personal development

Why professional development should not be confused with ambition

A tale of two ostriches is about two people who confused personal development with ambition.

Time to get your head out of the sand!


Esther is 45. She has worked for the same company for 15 years. She enjoys her job as a middle management customer service supervisor which is varied and demanding.  Her family is her priority and is a wife and mother of three children.  She values her privacy, so is not on LinkedIn, Facebook or any other social media which she considers to be “silly” and  intrusive. She has a close circle of friends who are all her peers. The focus of her personal development is outside the office where she regularly takes classes on cookery, Italian and photography. She almost never goes to any professional networking events, conferences or courses, either online or actual because she likes to get home  to the kids. Plus as she says, she is not “ambitious.”

Three months ago her husband told her he wanted a divorce. Six weeks later her boss resigned and his replacement is implementing a re-structuring exercise. Esther’s position will disappear.


Hugues is 50. He  works as a Procurement Manager  based in the production unit of an international packaging company located within a stone’s throw of the Alps. He has 22 years service. His passion is climbing and every spare moment is devoted to trips and preparing for them. He is very active in local schools and youth groups, training young climbers about safety procedures. He is a volunteer on the local Mountain Rescue Squad.

As a long serving employee he is regarded as being solid within the organisation with a good understanding of the subtext of all the office politics and considered to be the  “go-to” person to get things done outside the system. He has turned down promotion and  the opportunity to learn English because he doesn’t want to re-locate to the H.Q. in Paris and take on the travel commitments involved in a more senior, regional role.  The nearest mountain is also possibly three hours away. He is completely happy where he is and does not consider himself to be “ambitious.”

In January Hugues’ company was taken over (swallowed up really) and the procurement function has been centralised in Ireland.

Esther and Hugues have had their heads in the sand for a very long time. They made a major mistake and confused personal development with ambition.

The moral of these two stories

What Esther and Hugues learned the hard way is:

  • Complacency is not a safe place to be.
  • Security does not exist.
  • Be prepared.
  • Be up to date.
  • Have a flight plan.

What would you add?

If you need personal development to stay abreast of changing times get in touch NOW!

7 thoughts on “Why professional development should not be confused with ambition

  1. Sandra Lizioli

    ‘Luck is when opportunity meets preparation’ is one of my favourite quotes. We have no control of knowing when the right job will come along, but what we do have control over is to be prepared when it does, and to know what it looks like so we see it when it passes by! My great uncle used to say, the train only passes through the station once. It’s up to you whether you hop on or not! In life, there are surprises,bso being prepared, is key!

  2. Dorothy Dalton

    Thanks Sandra – the message is acquiting key skills and being new trends is not the preserve of the ambitous C-Suiter but common sense insurance policies in an ever changing world.

  3. Alan Kay (@alankay1)

    Esther and Hugues are doing OK as long as they don’t complain about their employers letting them down. Some folks are willing to let the ups and downs of life happen. Organizations are full of them and it’s probably just as well that not everyone has vaulting ambitions to be the CEO. That said, a) the organization needs to be conscious that part of its human capital development strategy (if there is one) has to assess the cost / risk of having these folks in the business, b) the non-Esther/Hugues need to be more goal focused about their lives, never mind their careers.

    Many think about getting a better job, (hopefully through professional development) in order to get a bigger house and eventually retire. Those are passive goals. They are narrow outcomes based goals. It’s a competitive world and thriving in it requires more dynamic life and professional goals if we are to make the most of our time. Hence, always be grateful for what you have. Always be restless for more.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Alan – thanks for your very thoughtful remarks. No neither were angry – simply confused and bewildered I would say, blindsided by events they had never antipcated.

  4. Pingback: Do you have a career P.L.A.N. | Dorothy Dalton

  5. Natalie Van Gorp

    Thanks for this very interesting post ! Keeps us all focused on what is really important for the personal survival.
    I agree with your list. Most important for me is ‘be prepared / keep up to date’. How I see it : Always be prepared for a new career outside the company you are currently in. So find your niche and be an expert in it and build a good network. And as from a certain age : be aware that you are too old to be hired by a company as an employee. Your ‘faith’ will be to work as independent consultant.
    What I would add : be visible, be nice, have an internal network, make sure you have a supporter.


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