Ambition vs. Motivation

I got a request from a reader to write about Ambition vs. Motivation.

I think both are critical, and I’m here for nothing if not to answer your questions, so here goes.

He writes:

I was wondering if you could maybe address the topic of having ambition.
I feel that ambition and motivation are two completely different things.
Whereas ambition defines your goals, motivation is your drive to reach
your goals. I feel that I currently lack motivation because I am not
sure of what I want in life. That is, I don’t know how ambitious I am. I
don’t know what my priorities in life really are. I’ve tried so many
things in the past year since I started focusing on self development,
and once I feel confident I can become really good at something I
usually lose interest in that area.

Here is my open-letter reply:

It sounds like you might have a case of overconfidence.

How do you know you can become good at something, unless you stick with it until the end?

Is your “feeling confident” perhaps preventing you from sticking with anything long enough to truly master it?

This could be your fear of failure (or success) preventing you from actually risking failure (or success).

Or maybe you just haven’t figure out what you really love in life yet.

Every man must figure out what he really loves (his mission, or purpose.)

(Just to clarify, our Mission or Purpose is the thing that we alone are uniquely suited to do in the world. Nobody else can do it better.)

He must do that purpose into the ground until he’s totally exhausted it.

Typically he’ll feel “in a void” for a while after this. Normal. If he sits with it, he’ll get a clear sign from intuition about what he’s supposed to do next.

It might require a total change. Uproot his family, change cities or jobs, etc. This, too, is normal.

That’s the cycle by which I’ve lived my life. The death of my old purpose inevitably leads to the birth of the next purpose.

If you are really feeling at a loss for what your purpose in life is, here is a good basic purpose / mission for any man to pursue to get things moving:

1) Health – become free of physical or mental health problems. Free yourself from any mental or physical addictions (cigarettes, porn, liquor)

2) Wealth – become financially free & successful – zero debt, making a very good income. Follow our 10-step wealth building blueprint so that making money becomes a habit.

2) Women – Succeed beyond your wildest dreams in relation to love & romance. Whether this means marriage, long-term partnership, permanent bachelorhood or any permutation, you won’t find us judging.

This is enough to occupy most men’s time for a good solid decade. Even just ironing out the persistent problems most of us have with our mental health can take a decade.

If you are having trouble summoning the motivation to go about these daily tasks that are required to get your health, wealth & women in order (don’t worry, it happens to all of us) then you must make motivation itself your daily habit: to paraphrase Somerset Maughham, “I only work at my goals when I feel motivated. Luckily I feel motivated every day at 7am, after spending an hour getting myself motivated.

I’ll close with an inspiring video which hits on the same point from a different angle:


6 thoughts on “Ambition vs. Motivation

  1. Thanks for the answer and I can really resonate with it. Especially about the part where you mentioned fear of failure/success, as well as not having figured out what my purpose is. I am already well on my way with the three basic things you suggest, and I was wondering if maybe you could share some of your insight on how to find your purpose in life.

    Like, I know I can become a successful software developer and probably business owner at some point, but how do I know if that is really what I want to be? I’m good at software development but I’m not really motivated to do it. I think if I knew in my heart that I wanted to become a software developer I would find the motivation to do it. But right now I find it hard because I’m not sure how being a software developer is actually going to improve my life. I’m not sure if I even want monetary wealth after all if it means I have to dedicate a huge chunk of my life to the process of gaining it. There are so many ways to be “wealthy” it’s hard to decide which to prioritize or how to balance it. There are many things I want to do that has got nothing to do with my purpose per se, like traveling and self development, but none of these things put a roof over my head.

    Maybe I will regain my interest in software development once I finish my education and get an actual job where I will be able to get real influence on real products that people actually use. But who knows?? Are my efforts worth it? I sure don’t know, and that makes it tedious to complete my education. And this problem is prevalent in many areas of my life, currently. I guess you can say in general I have a hard time seeing the long term benefits of what I do.

    Have you ever felt this way and how did you get past it?

    • J,
      With that extra information I think I know exactly what you are going through. When I was in Uni I felt similar; so many options, and not sure what would bring me true fulfillment.

      For the most part, the clarity that has come to me has emerged over literally years. While in Uni I worked 3-4 jobs each year, partly to cover expenses, and party to “try out” different industries. I worked hospitality, management, sales, retail, construction, web, IT, to name a few. Through that process I discovered a lot I DIDN’T like as well as some common themes that I DID like (working with people. social jobs. reading & writing. being innovative. being in leadership or management. etc). That was all data that helped me refine my purpose-search.

      I did have one bolt from the blue, and I feel very lucky. I got up in front of a class one time and I KNEW I was to be a teacher of some sort. Now that only happened because I applied for opportunities that came up. The school was offering tuition reimbursement for people who “mentored” and I wanted to make school cheaper. In the process I discovered a love of TEACHING which serves me to this day.

      I spent my first 5 years in the working world just being grateful to be there. After 5 years I finally had enough data to say, “Ok, I think I don’t like this industry, I will switch.” Not everyone will take as long as I do, but it does take a little time.

      My advice would also be: try as much as you can. Finish your education but try as many side-gigs and part-time jobs or internships as you can in the meantime. At best you’ll get a “bolt from the blue” moment like I did and at worst you’ll gather a bunch of data that, taken together, will help you narrow it down.

      Seeing the long term benefits is a challenge. I’m just now getting to the point where I can be comfortable saying, “Ok I’ll start this now and in 10 years I’ll be really good at it.” That’s the truth and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. There ARE some short-term benefits but those are mostly from “learning to love the process” as Owen Cook says in the video above. The long-term benefits are not obvious. You’ve got to be in it for the day-to-day or you’ll give up far, far before you start reaping rewards.

      Hope this sheds more light. Feel free to ask anything else.


      • That’s awesome! I really like getting perspective on this area of my life and read how someone else has gone through it.

        I have some discovering to do… But I guess that is exactly what ones 20s are meant for.

  2. This is exactly what I’m feeling! I’ve got all these visions of grandeur but the disconnect between amibtion and progress is canyon-sized. I feel that despite this my enormous and insatiable ambition will force me to act towards reaching my goals – I’ve already noticed it happening in my peripherals.

    • I would recommend to you (and all readers of this blog) George Leonard’s excellent little book called “Mastery.” In it he describes how people with visions of grandeur can get there.

      We expect our progress to be exponential (at least I do) but in reality, it is slow, stepwise and filled with plateaus (look at my weight-gain graph in the my post about Fat People and you will see a good example).

      The way to cross the canyon is to build a bridge, one brick at a time.

      Thanks for weighing in.

  3. Pingback: “Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries…” | The Lucky Lothario

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s