Where would we be without ambition? It is the driving force determining our future – where we want to go, how we will achieve it and by when.
The dictionary describes it as ‘Strong desire to do or achieve something’ (Oxford).
The question is whether the desire itself is enough? If it were then simply daydreaming would suffice and let’s face it there are many of us who engage in that from time to time. We’ve all come across the outcome of simply daydreaming – this is evidenced in discussions from time to time when these daydreamers decry other achievers, suggesting that they could have realized the same outcome as other successful people and their operative words are usually ‘if only’. Afrikaans speakers use the word ‘as’ but then add ‘As is verbrande hout’ (Ash is burnt wood’)
Certain ingredients are required to give ambition the impetus to be more than simply desire i.e. ‘unsatisfied longing, wish for’. What are these ingredients? I believe there is no prescriptive list but the following works for me and to make it simple I call it my 5 D’s: Drive, Determination, Discipline, Doer & Dreaming.
‘Drive’ can be defined as ‘an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need’ (Oxford). It is sometimes also referred as ‘an urge’ but that for me is short-lived. The key criticism I have with the above is the word ‘innate’. I am the view that you won’t lack drive merely because you weren’t born with it – of course that will help but I believe it is something that you can acquire and teach yourself. Like a person with talent it may come easier but then maybe you just have to work harder at it.
‘Determination’ can be defined as ‘a quality that makes a person continue trying to do or achieve something that is difficult’ (Merriam-Webster) Determined people never regard negative outcomes as a set-back. It is to them a new challenge and a stepping stone to success. The word ‘failure’ has a different meaning for such people.
‘Discipline’ has been defined as ‘the ability to make yourself do something even if it is difficult so that you can achieve a goal’. It makes doing what you have to do not negotiable.
A ‘doer’ can be described as ‘a person who actively does things instead of just thinking or talking about them’ (Meriam-Webster); ‘…. without spending a lot of time thinking about them’ (Collins). I like to latter as thinking is a prerequisite but crucial is not ‘a lot of time’. I don’t mean instinctive or on the spur of the moment but rather that it is someone who has the creative mind-set to see an opportunity and do something about if forthwith, without dilly dallying. This quality is a prerequisite in my view to being an entrepreneur. A doer’s mind is like a computer: faced with multiple options and challenges they can ‘click on an icon’ in their brain and run through the options much, much faster than most.
‘Dreaming’ – you must be joking I hear you say. Well let me tell you something: it is a quantum leap from daydreaming to turning the dream into reality! The quantum leap is achieved by adding the other four ingredients. Before you question my theory, let me give some examples of dreamers who went ahead to attain their ambition:
The most well-known dreamer who actually verbalized his dream is in my opinion Martin Luther King Junior. Who has not heard and been moved by his ‘I had a dream speech’ and how that changed not only America but the world!?
Do you want to tell me that given the hours he had to spend prostrate in bed, the scientist Hawkins did not dream?
Even the basketball great Michael Johnson dreamt of the perfect shot: ‘I’ve missed more than 9 000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed’
Despite his monumental mistake in shooting his girlfriend, Oscar Pretorius must have dreamt of becoming the first physically challenged athlete to compete in the Olympics for able-bodied athletes….. which he did!
Business has had their fair share of dreamers who became doers: Just think of Walt Disney, Tony Factor (who overcame became dyslexia to become an extremely successful entrepreneur) and imagine what the late Sol Kersner must have thought and dreamt of when he flew over the extinct volcano crater from which he created Sun City!? Dreamers visualize but doers realize.
However there is a fine line between ambition and ‘ambit(ch)ion’. ‘Yes’ I mean bitch and in my book it is not only females who can be bitches! I’d like to use it in the context of serial achievers whose ambition get the better of them to the extent that you can count the number of bodies they leave behind (and many of them stepped upon, if not crushed) in the process of going up the ladder of success. These people have a burning ambition but they don’t simply internalize it, they burn whoever and whatever comes in their way, even the bridges they used to get over troubled waters. These are the persons who create smiles all round when they get into the elevator but when they get out on their floor, which is mostly at the very top (If they don’t have a private lift!), are saluted with a softly whispered ‘Arse hole’ when their back is turned.
So as you set out with every intention of achieving you ambition and the goals en route, think about the legacy you’d like to leave behind. Don’t let the application of the 5D’s result in yours becoming the ‘blind ambition’ I’ve alluded to above. The latter has been described as ‘a desire without direction, clarity and preparation’ (Betterhelp). It can of course be good and bad: sometimes you need to be so focused that nothing but nothing will distract from you aims and your path getting there. However there may be a point where you realize things are not quite right. It has been described as a fork in the road where, if you take the wrong direction, you ignore the ‘warning signals and uneasy feelings’ (Linda Hertz). The original noble purpose you set out to achieve now comes at a cost and all the elements that should be obviated in the ‘blind’ pursuit of your goals, are ignored e.g. longer office hours, less family time and ultimately greed. Sounds familiar? Then read my guidelines below.
Here are a few ideas for you to ponder, maybe when you set your goals and again when you get to that inevitable fork:
• Don’t forget my mantra of the 3 most important Fs: ‘Family, Fitness & Friends’
• Make sure your friends are your friends for the right reasons i.e. for what you are not for who you are; for your friendship and not your money and material wealth
• Self-belief is a key driver but don’t close your mind to comments of by-standers. You don’t have to acknowledge them but always be willing to listen. Great achievers are usually good listeners.
• They say successful dreamers and thus ambitious achievers have that ‘gleam in their eye’ (In.com-peter.economy) and exude positivity
• Never forget those who helped you get where you are and may be going
• Revisit and reassess you goals regularly
• Always be aware of collateral damage and fall-out and deal with it.
• Be flexible and not like a bull in a China shop
• Link your business ambition and goals with your personal life
• Think about what people will say when you are gone/at your wake/funeral/memorial service: would you rather they say (the only) kind words about you then or now?
At the end of the day you may say ‘Why have any ambition whatsoever’? Well there is no law requiring you to have ambition but there will ultimately be ‘punishment’. It will not be meted out as we generally understand it – ‘No’ it will be much more subtle, it will insidiously start permeating your mind, your lifestyle and sense of achievement and ultimately make you a very unhappy person.
Just remember there are over-achievers – you don’t have to be one, but at least live your life my setting goals, mile stones by which you can measure where you want to go and your progress. Enjoy what you set out to for and eventually achieve and reward yourself – generally speaking make your life worth living … and learn how to deal with disappointment!
13 April 2020