Ambition Without Grandiosity
By Rahti Gorfien
Ambition Without Grandiosity is an exercise that helps creatives better understand why ambition is a good thing, as it helps us persist even after failures. At the same time, it helps creatives understand why ambition coupled with grandiosity can lead to shameful feelings and perfectionistic tendencies.
If we are ambitious but not grandiose, we have access to the tenacity needed to proceed and eventually succeed. This journaling exercise is designed to help creatives distinguish ambition from grandiosity and separate out what matters to them from who they think they need to be, thus strengthening their ability to pursue the work.
Study the following definitions:
Grandiosity: An exaggerated belief in one’s importance and entitlement masking feelings of extreme unimportance and unworthiness.
Ambition: an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction. It could be power, honor, excellence, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.
Identify Your Segovia Complex
Andres Segovia was such a consummate guitarist that they named a complex after him. It is a mindset by which we view success in such black and white terms that we stop before we begin: ‘If I can’t play like Segovia, I may as well not play at all.’
Grandiose artists may start to build a career, but they are miserable because they secretly have a version of Segovia Complex going on in their mind. They MUST attain a certain level of greatness on a par with So and So for their journey to have been worth something at all. And if they do not reach that level of greatness, it only proves their inherent worthlessness.
So, first, who is your Segovia? For me, as a young actress, it was Meryl Streep. If this resonates with you, pick someone you feel you must live up to in order to feel successful. Next, write out everything that’s positive about aspiring to be like them. Next, what’s bad about aspiring to be like them? Finally, what conclusions can you draw from this analysis? These are your ‘takeaways’. Mine looks like this:
Impeccable professional. Aggressive and tenacious. Rich and famous with great boundaries.
Many people are jealous of, and hypercritical of her. My own jealousy has kept me from being happy with and making the most of who I am.
Meryl Streep’s success is not at my expense. If I get well known and respected, there will be people who don’t like me for it.
Ambition in the absence of grandiosity allows us to fail and persist; failure allows us to learn, and if it is not the occasion for shame due to grandiosity/perfectionism (flip side of the same coin), then we have access to the tenacity needed to proceed and eventually succeed! This next step is meant to help you parse out your true ambitions from what may be grandiose fantasies:
Use the following questions as journaling prompts:
+ What does it mean to succeed at something?
+ Where and when has grandiosity stopped you from achieving something?
+ What do you want badly enough to fail at repeatedly AKA suck at?
+ What is worth doing whether you succeed at it or not?
I recommend answering these last two questions whenever you feel you are at a crossroads, such as whether to start a project or not, or perhaps to stop working on one. My clients find it extremely clarifying.
Step 4: Embracing Humility
Humility doesn’t have very pleasant connotations for most people. To ‘humiliate’ or ‘be humiliated’ is not something anyone wants. But on its own, as a noun, it is a very empowering quality. My favorite definition of humility is this: ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking about yourself less’.
Journal Prompt A: When and where do you feel ‘self-conscious’ or self-judgmental? When you are about to show your work? While you are making it? When you reflect on what your hopes are for the work? What are those thoughts? Be as specific as possible.
Journal Prompt B: If you were to take the focus off of yourself and ask ‘solution-focused’ questions pertaining to the matter, what would those be? HINT: Solution-focused questions tend to start with ‘how’, while problem-focused questions are either psychoanalytical or not questions at all. For example: ‘I’ll never accomplish this. It’s too overwhelming. Why can’t I just get on with it? Who do I think I am? (answer: ambitious, which is good) I think I’ll take a nap.’ A solution-focused question would be: ‘How do I begin?’
Finally, it’s time to record the answers to your ‘solution-focused’ questions. Be as granular as necessary, even if that’s ‘get up out of bed’.
Notice if you start judging the answers. If so, know that’s you going back to focusing on yourself. Embrace humility by allowing whatever answers come to populate the page while dismissing the idea that that they’re ‘too pathetic’ or ‘too stupid’ (aka unworthy) of you!
Rahti Gorfien, PCC, is a multi-credentialed career, creativity and ADHD coach who has been helping artists and entrepreneurs focus so they can grab the focus of others since 2003. Through highly individualized coaching, she gives clients the tools to manage their mind, enabling them to follow through on the strategies co-created during sessions. The result is that they get seen and make money doing what they love.