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Advantages of Ambivalence

29 February 2024

Conventional wisdom would tell us that we shouldn't go for a job unless we really want it, but the more I learn about the advantages of experiencing a little bit of ambivalence the more I question this wisdom.

Ambivalence is the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something, rather than not having feelings at all.  It is a state of both wanting and not wanting something.
Allowing yourself to hold ambivalence as you consider new a role or during a selection process has some significant pluses.

Your thinking is clearer.
When you are ambivalent you get enhanced clarity.  This means you see the nuanced complexities of a situation. In considering a new role you are more likely to do the exploring, researching, and asking of deeper questions that gives you valuable information about the job.  You will also be more cognitively flexible, contemplating broader career options and approaching the opportunity with open eyes.

You listen to others.
You are more likely to be open to hearing the advice of others.  If you are totally certain a role is perfect for you it is harder to hear the differing perspectives that differ to your own. Consequently you tune out to the rumour that the boss is a micromanager, or that there is diminishing funding for the area.

You are less impulsive.
It will protect you from impulsive decisions, such as applying for the next level role just because it is expected (even though it isn't sustainable with your current home circumstances)

You are more resilient.
Actively cultivating a feeling of ambivalence is also a way to protect yourself from disappointment and feelings of failure if you are not successful in getting the role.  It helps you be more resilient.

You sharpen decision making skills.
By practicing sitting in ambivalence you train your brain to adopt a both/and approach rather than an either/or perspective. This shift will expand your capacity to weigh various factors and make well-informed decisions.

There are also disadvantages with ambivalence.

You won't feel good.
Ambivalence is not a nice feeling.  It is one in which you feel conflicted and torn. And the urge to eliminate this feeling is strong. Instead embrace it as an opportunity for growth.

You have an out.
It is easy to interpret the feeling of ambivalence as a signal that you should step back from a role and decide not to apply for it. A good question to ask yourself at this stage is: 

What benefits do I get out of not applying for this role?

Don't let mixed feelings about a job stop you from applying for it. Of course, it is important to note that pursuing a job should be based on the sense that you will add genuine value to it, rather than feeling you possess all the required upfront skills (which is not a pre-requisite). Use your ambivalence to help you clearly see the whole of the job.

Finally, a note of caution. Don't express your ambivalence in selection process as this will make you seem weak. Your application and your answers in interviews need to ooze desire for the role. 

As always, wishing you a flourishing career.


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