This question – can you teach ambition? – stopped me in my tracks. Unsure of whether or not I’ve been trying to do just that, I paused, trying to think of how to respond.

It was a pertinent question, put to me by a person to whom I was pitching my program Hustle & Heart. I scrambled around for an answer and the question stayed with me for days afterwards.

Was I trying to teach ambition? Is that what business coaching is about? Is it even possible to teach ambition? Questions kept a’croppin’.

What have you been taught to want?

Essentially, ambition is simply desire, and the drive to get what we desire.

But desire is complicated. We don’t leap as fully-formed adults from a vacuum – our socialisation shapes us and defines what’s appropriate to aim for and what’s outside the realms of possibility. Much of our socialisation is unconscious – we assume that that’s the way the world works, without realising that we’re looking at things through a particular lens.

When getting to the heart of what our big goals in life and business are, we need to bring these unconscious and subtle influences into the open. Especially when self-employed, our socialisation is central to helping us achieve extraordinary things or keeping us stuck and small.

Time and again, I see business owners struggling with the very real sabotagers of self-beliefs and self-talk. Inner battles raging, with screams of:

“I’m bothering people”
“I’m being pushy”
“Surely if I was great at this, I wouldn’t have to market myself so much”
“If people wanted me, they’d have asked”
“I’m not good enough”
“Everybody knows what they’re doing except me”
“There are so many competitors. It’s too crowded”

And that old doozy: “I should just be happy. How dare I want more?”

What is your ambition?

While we all have desire, we don’t all want the same things. You know that being clear on what you want is half-way to getting it but that’s no help when you’re stumbling through the fog of first this, then that.

As we slink and creep through distractions, playthings and confusion, following the faint sniff of desire, we are often brought undone by the minutiae of ‘how’. We get distracted by a plethora of processes, tools, technologies and tactics. This takes us deeper into the fog. We’ve lost the path for the process.

Thwarted ambitions

In the rough play-and-tumble of self-employment, our ambitions are all-too-often casualties. When high hopes don’t translate to reality, we start tempering our desires to more ‘appropriate’ ones. I’ve seen this countless times among more experienced self-employed people. Rather than being more confident, they have grown less confident over time, with unmet expectations, setbacks and disappointments.

And so we suppress our ambitions. Rather than developing greater resilience, we start avoiding potential embarrassments by curbing our enthusiasm. When we add children (renovations, sickness, disease, divorce, Netflix) to the mix, it’s easy to relinquish desires deemed too ‘unrealistic’.

Much of the skill in life methinks, is to suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that everyone is privy to and keep open, optimistic and enthusiastic. Our default ageing process is towards cynicism and bitterness. It’s far more challenging – and more rewarding – to be open-hearted and open-minded.

Finding your ‘thing’

If we all have ambition for particular things and a large part of discovering this lies in bring unconscious socialisation and other influences to the conscious mind, then the short answer is that you cannot teach ambition. You can only facilitate the process towards uncovering and rediscovering it.

This is a process of subtraction. We’re peeling back the hurts, mistakes, disappointments, dashed expectations, procrastination and other side-trips. And we’re plumbing the depth of our passions to discover whether they’re enough to sustain us in business, for many years to come.

Becoming skilled at ambition

One huge piece of the pie is getting better at handling ambition. Ambition can be a powerful force for action. It can make you hugely productive, focused and inspired. But it has an ugly underbelly – untamed,ambition can make you perpetually dissatisfied and miserable. It can cause you to constantly compare yourself with other businesses and business owners and always fall short. It can lead to fear and self-loathing.

Becoming skilled at ambition means learning how to walk the tightrope between action and relaxation, yearning and satisfaction, focus and rejuvenation. Becoming skilled at ambition means we aren’t constantly starting and stopping, getting hugely excited and then losing hope. Our emotions, revenue and profits become more steady and predictable.

I believe we must learn how to handle ambition if we’re to build businesses that aren’t just profitable, but sustainable for many years to come. We must learn to handle ambition if we’re not get beyond constant stress and busyness and start enjoying the process. The Hustle & Heart program teaches us how to become skilled at ambition because ultimately, this determines how long your business will not only survive, but thrive.

Is it your time?