In recent weeks a lot has been discussed and written about the new book Moral Ambition by Rutger Bregman and The School for Moral Ambition. I welcome this discussion. It probably won’t be the right tone for everyone. But in essence it is a call to use our time and talents for social and sustainable change. And that is highly needed. 

However, with only moral ambition and people who dedicate their active time to do good, we won’t make enough impact. Since the beginning of my career, I have worked for organizations with a strong moral ambition. After studying Cultural Organization and Management, I could have started working as a well-paid consultant within a large corporate. 

However, I chose a different, less easy path, namely working within international cooperation and various NGOs that wanted to make a social difference. I wanted to contribute to organizations that want to make a difference, make a sustainable impact for people and the planet. In the beginning I worked specifically within HIV/AIDS prevention, but later other topics were discussed such as climate, education and access to data for sustainable development.

As you can read, the so-called “moral ambition” was there from an early age. Still, I didn’t always feel I did meaningful work. I wondered about my role. Which role really suited me? How do I use my talents and strengths? How do I respect my energy and boundaries in an environment where there is always something more urgent? 

In the moments where I was really using my strengths, I can honestly say that I managed to add value. But I was certainly not always successful in my work. In addition, I often wondered: are these organizations I work for really the “good” things? Or do they actually maintain systems?

People around me worked with equally high, perhaps even higher, moral ambitions. What perseverance and drive I have seen in people, both in the Netherlands and far beyond. Despite these ambitions, I also saw many people completely empty of work. Including by building up activities that do not really suit them. By taking on a lot of responsibility. Don’t dare to set boundaries. I also saw managers struggling with their roles and sometimes making serious mistakes. Budgets were often limited to really invest in leadership and team development. In short, a lot of hassle at an organizational, team and strategic level.

Fortunately, it really wasn’t as gloomy as I wrote above. I have seen many fantastic projects emerge, where people listened with all their talents, passion and energy to make a difference. To get into this flow, you need to be strongly connected to yourself. You have to collaborate with people and deal with resistance. You also should take the right place or position in the system. And also get the opportunity to develop and learn. People who know how to make a big impact are often strongly connected to themselves and to others. 

I call this: standing fully in your circle.

If you stand in your circle, then you can give much more often to others. Your values and talents come into their own in your circle. Then you and your circle are also in the right place in a team and organization. In addition, you can recognize your “dragons” or negative inner beliefs and know how to deal with them. 

It is actually impossible to miss those dragons, because the work is complex, intense and sometimes strongly politically driven. The social and ecological changes we want to make are not simple. It requires a long-term vision, courage, creativity and endurance. This demands something from you and that is why it is important to take care of yourself. This is the only way you will remain in your circle.

My addition to the moral ambition is moral internal development and care. If you make the choice to commit yourself to something, then I’m sure all kinds of beautiful developments will emerge. In addition to this, make sure you get enough rest and space. Make sure you continue to connect with yourself and with others. And make sure that you stand and remain in your circle and in your strength.

If you’re working on this, try drawing three circles like in the picture above. From Me, to We, to E(environment). The inner circle represents your circle. The middle circle represents the people you work with. The outer circle represents the systems you are part of.

ME: Then name your values, your talents and which place best matches your past. If you do not know this well, you can be given time and space here to gain a better understanding of this.

WE: Then name the collaborative relationships with others and circle in green where things are going well and red where things are going poorly. If there are a lot of red circles, you may have something to do there.

E: Finally, indicate in which systems you want to make an impact and how you relate to this.

If you want to know more about your circle or the strength of your team, take a look at @colourfields. Together with my colleagues, we develop various programs for groups and teams and we coach people 1-1 to help them fully participate in their circle.