We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests. Sheryl Sandberg
When you think of an ambitious person, you might think of charismatic leaders or powerful influencers. Many times these people are loud, opinionated, and willing to sacrifice the opinions of others in order to get their way. Maybe people like Steve Jobs or John F. Kennedy come to mind.
When you think of ambition, you probably don’t think of the quiet intern who sits in the cubicle next to you at work or the pleasant housekeeper who is secretly dreaming up a business idea while folding laundry.
Although social stereotypes lead us to believe otherwise, ambition isn’t always loud. Quiet ambition can actually be even stronger than loud ambition. People who don’t make a show of their ambitious pursuits are the ones you can be sure are striving for something because it’s what they truly believe in, and not for success or the recognition of others.
However, there are several factors that can make it difficult to be an ambitious introvert. Quiet isn’t a stereotypical trait of leadership.
Even though I’ve always considered myself an ambitious person, almost every employer I’ve had has given me the same advice when it comes to advancing in my career: “You should talk more.”
I don’t often doubt my intelligence, my capabilities, or my ambition when it comes to success in my career. What I doubt is my ability to prove these to others, since it is in my nature to be on the quiet side. And while “be louder” is solid advice, it’s basically the equivalent of telling a depressed person to “just be happy.” Easier said than done.
I experienced a peak in drive and ambition during my senior year of college. I was excited to go out in the real world and make a name for myself. I had a list of dream places to work, and although I interviewed at some of them (I looked great on paper), I was sure that the reason for not getting hired had to do more with a lack of charisma.
So I ended up accepting a job with a company who was looking for someone just like me, or at least how I seemed. Someone who was quiet and would do what they were told to do without asking questions.
My ambition slowly started to fade away, and I started to believe that maybe this type of work was all I would ever be good for. It was impossible for me to convince the leaders in this company of my value, and when I tried to prove it by going above and beyond what I was supposed to do, I was lectured for getting involved in other people’s business.
Thankfully I got out of that work environment early, and through a series of random and fortunate events, I’m back in an environment that respects my skills and ideas, and therefore enhances my ambitious nature.
If you’re a naturally ambitious introvert who feels stuck in a rut, here are some tips for rediscovering your ambition.
1. Let go of unhealthy relationships.
If you surround yourself with people who don’t believe in you, it’s going to make it even harder to believe in yourself. Anyone who makes you believe that being quiet means you can’t be successful isn’t the kind of person who should be in your life, whether it’s a boss, romantic partner, or friend.
2. Seek inspiration daily.
We all have different things that inspire us. Some of us prefer motivational quotes and personal success stories, while others are inspired by meditation or prayer. Maybe you find inspiration in each of those things. If you find yourself lacking ambition, begin a daily practice of seeking the things that inspire you to grow into the person you want to be.
3. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals.
Connect online or go to networking events and make connections with other ambitious people. You’ll notice that several of the most successful people you meet are also introverts. Forming relationships with these people is great because you’ll have people who you can talk about ideas with and who actually understand the way that you think and process information. They may even inspire you to stick to your goals and believe in yourself.
4. Ignore criticism that isn’t constructive.
If you’re an introvert, by now you’ve probably recognized that, “you’re too quiet” is not constructive criticism. We know we’re quiet. We like it that way. Instead of letting this kind of criticism get to you, focus on the ways that your gentle personality benefits you. Maybe people feel comfortable talking to you because you’re a great listener, or maybe you’re the most productive when you’re able to take a project home and work on it alone until 2 a.m. Keep in mind that success doesn’t have to look like the loudest person in the business meeting.
5. Do say what’s on your mind, when it matters.
This doesn’t mean be louder or talk just to talk. While introversion is not the same thing as shyness, many introverts do hesitate to speak up when they feel overwhelmed by so many louder voices in the room. This is something that requires more effort on our part, but it can lead to exciting new ideas and developments. If you’re surrounded by people and environments that don’t support and encourage your ideas and make you feel uncomfortable speaking up, it might be time to follow some of the above tips and start looking for a change of scenery.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful. You may experience certain obstacles that extroverts don’t experience, and the insecurity may lead you to feel an occasional lack of drive or ambition. But keep in mind that some of the greatest minds in history—Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and Nelson Mandela, to name a few—were also considered introverts.
Quiet ambition is a great strength that not everyone has, so consider it your privilege to use it.
Image credit: DeviantArt.com