The anxiety of ambition – going from a Doer to a Creator.

Doing what I need to do to climb the ladder and build a brand is scary...

Doing what I need to do to climb the ladder and build a brand is scary…

I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of good friends recently – people I consider to be pretty amazing who have it together.

In the course of talking about our goals and ambitions and what were the obstacles to getting there, a theme became apparent – the very ambition that got us to where we are professionally was creating this huge feeling of anxiety about where we go next – and more importantly HOW we were going to do it.

As an MBA, or someone who’s just further along in your career, you’ve likely graduated from an order taker to someone who’s expected to sell, to produce, to create opportunities. Now, I’m really REALLY good at taking orders. I learned to be coachable playing basketball growing up and it got pounded in to me working at an investment bank after school.

But, what’s much more scary is that now I’m expected to think critically and synthesize information and get to the “Why does this matter”? And, I can’t rely on business other people bring in anymore – the higher up you go, the less you get to just execute on others’ sales ability – people want you to start bringing in revenue. Not just doing, but THINKING. CREATING. And that has been a very steep learning curve.

My time in finance taught me many amazing, useful things. What it didn’t teach me was how to think. I mean, really THINK about WHY I was putting this slide in, why this approach made sense for this client, why we were even in this position in the first place. In fact given that a large majority of people come from consulting, finance or corporate roles where there are layers of hierarchy, I’d venture to say it’s rare that people coming out of an MBA program were asked very often to think about the client, the business, our offering and how and why that should affect the project they were working on. They were told “this is the plan, here’s how we execute, and here’s your piece to do. Go.”

So fast forward to today where I’ve begun to realize that when you’re building a ‘career’ you need to have an opinion – a well thought out, informed, value-add opinion to build your brand…well things just got a little scarier.

The scary part about an opinion is that someone can look at me and say ‘That doesn’t make sense. You have no idea what you’re talking about. This is amateur hour.” – and I can’t blame it on anyone else. And it could be a great idea, but not explained correctly. Or it could just be…well, wrong. Which isn’t really that okay to BE when you’re an MBA (it feels like).

So what’s a girl to do? Start a blog! Lol (no, seriously – it’s part of why I did.)

But that’s just me. Everyone has to take a different route, but one thing that many people I know began doing to get to the next level all started with CREATING something and putting it out there – at work, in an industry publication, or going as broad as the entire online audience on the web.


– It forces you to have a point of view. If you aren’t focused in what you’re writing about, you’ll know pretty quickly (and so will everyone else)

It forces you to synthesize your thoughts. You know more than you think you do about SOMEthing or you wouldn’t have made it this far.

– It forces you to get over your fear of rejection (HA! Just kidding. I don’t know if I’ll ever be free of mine, but the more times you go through the nauseous feeling of “OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, they’re going to hate it, what was I thinking, AHHHHHH!” , the less paralyzing it is in the future, which allows you to be more prolific)

– It forces you to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for your audience.

– Best of all, it starts you down the path of becoming that awesome impactful person who’s highly respected for what they do who that you mentioned you wanted to be in your essays (and secretly dream about being when you see your classmates who started a company on the cover of Inc. magazine)

So…that’s the way I’m trying to quell (feed?) my anxiety around getting to the next level. I know that can’t be the only skill or professional gap that others feel they’re missing coming out of school.

What did you find when you graduated that you wish you’d been taught, or trained in? How have you addressed it and overcome it? And if you haven’t…what are you doing to try and get there?

14 thoughts on “The anxiety of ambition – going from a Doer to a Creator.

  1. Totally agree that you need to create.
    Some things I found that helped push me to create are:
    -Consuming a lot of content. Podcasts, blogs, articles, books…etc.
    -Set a deadline for yourself to produce
    -The 5 minutes of typing. Just sit down in a text editor. Stare at the keyboard or the ceiling but not at the screen where all the distractions are. Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start typing. Start on a topic or with not topic, but don’t stop typing for at least five minutes.
    -Demand feedback. It is so, so hard to get feedback on your stuff. I guess that’s why you have to hang out with like minded people and give a lot of feedback too.
    Thanks again for the post.

  2. I’m not an MBA, but I’m loving your blog and it’s only post #2…

    I left my MS program in Engineering and went into sales. As much as I b*$#hed about it, that was probably one of the best things I could have done for my career at the time. I got a quota and sales tools and a little bit of training, but other than that, I was forced to make stuff happen: earn my clients trust, get creative with designing and presenting solutions, develop compelling prospecting campaigns, etc.

    Of course my blog is another outlet. It started it in the midst of my quarter-life crisis/ pseudo-b-school drop out phase as a motivational space and morphed into the travel thing. It’s amazing what you can create for yourself (and others) with new/digital/social media.

    Fear of rejection is probably STILL one of my biggest challenges. Been working hard to just execute and not spending so much time thinking about something that I talk myself out of it.

  3. I totally Agree with this. I also work for an IB and notice that the higher up the ladder you get the less and less your technical execution skills matters as sales and soft skills start to take over. I have seen many talented associated and VPs leave the industry because the MD role of originating business was not really in their skill set.

    Question, what IB did you work for before and what division? May I know why you left? I am in a inflection point in my career wherein I need to figure out the next step. Frankly I am torn.

    Cool blog btw! just stumbled upon it when I was searching for sites talking about the MBA being worth it.

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  7. I am starting a top 10 Financial Times EMBA and want to thank you for the time you spend thinking and sharing what your thoughts are.I wish you split your post into two distinct articles. I may have dug deeper on both of the topics you address: “anxiety of being ambitious” and “Execute, Think and Create”.

    I have mainly developed the thinking and creating parts and always found myself reluctant to executing stupid orders. I find the first two more rewarding intellectually speaking. That force you to think out-of-the-box and leave your comfort zone which is a driver to me when on the opposite i fall asleep when following order with no goal, poor vision behind. So basically i am doing it the other way around and currently try to execute what i am requested to do which is pretty uneasy.

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