What is Ambition?

“What is the difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur?”

When I was a sophomore in college, I took an entrepreneurship speakers series class, where, twice a week, we listened to presentations from a variety of business owners.  While simple, this was one of the most important classes I’ve ever taken, as it allows you to bridge the gap between textbook and reality.

One particular student asked the owner of a growing start-up what the difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur is. Obviously, this is a very subjective question, and the guest speaker’s response was that to him there is no difference.

Personally, I disagree.  What is the difference in my opinion? The end goal. Are you happy with a small shop down the street, that you physically manage and operate on a daily basis, or are you a visionary? Do you see expansion? Do you want your small start-up to grow to international proportions while bringing in billions in gross revenue? I don’t see any reason not to. Then again, I am the type of person who cannot feel “trapped.”

Ambition and complacency, in my opinion, are opposites.  They are mutually exclusive. Yes, you should be happy with what you have, and obvious well-grounded and thankful for everything you have been given, but I feel as if you should always strive for more. Why start something if you’re not going to take it all the way? I didn’t invest thousands of dollars of whitewater kayaking equipment and travel expenses to only paddle class three.  I didn’t spend three and a half years acquiring a bachelor’s degree to settle down with some random job in some random town for the rest of my life. Why make investments if you’re only going to put in partial effort?

Do you really want something, or do you only kind of want it? I’m sure any rational person would want a large income, lots of travel, nice cars, and a plethora of world experiences. But how many are willing to work for it? Obviously, life is a give and take, and you have to make priorities. I’m not saying it’s all about financial success. If you want to be a successful musician, athlete, writer, etc. the process is similar. So, what really is ambition? In my opinion, two things: prioritization and sacrifice.

To make the most of something, you need to establish it as a priority. What does this mean? It means sacrifice is needed. What is less important, and what can you sacrifice? For example, I love skydiving, which requires large investments in equipment, as well as travel and other miscellaneous expenses. I want to take this sport as far as I can, and not have it just be a “weekend hobby.” I sacrifice time I could spend doing other stuff. I don’t live in a ridiculously expensive apartment even though I could afford one, because I want more money for fun. These sacrifices vary per person, and can include things such as food, living conditions, expensive cars, time with significant others, etc.

What do I think is the single largest killer of ambition? Geography. It should go without saying that willingness to relocate increases the pool of jobs available, and in many cases, can accelerate your career and company growth. I love where I grew up, and while I prefer to not stay there, would be willing to if the opportunity presented itself. However, too many people these days are afraid to leave their hometown or surrounding area. They don’t stay because of opportunity there, they stay because of fear. They are afraid to take risks, accept change, and try new things. All three of these are a necessary part of ambition and success. Part of moving forward in life is being able to leave things behind.

So, what is ambition? Ambition is the drive to not settle. Ambition is the ability to see a goal as so important you are not only able to make sacrifices to reach it, but you are able to justify them to yourself. Ambition is the belief that even if you are happy with your situation, you should not get comfortable.

Of course, this is different for everybody.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.” Sure, some people have different definitions, and some people simply want to be comfortable with where they are at. I don’t like or agree with this mentality, but to each their own, and we need people like that. We all have different goals and different definitions of happiness. I don’t want to grow-up to be another quietly working complacent man wasting away in small town America. I want to set goals that might be slightly out of sight. I want dreams large enough to scare me.

I want to know that there is always more opportunity, more potential, and more to this world than I currently know. That is what I think ambition is.


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