Ambition: friend or foe?

amb1Ambition is an incredible trait when harnessed correctly. If you could bottle drive and determination, it would outsell beer in its first year… well maybe light beer.

Having a deep-seeded thirst to succeed, to reach your objective or surpass it, is probably the most common trait among successful entrepreneurs. One could say it’s a pre-requisite of success.

But when is ambition bad? More importantly, when does it impede your ability to succeed?

Misdirected progress is one manifestation of ambition gone awry.

If you’re a new car salesman, it is hard to misdirect your ambition because it is a linear and engrained occupation.

Swiss watch punctuality, impressive workload capabilities and a charming, friendly disposition are simple examples of your ambition manifesting itself into traits that will help you to progress in that field.

It can get opaque and tricky however for start-ups, as they are normally non-linear and nothing is ostensibly engrained within them.

Start-ups are a winding road of self-awakening. A straight forward path to consistent progress is a pipedream. Punctuality is peanuts when you’re moving in the wrong direction.

The importance of workload capabilities is always superseded by what actually needs to be done, not how much.

It’s admirable to jump head first into a tough, monotonous task without hesitation. But 72 hours later, of which only 13 were sleep, you then find out that your step forward of progress was only a lucid dream. What you completed, was deemed worthless (for one reason or another). This is misdirected progress and it can be a bi-product of the ill effects of start-up ambition.

Misdirected Progress can be spawned from impatience, inexperience, being over-zealous or just plain naive.

Although these are just some of the spawning grounds of misdirected progress, the collective theme is ‘startuphobia.’ Which I define as the negative effects that come with your ambition to succeed with a start-up & the passion and belief you have attached to it.

Impatience and over-zealousness are obvious symptoms of just how badly you want to get your company to where you believe it should be. Inexperience, because after all, it is a start-up & you have to start somewhere. Naivety is common and it’s a bi-product of inexperience, with a little self-delusion mixed in for good measure.

Many people say ambition is bad. They’re not entirely wrong, but they’re definitely not right either.

amb2Ambition has to be channelled, once you can negate the ill effects, you can thrive off the positive ones.

With start-ups, progress is not black and white. What feels like a giant leap forward on Tuesday, can feel like two steps backwards by Friday.

Accurately directing your pursuits and ambition, is easier said than done.

Clarity in judgement and intuition gained from years of experience helps to stave off misdirected progress. It keeps things moving in the right direction. Being patient, breaking down every facet of a decision and analysing all available options will keep things moving in the right direction.

Whether it’s funding, logistics, hiring or a product feature expansion, the fundamentals are the same. You need to reduce the problem to its core components and never lose sight of the big picture.

Balance is key to staving off misdirected progress. All businesses make mistakes. They suffer set-backs. They need to find a path forward.

But don’t confuse your ambitions with capabilities. Don’t waste time you don’t have on pursuits you can’t attain. Patience, humility and objectivity are just as important as drive, commitment and enthusiasm. A balance has to be struck.

Like any entrepreneurship, start-ups are trial and error. It’s a process.

You need to forge your ambition into a careful and decisive weapon to combat the monumental challenges of start-up life – all of them – because that’s what start-ups are: a lifestyle.

When you conceive of your own company; when you pour every piece of your creative energy into a project; when you invest countless hours into a dream… it can be easy for your imagination to run away with you.

You hunger for success. You envisage that triumphant legacy. After all of your hard work, you’re not willing to concede defeat… That’s a good thing.

Don’t let the process discourage you.

Hold onto that ambition, you’re going to need it, but hold onto a sense of serene objectivity too. Ambition can all too easily lead to a false sense of future success, a deluded understanding of how things ‘should’ unfold.

Make no mistake about it, start-up life and business is a battle and ambition may just be your greatest weapon in tackling the adversity and the inevitable setbacks that lie in wake.

Just make sure you keep it sharp. Taking on too much may just be the biggest spawning ground for misdirected progress and ambition gone awry.

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