Cut from a different cloth.
You and I can’t help but be ambitious.
We want to achieve. We want to win. And we’re willing to work for it.
Sometimes it’s tough for us to even understand why some people don’t think the way we do. But thinking about that is only a distraction.
Here are 7 other distractions for highly ambitious people like you.
1. Looking for—and relying upon—motivation.
Motivation is way, way overrated.
It’s unreliable. It’s inconsistent. And it’s not the fuel that will power us forward.
There’s something much better than motivation. This thing will power us through the toughest times. We can lean on it and depend on it during the moments when motivation would let us down.
That thing: self-discipline.
Self-discipline isn’t just a feeling (like motivation). It’s a firmer approach to life, and you know it when you see it.
I used to have a picture on my bedroom wall that is a perfect representation of what self-discipline can look like. On one half of the picture is a basketball player in an empty gym. The stands are shadowed. There are basketballs all over the floor. And he’s alone, shooting free throws.
On the other half of the picture was the same basketball player in an entirely opposite situation.
He still stood at the free throw line, but the gym looked different this time. The stands were packed with fans. There were only a couple of seconds left on the clock, and the score was tied. Players were ready to grab the rebound.
The quote on the poster: “Dedication is what you do when nobody is watching.”
If I were a coach, I wouldn’t want anyone else on the line other than the one who practiced. Even if he didn’t feel like practicing.
2. The onslaught of mediocre perspectives.
My older sister is brilliant.
She’s the type that can accomplish incredible things with little time or resources. She can pick up tough skills absurdly quickly, which has left her with a rare blend of skills. She’s also a better writer than me.
My sister has always been that way, and the people around her didn’t always like her above-averageness.
They’d sneer. Leave her out. Be subversive.
While my sister might see it differently, I don’t think most of those people were necessarily bad people. Sometimes we don’t know when we’re being mean. But they did have something my sister didn’t have: a mediocre perspective of what she was capable of.
I grew up under very different circumstances than my sister.
Unlike her, my high school culture centered on achievement. We celebrated our athletes as much as our nerds. (Side note: I was told that one of the most highly-anticipated events at my high school last year was when the robotics club had their robots fight in the common area.)
So I wasn’t exposed much to mediocre mindsets throughout high school. But college was different.
In college, I met many people who had narrower perspectives on life.
I remember one guy in particular.
“Why do you want to achieve so much?” he asked me without any actual interest in my response. “You’re always working, never settling. You’ll never be happy.”
Hey, we all want different things.
Spending too much time dealing with mediocre perspectives won’t get people like you and me to where we want to go.
Don’t get distracted by them.
3. Great people with horrible advice.
It’s much easier to disregard mediocre perspectives than it is to disregard advice from great people.
And yes, great people can give horrible advice.
Let me define “horrible.”
Horrible advice comes out when people aren’t actually thinking about you when they give it.
My dad rarely gives me advice. My mom is an entirely different story. She’s a firehose nobody turned off.
An immigrant from a poor country, her advice perfectly mirrors the reasons she came to the United States: get an education, become a professional, marry, produce grandchildren for her to feed, then retire somewhere.
She cried when I told her I started my first business.
It will never matter how successful my entrepreneurial endeavors become. To this day, she asks me if I’ve been updating my resume.
I don’t mind, by the way. I think it’s funny.
The problem is that none of her advice to me about my professional life isn’t actually for me. It’s for her. It’s the advice she followed long ago. It’s advice that doesn’t fit my talents or the time.
Great, great person.
Horrible advice for me.
4. Incredibly seductive “opportunities.”
Some people believe that opportunities begin to dwindle as we get older.
Maybe that’s true for some people, but it’s not true for ambitious people. Opportunities manifest out of thin air. They’re everywhere.
Some of them aren’t worth even a single second of thought.
Some are seductive. They pique our interest. We give them a little consideration, but that’s all.
And then there are some opportunities that are incredibly seductive. They’re the type that make us do more than simply consider them; they’re so seductive that we reconsider what we’re doing.
I’ve made decisions that were so steadfast that nothing could take my focus away. At least I thought they were that steadfast!
Then something comes along—and things will always “come along” for people like us—that makes me think. Sometimes I jump on the opportunity. It worked, sometimes. But the return for me on those extra opportunities turned out to be miniscule and emotionally draining.
I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to nail it.
It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve got more bandwidth than me! With that said, incredibly seductive opportunities might be the apple to your Adam and Eve story.
Be unafraid to stay focused on what you’re working on.
Other opportunities will come along, especially if you execute now.
Unless you get a huge boost of some kind from planning, save yourself the energy to deploy it elsewhere.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about plans. (Maybe too much thinking, but I’ll save that discussion for #6.) I honestly haven’t figured out how to plan things effectively. I hope you appreciate the honesty.
Here’s my beef with plans.
Too many people measure their success against their plans.
If things don’t go according to plan, then it wasn’t a successful. If their life doesn’t follow the anticipated trajectory, then they’re a failure. This isn’t true in every case, of course. It’s probably important for a pilot to have a plan before she puts the thing in the air.
But when it comes to our careers, what’s the plan?
We love the security of plans. It makes us feel like we’re in complete control. At the very least it makes us feel smart.
But it’s a false sense of security.
Don’t freak out just yet. There’s another approach we can take instead of fleshing out full plans: proactively react.
(Side note: I didn’t plan to come up with that term, by the way. I’m kind of proud of myself right now!)
Here’s what I mean.
We can’t see the future. I can’t, at least. But we often see the signs ahead if we’re looking for them. We can see trends. We can anticipate what might be coming next.
And sense we have a sense of what could be ahead, then we can proactively prepare for them.
That puts us in the best position to capture the moment.
Then, the moment comes. If it’s what we were expecting, then we’re ready. But if it’s different, then we’re ready to react.
People lose because they can’t react to changes.
Proactively reacting gives us room to operate. We don’t feel like failures because things didn’t go according to plans. And we get to create.
Ambitious people are wired to create things.
For better or worse, I’ve never really suffered from overthinking.
Maybe I did when I’d see a cute girl at a coffee shop or something, but not really with anything else.
I’m thankful that my brain doesn’t work that way, because I’ve seen people who were much more talented than me get locked up by their own brain.
Don’t get me wrong here.
Thinking is important. I think on occasion, and it’s great. I see why people do it. Heck, I could be thinking right now. It’s fun.
But beware. There’s a point at which our brain might as well be a ball and chain.
7. Things that you I don’t have.
This point was written selfishly.
I wrote this point because it’s one that burdens me. My fingers are crossed that writing about it can help me figure it out. That’d be helpful for us all, right?
Here we go.
There was a guy who came up and sang to me the other day. He was tall, like 6 feet 5 inches. Red shirt. Shorts. Ball cap. Cigarette.
His breathe smelled when he sang.
“Are you married?” he asked me.
The answer is no.
“Well, son, this will be your marriage song.”
He belted out my future marriage song in a deep, raspy voice. He had a mesmerizing voice. It was beautiful.
And it was pretty awkward, in a beautiful way. Had it not been for his bad breath, I would’ve been in a trance.
Then, he suddenly stopped.
“That’s all I’m going to give you, son.” He smiled as he strode away. Before he was out of earshot, he hollered one last thing to me. “I’d stay, but I’m on a mission! There are many people to please!”
He was, by far, the happiest homeless person I have ever met.
There are some people who have everything only when they have nothing. Like that homeless person. There are also people who have every necessary comfort, but still find themselves sometimes feeling as if they have nothing. That’s more like me.
Is it because I want too much of things I don’t need?
Maybe that’s the paradox of being incredibly ambitious.
I’ll think about it.
But I won’t overthink it.
That’d get me nowhere.
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.