Neil Tambe

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I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Ambition vs. Actualization in the Social Sector

A few weeks ago John Hagel tweeted a link to a Huff Post Blog Post titled: Is Your Ambition Making You Stressed?

The post is a good one, you should read it. The takeaway is that there is a difference between ambition and actualization.  Here's an excerpt:

My colleague, coach Lianne Raymond, has something brilliant to say about this.
She differentiates between actualization and ambition.

Actualization or Ambition?Lianne writes that characteristics of ambition include:

  • the need to impress
  • status-seeking
  • pursuit of acclaim

Ambition is rooted in insecurity. What we do from a place of ambition tends to feel heavy and stressful, and leads to very short-lived satisfaction.
By contrast, characteristics of actualization include:

  • authenticity
  • vitality
  • playfulness
  • meaning

I think this is especially important to be self-aware of if doing community work, because the stakes are high and the pain one can cause is real. In the social sector people who are "ambitious" translate into power seekers who seek to influence over serving others, in my opinion. This is problematic when the opportunity to influence or serve becomes a tradeoff. If you are ambitious you might do something that's not in the interests of those you're serving so you can gain influence. This sort of act is hurtful...some might even say it's exploitative.

For that reason, I think that it's our responsibility - if you're looking to influence, serve, or both - to determine whether your goals are ambitious or actualized.  If they're solely ambitious, get out of the game. Don't put yourself in a position to be a community steward. It's not fair to be surreptitiously ambitious and pretend to be actualized - it insults people's trust and puts them in a position where they think they are protected from harm when they're really vulnerable to it.

It's hard, I admit, to be self-aware enough to determine if one's motivations are ambitious or actualized.  But we have to try to figure it out so that we can minimize the hurt we cause to our neighbors who need the most help.

Service to others is about precisely that: others. I worry that people who have ambitious intentions care more about themselves and their influence than they do about others. That tragically flaws their judgement, regardless how talented they are, because when push comes to shove, they may choose aggrandizement over helping others.

I suppose this may be an impetuous cry, but I really do think it matters. Community stewards need to be able to make sacrifices for others, not the converse. Commitment to helping others must run deep and be able to persist through any circumstance or level of pressure.

So, my community-oriented friends, ask yourself why you do community work. Is it for you (ambitious) or the community (actualization)? Ask yourself this often.

Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com