Can You Teach Ambition?

Recently, I was working with a family with two kids.  The older boy is ambitious, motivated and a self-starter.  The youngerCan You Teach Ambition? sister (in college), has no drive, no passion and keeps her ambitions low. Same parents, same environment, what happened? It got me thinking about how do parents teach kids ambition?

  • It Never Makes the List

I think being ambitious, passionate and driven are skills and traits that many parents do not think about while raising their kids. I wrote a post a while back called “The 10 Strongest Values to Teach Kids” and listed the following in greater detail:

1. Honesty

2. Kindness

3. Love

4. Self-Discipline

5. Optimism

6. Compassion

7. Leadership

8. Love of learning

9. Loyalty

10. Respect

Love of learning and leadership are close, but this girl, I believe has these qualities, yet has no desire ‘to be anything.’

  • Are Ambitious Actions Louder Than Ambitious Words?

If you talk about being ambitious and having passions, is that enough? With the amount of families I have worked with, talking would be a good start (many families, especially women, do not even talk about their ambitions and passions), but actually putting their words into action is essential for kids.

  • Role Models Are Essential

I have noticed that families with the most ambitious and passionate kids, the children all had role models outside of the nuclear family.  Coaches, teachers, Uncles, Grandparents.  This seems to be a huge factor.  I cannot stress the importance of mentors enough on this blog.  I know I talk about this constantly, but having your kids work with someone, be with someone, interact with someone who is slightly older than them and has good values is so undervalued.

  • Reward Baby Ambition

I think in this case, many parents wait until there is no ambition and punish that, instead of rewarding small bits of self-determination and motivation from an early age.  When a kid says they want to put together a Harry Potter group at school, yes, great, great, great, encourage that bit of self-starter as a seedling to get a tree later (too sappy? sorry).

  • Passion Comes First

As I write this post I realize that ambition is often confused with greed and selfishness.  Encouraging a kid to be ambitious does not necessarily mean that you want them to be wealthy.  I always tie in ambitious people with passion.  People who act on their passions are ambitious, and teaching children to recognize what they love and act on it is what truly successful people do.

I know that this is a brief post, but it is very important to me.  All of the work I do with teenagers and youth is teaching them to figure out what they love and act on it.  What I do with parents essentially comes down to finding harmony within their family so that every member can do what they love most.  Ambition closely ties in with these ideas, because without it no one desires to change, and change, I believe is how we ultimately grow and improve.

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One Response to “Can You Teach Ambition?”

  1. Ray P
    August 7, 2009 at 7:28 am #

    Teaching your children well, and setting them up for their future, can be difficult. However, my blog ( can help demystify this by offering current articles on education issues.

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