There are important and revealing questions to ask yourself about your ambition, or lack of it.
Why do/don't you feel driven to achieve something?
What itch are you trying to scratch?
Is your ambition driven by scarcity or abundance?
Learn about the 3 types of ambition, and discover when and how it's easiest to kickstart new goals, if you are currently in burnout.
Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor E Frankl
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Dex (00:00:09) - Hi everyone. My name is Dex Randall and this is the Burnout to Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends, this is Dex, and I'm glad you could join me again this week for an episode on ambition. And for those of you who are in burnout, that might be a painful topic. So you might think you don't have any. And it's possibly true, but I think maybe you've secretly got an ambition to get out of burnout. Because otherwise I fear for your levels of despair a little bit. And if that's you, if you've lost all hope for the future being better than where you are now at least, then stay with me. I'll speak to that in a little bit. Because burnout has this in common with depression, I think, a sense of hopelessness, the inability to connect with this possibility that things might change for the better. That's not factually correct. Okay, don't hang on to that one.
Dex (00:01:12) - My position is, which I often speak about, that burnout is 100% curable regardless of how it feels, how long it's been going on, or perceptions of your environment being the thing that blocks you from anything better. All of these things, they're all going to shift if you go into burnout recovery. And when I talk about your environment in that way, I mean everything you experience outside of you, including people, work, your boss, the economy, and so on. And I would push it so far as to include aspects of your inner environment such as hopelessness, feeling useless, powerless, despair, stress, even stress related illness, and things like relationship friction. All of those are side effects of burnout. And then when we feel all of those, when we experience those, we have usually something like a resulting sour or bitter feeling in the pit of the stomach. So if you've got any of those things, I think of them as circumstantial. You won't have them after burnout, so I would include them in your environment. Anyhow,
Dex (00:02:28) - So if you're in burnout, don't stay there would be my best advice, when there's a reliable solution in burnout coaching, please don't stay there and prolong your suffering. And for anybody who does have ambition, let's come back to you. Whether your ambition is kind of a little bit frayed and tattered or parked in a cupboard. Or if it's feverishly alive and kicking in your brain. Let's just look now at the three main types of ambition, so that you can do a little bit of an inventory of yourself and see where you're sitting with it. So the three types that I think we need to consider about ambition, one is external ambition, two is altruistic ambition and three is our inherent ambition for growth as humans. So number one, let's take that first external ambition. I really mean the ambition of wealth, status, position, power, success, the kind that most of us have been culturally trained to aspire to. As men, particularly in the Western culture. If we think of traditional and still maintained stereotypes of men.
Dex (00:03:47) - It's about the manbox, really, isn't it? Earning, providing for the family, being the rock, having broad shoulders, the tireless fixer, the protector, required to be strong, successful, powerful, dominating, heteronormative, fearless, in control and emotionless, and having the ambition to be recognized for this as a man, if you like. What you're looking for probably is wearing an external badge, a social proof that you're doing your job. Because to many men, this type of ambition achieved is a mark of not just worldly success, but masculinity itself, fulfilling their male role. And we'd have to add on of course, that to be the alpha male is the masculine imperative of the animal kingdom. It's an animal survival strategy, and we're not immune to that either. And if we think of women's social stereotype, another source of enormous grief and stress, this time to women who are really expected to be, in that traditional sense, the nurturer, the emotional caregiver, the homemaker, teacher, but also an objectified, slavish follower of fashion trends and indispensable doer of whatever needs to be done and subject to men's demands and thereby undervalued.
Dex (00:05:23) - For both men and women, I think it's no wonder that so many of us are burned out. And it's good that we've become in recent times more aware of the Manbox and more aware of these masculine and feminine stereotypes that aren't working very well for most of us. As I think things like the Manbox is so reductionist it objectifies all people men, women, non-binary, non adults. Everybody. And I know a lot of you listeners are much more switched on than that and maybe don't subscribe to those stereotypes, but there still are a societal presence and a legacy that we are still affected by. But if we can look past for a minute the societal aspect of external ambition, why we might have it also comes from our attachment styles in our childhood. About never being good enough in our parents eyes, good enough to receive love, protection, attention, approval and care. Always having to try harder to please.
Dex (00:06:37) - And this kind of striving does seem to have a protective factor. If we rise high enough, our position will be secure. We'll feel okay. We'll have all the things that we want. But when we call it ambition, it can go a bit sideways into greed, can't it? Particularly if we have self-doubt, and if we're feeling desperate enough, it can become toxic and addictive. Because often we don't feel that we can ever have enough to feel good on the inside. Safe and secure, above risk. And also because it's rapacious, competitive, selfish ambition where others are almost certain to be left behind in our race for the top. But of course we all had parents who wanted the best for us. But in doing that, quite often they've taught us to over-effort, to be an A student, to be aggressive in growth, to succeed in everything, to be perfectionist, have high earnings and create wealth. See ourselves as business women or businessmen and leaders, perhaps to seek power, to be ostentatious about our status, to mix in the right social strata.
Dex (00:07:53) - The big note ourselves sometimes, or to be conscious of prestige, in prestigious organizations, positions and network, constantly and actively growing and seeking promotion. Fighting to get up the ladder, being cutthroat, competitive with other people usually, and seeing it finally as our rightful due. This is the place we're supposed to be at. And although many of us have been extremely successful at times in our education and in our careers or our marriages, our social areas is self limiting in the end. And this type of ambition naturally produces a lot of stress. Both because of its dog eat dog nature and our fear of not being good enough, which persists. So even though we may hold a senior position, be highly skilled and highly paid, it rarely feels as secure or as permanent as we'd hoped, and our financial responsibilities are probably large and still growing. And we're likely to instill in our offspring the same style of ladder climbing ambition that requires this hefty education for them. An ambition based on avoiding fear is coming from lack, isn't it? It's coming from scarcity thinking, and it's likely to create then an increasing emotional strain with time.
Dex (00:09:23) - It's really a doomed cycle, subject to the law of diminishing returns. So a sense of vulnerability over time can only increase as we perpetually avoid our fears and continuously try to increase the buffer between ourselves and failure, or perceived failure, or not getting our needs met. Nothing is ever going to be enough to quell the fear entirely. And in my neighborhood where I live this kind of mindset has manifested since Covid by a huge explosion in home renovations that continues to this day, to shore up the fortress, as it were. So when we relate to that kind of ambition, we might find it very hard to ever downgrade our ambitions. We'll always be seeking more. The ability to see past that and to desire to downgrade and actually downgrade our ambitions can come with maturity, a more mature view of life. It can also come from a near-death experience or somebody in our sphere having a near-death experience. It can come from other significant life experiences and loss, and it can also come from burnout
Dex (00:10:39) - oddly enough. So that's a snapshot of the way that I see this first style of ambition, which is for external or worldly success. And the second style of ambition is to be of best service to other people and your family. And it sounds like a wonderful ambition, and it can be when it's approached from a healthy perspective of self care and self worth and effortless generosity. But often that isn't where it comes from in us. There are unhealthy aspects of this ambition style that also come from your attachment style as kids. Sperhaps we were judged as kids for never giving enough of ourselves. Never giving enough to even be allowed to mention, let alone secure, the love and affection and care that we needed. We couldn't take care of our own needs if we weren't judged as giving enough into the world. Clearly this is quite often women and this style of treatment as a kid will lead to intrinsically low sense of self worth.
Dex (00:11:55) - And so women who are brought up in that style, particularly women, not always women, will be fighting this kind of uneven battle against men, or that's how it's going to feel. But also this demographic does include people who work for charities, people who are self driven politicians, greenies, and so on. Who are fighting for a cause. If we grew up in the style, we have been taught to work very hard, to fix every problem, to be emotional caretakers. Overall to be over givers and to keep little or nothing back for our own needs. So typically what we would do if this was us, we would be taking a backseat when it came to promotion at work, or reward at work or acknowledgement at work, or we would be deliberately refusing promotion to avoid the limelight and to avoid feeling overcompensated and having to work harder to deserve that. So what we would often do in this style is would toil away, unseen, as a required gift to other people, and as a duty to selflessly provide for the family just to take all the emotional hits that are coming without mentioning it.
Dex (00:13:14) - So we will ignore our own needs and we will ignore self care making time for ourselves. We'll sacrifice ourselves basically to the common good. Expecting very little in the way of acknowledgement, prestige, promotion, status, wealth and even asserting our own right to be. So we will almost never ask for more. We'll constantly self improve and will consider ourselves undeserving of special treatment of any kind, which in the real world is usually normal treatment, never mind special. We'll accept any unfair treatment without complaining. We'll never refuse a request for help, but we will invite refusal if we are asking for help. Will almost be self apologist asking for help. So people with type two style of ambition which is the over giver, generally burn out pretty hard and pretty early. And I do find it morbidly fascinating that 80% of autoimmune sufferers are women, and I wouldn't regard that as disconnected. That's ambition style number two. To be of best service to people in the family. Ambitious style Nnumber three.
Dex (00:14:33) - Is natural balance growth. Just the ambition to keep evolving, really to better ourselves and to keep moving. It's our innate search for meaning and purpose in life as humans. And if it comes from a natural sufficiency, this is where life is an adventure, a game to play. Challenges and success bring their own rewards for having played the game, giving it your all and received. This type of ambition can also be associated with selfless service or service for a cause. Altruistic support of other people who are less advantaged. Building a legacy, sharing and giving back. Mentoring others, being fully engaged with life and exploring fully your own strengths, capabilities and passions tends to be a joyful, open, generous, giving ambition. Is a balanced ambition really isn't greedy or exclusive. It comes from a desire to stretch yourself as a human, as a good citizen and is generous. It's expansive. It's inclusive. It doesn't come from lack, fear, or insecurity like the other two. And sometimes we take up this balanced ambition because it's how our forebears were.
Dex (00:16:01) - And we were taught to think that way, that we can do anything. We can be who we are, fully expressed in the world. And this is one of the signs of healthy attachment. As kids, youngsters who were loved, supported and encouraged to be truly themselves and to share what they have freely with others. Of course, there are many cultures in the world that still have this way of being where children, for example, are taught to always offer food to others and think of their guest's comfort before themselves. This foundation of mutual care group survival over personal survival, and that style of ambition comes from a sense of adequacy, sufficiency, self acceptance, trust, connection, belonging and abundance. And I think one of the most tender books on this subject is Viktor Frankl Man's Search for meaning. He found himself in desperate search of meaning when he was split from his wife in separate concentration camps, and he had to find a reason to survive, he had to find hope.
Dex (00:17:20) - So I'll put that in the show notes if you if you haven't read it and would like to. And when I'm thinking about how we are as humans, as a species. This is my kind of ideal, this way of being. And I view the other, maybe more selfish ways of being as just us, misunderstanding the way the world actually works. We just can't see it. And probably we've inherited this misunderstanding. I know that I did. We're probably raised to be more selfish than that to look out for number one. And really, we can't help the way we were raised. If our parents taught us to be more selfish, they too would have been brought up to be more selfish by parents or a family, or a system where a strong experience of survival fear prevailed. Because that's what drives selfishness, right? Survival fear. So if that's how we are. And if that's how our parents are. It's not our fault. And it's not our parents fault either.
Dex (00:18:24) - And it's not our parents parents fault either. They were just in survival mode. So along the way, we've all tried to do our best. Each of us has just done what we could with what we have. So I don't say any of this to blame or judge or or to get anyway fixated on the past. It's just I think perhaps it can be helpful to see if you're experiencing a world which is not entirely friendly, that there are antecedents to this that were beyond your control. It doesn't mean you're powerless now to change it. It just kind of gives us a clue how we might have arrived at this place in the first place, and it leaves plenty of space for us to be wonderful human beings, which I think we all are, essentially. So if you're listening to all of that and you're thinking, wow, I wish I felt that kind of ambition, ambition number three, which is coming from spontaneous generosity. So if you truly don't have that kind of ambition, you can learn to cultivate it no matter what life stage you're in.
Dex (00:19:38) - And you're going to do this first by creating a sense of safety, sufficiency, Enoughness, self acceptance, right inside yourself. You're going to work to reduce your inner fear first. So this is where you tackle your survival fear, which is still active inside you if you don't have this kind of ambition. And when you do that, when you work with your internal safety and increase your internal safety, you're going to create increased capacity to connect, to belong, to share and to give from spontaneous generosity. Not, perhaps through gritted teeth, as you might experience right now. And this is a skill that I teach all of my clients. Cos anybody in burnout doesn't feel safe in their world. So first things first we must teach safety. Again. People can also realize this gift as they age or hit big life events and this gift of spontaneous generosity I'm talking about now. And if they hit those life events, it can suddenly open their eyes wider to see the world and life differently, to develop a new understanding of life.
Dex (00:20:50) - And I simply teach people how to get there without needing to have an emergency. Some of us lost our way a little bit. We never had our way, and it's recoverable. And because this style of ambition creates deep joy for both the ambitious person and those they encounter. It's the most tremendous fountain of vitality and enthusiasm and health. It's just the biggest driver of creating rewarding projects and endeavors and rewarding relationships. And this is the way that we're supposed to live. I think we just got a bit lost. So number three, an ambition for natural balance growth as a human. So when you were listening to those, you might have been thinking about yourself. Think about your ambition or your lack of ambition. For those of you who do lack ambition, my friend, you are not then thriving. And that can be fixed. Specifically, people in burnout won't usually be able to bear the pain of thinking about their ambitions, since they're barely surviving their day to day problems and see themselves as unequal to or unworthy of bigger dreams.
Dex (00:22:03) - They're just not accessible right now. People in burnout, of course. They're just drowning. No energy for anything as airy as ambition. And if at that point you're fighting harder for ambition, you want ambition, you're desperate for ambition efforting towards it. Really, that's just going to have you sinking even deeper into exhaustion. Because it's desperate striving, not kind of expansive, thriving. So if that's you, please fix the burnout first, and then of course, you will thrive. And ambition drive, excitement, passion will all flood back along with your energy. That's how you'll know you recovered. So if you've got style one or style two ambition, which comes a bit more from deficit, a bit more from lack, it might be a good opportunity to check in if that's serving you in your life's needs right now. It may have done earlier. For most of us, it will have served us in early life, but quite often in burnout, we hit a point where it's no longer serving us. So just check in with yourself which phase you're in.
Dex (00:23:06) - Is it serving me or is it not serving me? If it is serving you, no problem. Keep going. Whatever ambition is working for you. That's terrific. Keep it. Especially as regards supporting your life and your loved ones life. If it feels good, do it. But for many people in burnout, it's gone past it's use-by date. It's gone stale, hollow. It's become a subject of dread. To have ambition rather than drive. Exhausting. Not energizing. Demanding. Not fulfilling. And again, if that's you, ask yourself what factors are making it that way? What is it about my ambition now that's doing me harm, rather than propelling me forward through my life? So see if you can identify those factors. Because then when you fix those, you're going to get the choice of any of the three ambition styles going forward, which is ideal. You can be whatever you want to be and it will serve you. Of course number two style of ambition, the over giver, often does end up in burnout.
Dex (00:24:16) - Just by dint of the fact that it is a style of over-giving, giving beyond your means and energy. So if that's you. It's still possible to stay in whatever is a traditionally over-giving job or role, such as working for charities or causes, but it would be much, much easier and more satisfying and enjoyable if you tamed a bit where you're going beyond your resources and find a way to give from internal abundance, from safety, right? So this is the inner safety, the inner fullness and capacity that you can develop in burnout recovery. Some people do experience this style of ambition, when it becomes exhausting as "compassion fatigue". Inherently, though, I don't think compassion is tiring. It's not tiring to open our hearts. What's tiring is that we're not serving ourselves at the same time, because our heart energy I see is infinite. Boundless. It's self generating. The more we use, the more we have. Unless you're starving yourself of your own needs and still trying to give to others, unless you're giving from an empty cup.
Dex (00:25:32) - So burnout recovery for you would simply be re-establishing the balance of self care and boundaries. So you give compassion first to yourself, fill your own cup, and let the excess overflow onto the people around you, and then it would become more abundant for you. Then that recovery really is all about returning to internal abundance and giving from generosity. And you're still capable of that when you restore your own energy levels and take care of yourself in the way that you personally need. So I really hope these few words on ambition has been fuel for thought for you. And just a quick note whoever you are listening to this, I believe in you wholeheartedly. As a human, you're intrinsically worthy and good and your heart is perfect. You're just a bit out of balance and exhausted. You can mend your bruised mind, body, emotions, heart and soul when you tend to your own needs and find your own safety and come out of burnout, you will thrive again. Burst back into life. Everything becomes hundreds of percent easier, more fun, and more rewarding.
Dex (00:26:47) - And that's the signal to start nourishing your ambitions of whatever kind. Because at that point, when you bring ambitions out, they're going to be joyful and energizing for you and for other people. And, as I said, I can help you with every stage of this revival journey. And it's my deep pleasure to do that. I'd love to see you happy, fulfilled, ambitious, enjoying your life. And in my coaching program, what I do is I take people on a reliable, proven journey to get to that point of thriving and having the things, having life the way they'd like it to be. So if you've related to what you've heard today about ambition, if you want to thrive and if you're not quite there, come and talk to me at Dexrandall.com. About how to recover quickly and sustainably and get back to your best performance, leadership, and most of all, enjoyment inside work and out. And if you enjoyed this episode, please help me reach more people in burnout by rating and reviewing the podcast or subscribing.
Dex (00:27:52) - I would be very grateful. And again, if you know somebody already who's heading towards or in burnout, please send them to the link at Dexrandall.com. And I recommend for new people you listen to the first five episodes to start. Thank you so much for your time today and I will see you next time. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me a burnout.dexrandalll.com, and just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.