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A New Ambition

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A New Ambition

Home / BALANCE / A New Ambition
Millennials are skipping the corner office and reaching for more intangible rewards.
"Around the world, professionals are becoming less and less driven by individual rewards."

For years, the goal for modern professionals has been to reach the corner office by 30. But according to recent research, times have changed.

Studies show a majority of millennials have no interest in striving toward the number one spot in a company or even becoming top management.

Is there something really wrong here? Or do we as a society need to rethink what ambition really is? 

How Do We Define Success?

For years we have watched people scratch and claw to make their way to the top. The pressure, the long nights, the loyalty, and then finally the glory.  Some professionals simply don’t see the point. By and large young professionals value collaboration over dominating the top spot.

A shift has occurred and now bends toward a reconceptualization of what it means to succeed.

A Harvard Business Review article  noted young professionals surprisingly don’t just want money and power, but the opportunity to actually make a difference.

The best way in which is to be part of strategic decision making. The shift from money and power as the drive to succeed seems to indicate this new approach to ambition is rooted in a need to have an impact on the future and maybe even influence the direction of our culture.

Around the world, professionals are less driven by individual rewards and feel empowered when making social and environmental impacts.

The new ambition is intertwined with the success of our community and our planet rather than climbing the corporate ladder. Whether it is Ellen Pao’s crusade as the interim CEO at Reddit to stop salary negotiations in order to reduce pay inequity for men and women; or Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, slashing his own salary in order to equalize pay and promote the subsequent success of every employee in the company, this generation is actively working toward a world where “everyone gets at turn to play.” 

Work Life Balance: The True Goal

Today’s young working professional values their personal life and the flexibility to both work and pursue their dreams. This attitude (which has been hastily labeled as lazy) is actually what we  as a country have been promoting and working towards in order to prolong life, reduce stress and achieve higher levels of self-actualization.

So why when we finally raise a generation that is able to throw off the shackles of the post-Great Depression “work to survive” work ethic, are we responding by branding them with words like entitled and lazy? Instead, this new ambition is directed toward the fierce determination to not be defined by only our form of employment, but to have our identity shaped by all aspects of our lives. In essence, this approach is demanding that my success as a daughter, a mother, a friend, an adventurer and a lawyer all play an equal role in who I am and what I contribute to society. Could it not be seen as deeply ambitious when an individual determinedly works toward valuing their family, friends, personal interests and professional goals equally?

These days, people are hyper-focused on having clear direction and purpose to their lives. But this difference is what we were working toward: citizens who are truly individuals because they value the individuality of all and work to promote equality. This re-conceptualized idea of ambition that is being injected into our previously limited understanding of individualism can appear threatening, but what it brings is the freedom to live life on your own terms, to seek connection and inclusion, and to value creativity and innovation. Not bad for a generation who got a ribbon “just for showing up.”

Photography by Stella Blackman

about the author

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Dr. Mary DeRaedt
Mary DeRaedt, MS, LPC, NCC is a Licensed Professional Counselor, clinical supervisor, and counselor educator. Based at the Gil Institute for Trauma Recovery and Education, Mary specializes in approaching issues from a holistic perspective-- with areas of expertise including young adult life transitions, relationship problems, & trauma.