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Mission vs Ambition

Our vision in life defines the quality and direction of your thoughts

Published: May 29, 2013 06:40:11 AM IST
Updated: Jun 21, 2013 10:18:10 AM IST

“The very essence of leadership is that you have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Hesburg

Our vision in life defines the quality and direction of your thoughts. If our vision in life is to be successful, every action will be directed from the need to be successful. Similarly, if our vision in life is being happy and peaceful, the quality of our thoughts will be governed by this need. Based on our circumstances and desires, we all have a different vision for our life. The vision for life often changes with stages of life. In the early years, we are driven by fun and learning and gradually, this changes to ambition and success.

Mother Teresa at a tender age of 12 years, took a vow to commit herself to a religious life. Having established a higher ideal for her life at such an early age, all her actions from thereon gravitated towards learning the order of the nuns and the language of the mission.

Mahatma Gandhi, a great leader and visionary, committed his life to India’s freedom from the British rule. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Muhammud Yunus, APJ Kalam, and many more, have significantly impacted society and created national wealth.

What is it that distinguishes these leaders from others?

These leaders were fueled by a desire to make a difference; a desire to contribute; a desire to commit to a higher ideal; a passion to pursue a cause for the larger good; motivation to be significant. Success or personal gain was not their defining value. Their contribution to humanity remains timeless.

Today, the values of society have changed. The mantra for success is – money, wealth, power and recognition. The vision is limited to personal success, personal gain, personal glory and personal status.

“Try not to become a man of success but a man of value.” Albert Einstein.

Business houses are established by the commitment and perseverance of a visionary leader. These leaders see a need in the society and take the leap of faith to build industry. Gradually, most business houses become fragmented and get divided into smaller parts to meet the needs of growing families and a desire for personal profit and independence.  We see this theme enacted in TV serials in different formats – ghar ghar ke kahani.  Similarly, politicians are elected to govern and grow the country into a prosperous nation. However, personal agendas of power and wealth acquisition result in scam after scam.

What is our vision today – personal gain or contribution to national wealth?
I recall that during the early years of my career, I was driven by the ambition of growing rapidly in the organization. I worked long hours, aggressively and furiously. I was motivated each morning by the desire to prove myself and grow faster than any other. I experienced an adrenaline rush. My efforts benefit the organization because I took pride in my work but my vision was limited to personal success over organizational benefit.

The stress and agitation of the competitive environment triggered a desire to seek work that would give me freedom. When I was working in India after being overseas for nearly 10 years, I observed a gap in the market in the area of people’s development.  Whilst attending a course on people management, I was introduced to coaching and the journey began. I had discovered my purpose of life – to work as coach and share knowledge. My ambition to be an entrepreneur soon converted into a mission to empower people to grow into leaders of their life.

Today, I derive immense satisfaction with every assignment, work has become effortless and the personal growth and evolution that I have experienced is immeasurable. I truly attribute this enrichment to the change, clarity and expansion in vision. Am I still ambitious, yes but the ambition is to grow internally such that I can fulfill my mission. Stress creeps in when I digress from my mission and start being ambitious and feeling insecure and incomplete.

I believe ambition is limited and exclusive in scope. It is filled with fear of rejection, fear of performance, need for wealth and recognition, need to control the outcome. Such success is temporary and ridden with stress. A mission is wider and inclusive. Mission is inspired by a higher ideal and free from the tangles of external pressures. Life becomes more process oriented versus result oriented. To help another or to work for a mission, one needs to be in control of oneself because life changes from being about you to being about others.

Andre Agassi has candidly revealed in his autobiography, ‘Open’ that he hated tennis and played it to fulfill his father’s ambition. Although he was exceptionally talented, his goal was misplaced and it exerted tremendous stress on him.

Sachin Tendulkar, a master cricketer, plays for the joy of the sport and is a source of inspiration for his team as well as the country. However, after scoring 99 centuries, the pressure to score the 100th began. Till he played for the team and joy of the sport, he was able to play effortlessly. As soon as he was focused on achieving a personal target, he was saddled with expectations and stress and the 100th century eluded him for a while.

Amitabh Bachchan is known as director’s actor.  Every director admires how Mr Bachchan adapts seamlessly and surrenders to the script and design of the director, the visionary rather than questioning and influencing it. He focuses on what he does best – being an actor. The ability to be humble and surrender to a script is what makes him a legend.

That is life – we are all actors born to enact our role. We are gifted with a skill and life becomes meaningful when we work in alignment with that skill. When we are born, we are unaware of our own potential -- will we grow to be a tree or a bush? We are born for to serve, fulfill our mission. Be courageous to surrender to the script written by the director, Our Creator and live a life of fulfillment and success.

“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” William Shakespeare

(Ashu is a leadership coach and author who works with senior executives in organizations such as Barclays Capital, Adidas,  Ernst & Young, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, etc. She is also a qualified chartered accountant. Ashu has recently compiled her insights, experiences as a coach and learning of life in a book, ‘I am Freedom’ (to be launched soon). In the book, she has shared her journey of inquiry into seeking inner freedom and thereby, unlocking the power to love and live. For more )


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  • Dr.a.jagadeesh

    Ambition is more enthusiasm while mission is commitment to attain goal. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    on Jun 7, 2013
  • Luis Moniz

    Excellent article highlighting the need to focus on a broader mission in life and not just on narrow ambitious goals

    on May 31, 2013
  • Abha Mehta

    can relate to the article. very thought provoking

    on May 30, 2013
  • Renu Kochhar

    Excellent write up Ashu. Keep up the good work.

    on May 30, 2013
  • Pradeep Mukerjee

    Powerful article ....I like the examples and the quotes in addition to the core message. Look forward to more of such articles.

    on May 30, 2013
  • Uday Arur

    Ashu, The examples you have quoted of people driven by a vision, as against those without explain perfectly the need for a personal vision and mission! Agassi vs Sachin and then again the pressure on Sachin to deliver his 100th century are apt. We look forward to more such articles from you

    on May 29, 2013