Are you Ambitious Enough? 5 Ways to get the Balance Right

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Ambition is the term I use to describe the things you are trying to achieve. We could also say ‘goals’, the ‘why’, ‘aims’ or ‘milestones’. 

It used to surprise me how many people are fully engaged with their business or project without ever really digging deeply into the ambition behind it all. This can lead to many problems down the track. Here’s 5 reasons why that may be the case: 

1. Many roads lead nowhere

A significant problem is that if your goal is too fuzzy (as I have written about in more depth in a recent post), it may not be clear which roads lead towards or away from it. Instead, it tends to be the case that almost all roads ‘look’ as if they might lead where you want to go.

But, if you are doing something particularly challenging, it is likely that only a few such roads will actually lead to your goal and most of the others are actually closed off completely. 

For example, with a goal such as, “I want a multi-million pound business”, you need to think about whether that is 2 million, 20 million or 200 million? Far more roads will lead to 2 than 200. 

2. Insufficient motivation

The day will come when your business requires you to crawl - naked - over broken glass to get things done. Does this sound like fun to you? It sure doesn’t to me. 

And this is the point, entirely. While things are fun, everyone can be an entrepreneur. The question is, what you do when things are not fun? This often comes down to whether you really want the thing at the end.

I often meet people who have big goals that they don’t truly want. And by want, I mean in the sense that they will walk over broken glass to get them.

3. What does it do for you - really?

Related to my previous point, I have experienced that even people who know their goals and have the motivation, still don’t really know what achieving those goal will do for them.

I’ve sat with entrepreneurs who want a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars but don’t have a strong sense of connection to what that will do for them, personally. 

This is probably satisfying some deep ego-need but seems to me to be a flimsy thing to build a business upon. It risks doing all of that work - suffering all that suffering - only to realise you don’t want the thing you fought for.

That doesn’t necessarily make your ambition wrong, but want anyone I am working with to be happy with what their blood, sweat, and tears buys for them.

4. Unobtainium

‘Unobtainium’ is the stuff of sci-fi movies and represents any fabulous metal that does not (and perhaps cannot) really exist. And some goals are like that. They do not represent a possible/probable outcome for a given combination of opportunity and risk. The danger is that you take the risk and put in the effort only to, inevitably, come up short.

I suspect there is something psychologically comforting about these big unobtainable goals. Few people will criticise you for claiming you want to ‘build a billion dollar business’ (although they may roll their eyes a little) - it’s kind of what’s expected these days.

At the same time, nobody will be very surprised if you fail because you were shooting for the moon. And failing at something huge maybe seems more worthwhile.

I think it takes more guts to say you’re going to build a solid £150m pound business and lay out the concrete steps around how you’d do that.

5. Low-hanging fruit (or, it’s hard to find balance)

The flip-side of an overambitious goal is one that is not ambitious enough - that doesn’t actually motivate or inspire. This is often the result of casual thinking about goals and plunging into something without really nailing why you are doing it.

Simon Sinek has written very cogently on ‘starting with why’ and whether you read his book, watch his TED Talk, or follow one of the many people who also talks about this the point is that it is well worth establishing the right goals before you begin.

The right kind of ambition looks at the risk you are taking, the effort you will have to put in, and balances those with rewards that are obtainable and that you really care about.

Think of the worst thing you can think of. Ask yourself if you would endure that to get what you want. If the answer is no - think again. If the answer is yes - forge ahead. If the answer is maybe - you still need to tune risk and reward. And now - before you invest your effort - is the time to do that.

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Matt MowerComment