THE BLOG

Why Ambition Should No Longer Be a Dirty Word

26/02/2016 16:01 GMT | Updated 26/02/2017 10:12 GMT

I blame Alexis Carrington and JR Ewing. Then again, Gordon Gecko didn't help matters. The deliciously awful main characters of 1980's television shows such as Dynasty and Dallas, and films such as Wall Street, came to personify the idea that ambition is a dirty word, a short-hand way of describing ruthless, selfish, amoral people mercilessly trampling over each other in their efforts to seize power, money, status or all three. With their red braces, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads, they put themselves first and woe betide anyone who got in their way.

And over the years the image has stuck. Indeed even the words used to describe ambition are harsh - raw, naked, burning ambition anyone?

The problem is that this cartoon image of ambition is not what true ambition is about at all. In reality, ambition is simply the desire to make the most of your potential to achieve something special, which would make a profound difference to your life and to those of others, whether that be through success, achievement or distinction. That might mean the desire to create something unique; reach the top of your field; start a business; become an expert in a particular area; or make a positive difference to the world.

Nothing in there about being horrid, mean and selfish.

So why does any of this matter? It matters because if ambition is seen as a dirty word, as a bad and horrible thing to be, then people are less likely to admit to being ambitious, and are less likely to try and achieve their goals.

That's sad on a personal level, but it is also a tragedy for the rest of us too, because ambition is the force that makes amazing things happen in the world. Without it we would have no progress, no inventions, no innovation, and no change for the better. Indeed one person's ambition is the driving force behind many of the incredible achievements in our society, whether that be inventing the motor car, discovering electricity or creating incredible works of art.

What's more, there is a proven link between ambition and success. Which means that ambition is not just the driver for success, it makes that success more likely to happen too.

When I was researching my latest book, Ambition: Why it's good to want more and How to get it, I was reminded time and time again of just how much one person can achieve if they really put their mind to it. Paul Lindley, for example, decided he wanted to make healthy food for babies and toddlers. The business he created, Ella's Kitchen, was so successful that he sold it for £66 million, and then used some of the proceeds to set up a social enterprise The Key is E, to improve the lives of children in Africa.

All of which means that it's time to reclaim the word ambition and ditch the negative connotations. We can start by standing up and admitting that we are ambitious and want to achieve great things. I am - are you?

Rachel Bridge's book Ambition: Why it's good to want more and How to get it, is out now, published by Capstone.