Ambition is a must for those looking to get ahead

America was settled by generations of immigrants who came here with a burning ambition to make something of themselves and their families.

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U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was very skillful at turning away questions he didn't like. However, in 1928, after Coolidge issued his famous "I do not choose to run" statement, a persistent reporter looking for more details followed Coolidge to the door of his library.

The reporter asked for more details about why the president was opting not to run for a second term.

Coolidge looked the reporter squarely in the eyes and replied, "Because there is no chance for advancement."

Does that mean that Coolidge had no ambition? Hardly. He was just a man of few words, and he wasn't about to waste any on an overly ambitious reporter.

Ambition was once condemned as unnatural or even immoral in much of the world.


However, in the modern world and particularly in America, we have come to idealize self-made figures. People like steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller who, without education or status, transformed the scale of business corporations. Or Frederick Douglass, the ex-slave who became a learned and articulate advocate for his people. And Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics icon who built an empire on beauty.

America was settled by generations of immigrants who came here with a burning ambition to make something of themselves and their families. These men and women had the broadest range of opportunity in the world, so it's logical that ambition should flourish in America. This ambition is essentially what the Declaration of Independence described as "the pursuit of happiness."

Let's face it, ambition requires hard work. Most people want to improve themselves, but not too many want to work at it.

I'm a proud member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, named for the renowned author whose tales of overcoming adversity through unyielding perseverance and basic moral principles captivated the public in the late 19th century. His writings were characterized by a "rags-to-riches" narrative.

If you are looking for a job, part of the process is to show your prospective new employers that you are ambitious. You can't just say you have ambition; you have to demonstrate it. You've accepted challenges. You've made things happen. You have a lot to be proud of. And you can make a contribution to the company.

But having ambition alone is not enough. You have to know what you want, if not specifically, at least generally. You need to know what you value. The best place to start is to identify times when you were happy, proud and fulfilled, according to advice from the Mission website. Look for common denominators to determine what your true values are.

Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses, and those can't always be overcome. But they are only a problem if you let them become an excuse for not pushing forward. When you look at your strengths, you can form goals that allow you to maximize your best points.

Ambitious people usually know how to ask for help to keep growing. Maybe someone can offset your weaknesses and help you develop your strengths. Follow your dreams. Once you have decided what your ultimate goal is – for now – make a plan and get started. It may not happen overnight, but it won't happen at all unless you take the first step. And then set even higher goals.


Here's a story that illustrates what I'm talking about. A man picked up a hitchhiker, a young fellow who looked like he'd been traveling for a while. The two started a conversation, and the driver asked his passenger about his plans for the future.

The hitchhiker explained he was traveling around the country, camping and taking in the sights. Then, when he returned home, he planned to make a fortune in the tech industry. He had an idea that was going to make him a millionaire.

"Do people really do that?" asked the driver.

"Make money in the tech world? Sure," came the reply.

"No," the driver said. "I mean, do they take a time out from life instead of getting to work on making their dreams a reality?"

There is no time like the present to put your ambition to work.

Mackay's Moral: Everyone should take some time daily to look at the road map of their ambition.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at , by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.


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