Drowned by business ambition. Whatever happened to being content?

Business ambition is in vogue. But does that mean it’s a healthy part of your business?

Let’s take a look.

Business ambition and the curse of popularity

Earn more, sell more, have a greater impact, reach a wider audience, make more sales, be more profitable, enjoy more success, diversify, convert more enquiries, have it all, and reach your potential.

These are the modern catch phrases gaining most of the airplay in small business, freelancing and solo entrepreneurship.

You too can learn to stay ahead of the competition, keep up with the fast-paced world, increase your visibility and maybe enjoy a little business celebrity for your trouble.

It’s all about self-esteem, having a presence and becoming a marketable commodity. You have to be brimming with business ambition and exude it at every turn.

Balance your business savvy with your desire to save the world. Travel the world making money and opportunity wherever you room.

That romantic sense that you can push away from the dirty side of capitalism and re-invent it so you no longer feel that awkward cringe associated with wanting to make a profit or a decent living.

Carve out the kind of life you want. Take control of your destiny. Work the hours to suit with your kid firmly on your left hip and your iPad slung over your right. Your time is now, so grab it with both hands. Wrestle down the opportunity and take the bull by the horns. Your life is for living the way you want.

Feeding that sensation of you are indeed worth it and you are most certainly entitled to success, the message is clear that the world is your oyster and that you are permitted to indulge a little controlled narcissism in order to maximise your potential.


You’ve probably seen most of these phrases and sentiments used throughout self-help, (women’s) business forums and the marketing of expensive seminars. It’s about goals and having plans, grabbing onto a new and improved you, and finding a wonderful new future as a result.

All you have to do is change who you are and it will be yours for the taking. Business ambition is all you need, minus the practical application.

Beyond the underlying message of “worthwhile you is in there, you just have to dig them out- let my expensive product show you how”, the science is flawed.

It completely ignores the notion that you can be content.  And that by being content, you’re usually far happier than those who spend their days running on the ambition treadmill.


Sour dough bread making as a lifestyle choice

Many moons ago when I was in my twenties, I was hanging out with a girlfriend in Coogee. Fancying ourselves as pool players, we took on a bunch of boys at a table. They were boys probably looking for a pick up for the annoyance of having to deal with pesky girls challenging them for their table.

There was beer flowing, music blaring, pool balls clinking and a lot of smack-talk. Well, except for the smiley guy in the corner who was nursing a lemon squash and glancing at his watch.

Ever the curious person, I walked over to strike up a conversation so I could understand how a quiet, content and alcohol-free guy could seem the happiest among his wilder, drunker friends.

The answer to his quiet happiness unfolded with an unexpected answer: he was a baker of sour dough bread.

He’d walked away from a fairly well paying job as a tradie to begin again as an apprentice in baking bread. His life consisted of waking up at 3am to be at the bakery by 4am. This explained the casual glances at the watch as his usual habit was to be in bed by 7pm.

The drinking of soft drink instead of alcohol was partly explained by wanting a clear head for a Monday morning rush. But mostly, his lack of thirst was due to his increase in happiness. The change of job had seen him drastically reduce both his desire for drink and indeed his interest in partying at all.

Baking the bread and then seeing the queue out the door for his loaves made the working day one full of satisfaction. The icing on the cake was that because his day started early, work finished before lunch. So he could indulge some experimentation with new bakery products or spend the rest of the day surfing. So his stress was further reduced by satiating creative desires and getting out into nature for some exercise.

While his friends were bemoaning another effin’ Monday while the beers turned to shots and the general competitive friendliness towards us turned into something south of sleazy, the sour dough baker smiled, sipped and looked forward to sleep and the start of a new working week.


He left happy after a nice chat. I left pondering the wider question of what I had just witnessed in another human being.

There was no business ambition beyond being good at what he did. No accolades. No fame. How bizarre.

Clearly, this chance encounter left a rather large impression on me. And it was one that I didn’t activate in my own working life for probably another decade or more.

But that gentle contentment and pride in his work was a beautiful thing to see. It is that, as opposed to riches and fame, that I aspire to. Because to be honest, the look he had on his face seemed far superior to any fame or celebrity I’ve seen thus far.

Aching business ambition and the agony of overwhelm

Psychologists are talking about rising rates of narcissism, increases in work-related burn out and the existence of FOMO. Our mental health statistics are showing increased rates of anxiety and depression. Workplace bullying is a real problem, and work-related suicide is estimated to account for 17% of Australian suicides. More people are talking about ‘overwhelm’ as a by-product of modern working life and are sectionalising it as another form of stress in popular dialogue.

And yet very few people see the impact of the always improving, always getting more, increasing potential and the pressure delivered by the ‘seize the day’ mentality.

Do we really need so much ambition it starts to erode our confidence in our abilities and pushes us to be so ‘me-focussed’ we forget to stop and smell the roses?

What if you don’t want to change? What if the necessity is not there or you’ve got no real reason to earn 30% more next year? How does it work if your goal is not to have your face on a website and for people to Kindle your amazing story? What if you’re merely content to make enough money in order to focus on creative projects, family or having time for surfing at lunch time?

Why is the definition of modern day success so ridiculously exhausting? Why do we all have to be bursting with business ambition instead of that quiet, joyful contentment we’d prefer?

If you, like me, are over the glamorising of the get-ahead culture to the point of ridiculousness, do yourself a favour.

Want to build a business where contentment is the aim and joy is the game? Get in touch for some BUSINESS COACHING and find out how. 


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