The work we do should contribute something to our lives—but what? When we sit back and fantasize about the life we want to live, we all have different definitions of success. Some of us want to pay off our student loans. Some of us want to increase our vocational velocity. Some of us want our work to reflect and enhance the values we want to live by. Some of us want the access and power that privilege can afford. Some of us want to live a life in the service of others. And some of us want to realize some combination of all of these things and more.
And here’s where contribution comes into play. Whereas connection is about how the work you do fulfills the calling you want to serve, contribution is all about you. Contribution is about how the work you do helps to build the life you want to live.
It is obvious that the woman whose job allows her to live her values at work and at home is in consonance. But who is to say that hers is the only way? Consider the man who works in a soul-sucking job because it pays for his beloved Lamborghini and weekend lake house. Who is to say that he has any less consonance than the guy who works a soul-sucking job because it allows him to donate money to curing cancer? Regardless of what you think of these individuals, their choices allow them to be limitless in how their work contributes to what they hold dear. And, frankly, they are the only ones who get a vote.
Ambition has gotten a bad rap of late. It’s a dirty word—even more so if you are a woman. (Oh, she’s so ambitious!) Part of the reason we’ve lost ownership of our unspoken dreams is that we’ve been persuaded to allow our ambition to be subsumed into something that is more socially acceptable: faux humility.
Why do you want to get ahead? What do you want to do with that power? Do you want to change your family, your community, your country, your world? Do you want to make a mark, large or small, on this earth? What kind of life do you want to live? How do you want to raise your family? Do you want to give back? Will an elevated position, an increased salary, and a voice of leadership help you do this?
Of course, it will.
We find purpose in achieving our goals, whatever they may be. But here’s the thing: Purpose has no judgment. Only we humans do. If crushing student loans are what’s standing between you and the freedom of choice to live the life you want, if buying that convertible is what will bring you joy, if landing that promotion is part of your life’s plan, then why not elevate your expectations of the contribution you require from your work?
It’s not just your ambition, it’s your responsibility.