that you have these concerns. Tell me, what would you say if one of your students came to you and shared that they had big hopes and dreams for their own career?”
Client: “I would encourage them to go after it and do all they can to make it happen.”
Indeed. As my former boss once told me, we teach best what we need to learn most.
As for my own heart? It’s not right, but it’s OK. #ThanksWhitney