“Many people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until they are seventy-five.”
— Benjamin Franklin
When we are kids, we have many aspirational dreams and ambitious goals. You want to eat the world. Then, when you’re an adult, the world eats you.
We grow up, and the same dreams become impossible or we stop pursuing them. But why? Was it because our dreams were straight-up stupid? Or because we settled and decided they were impossible?
I want to explore this question as a kid who still has lots of ambitious dreams and wants to eat the world.
Lately, I’ve experienced that my goals and dreams might be stupid or impossible. But why? If I think they are. They will be impossible because I won’t even try. I have to keep reminding myself that they are not and keep believing they are and can be possible.
Ambition starts fragile, we need to feed it to keep going. Steven Spielberg said, “Dreams always come from behind you, not right between your eyes. But when you have a dream, it doesn’t often come at you screaming in your face...Sometimes the dream almost whispers.” And you have to listen very carefully...
Ambition has more to do with listening carefully than it is with anything else. You need to be sensitive to what you want and why you want it.
Ambition can be grown and cared for like a garden. You start small and you constantly prune and iterate it.
Ask yourself what you love and what sacrifices you’re willing to make to pursue your goals.
Many people don’t just lose their ambition (some get even more ambitious as they get older) but most people don’t ask themselves these questions and life happens to them.
I’ve realized that being ambitious isn’t about trying to become rich or famous, but more about knowing what you want and why you want it. Once you know that, you’ll be more likely to sacrifice and push through all the obligations and randomness of life, and finally accomplish your dreams.
So, Why the fuck do we lose our ambition when we grow up?
Losing our ambition is like losing our soul and excitement to be alive. We’re saying, “Nope, I refuse to fully live.” Being ambitious isn’t about becoming famous or billionaire. It’s about fully living.
Socrates said once, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” meaning living a life under the rule of others, never questioning what you want out of it is not worth living. And let me make sure you know this too, a life with no aim and with no purpose isn’t an alternative either.
If you’re young or whatever age you are, and want to be ambitious. Be aware of the reasons people lose their ambition. What are those reasons? There are many reasons, but there’s one that expresses the essential reasons: Change of priorities.
People get comfortable, which makes them lose sight of the big picture, and you add responsibilities and obligations. You get the average adult. This is often true, but not always. Sometimes, people change what they’re ambitious for. Kids want to be astronauts, teens want to change the world, and adults want to spend time with their families.
Which is one right? Neither. You choose. The issue occurs when your priorities change without you realizing it. You may WANT to change your priorities, just be aware of the WHY.
Even if you don’t change your priorities, there’s another reason that is probably the biggest contributor.
“Everyone wants to be a published author, nobody wants to write a book.” This isn’t about becoming a published author, but an example of a high-status goal that many people grow up aspiring to, that turns out to require you to work hard over a long time.
Patrick McKenzie elaborates more on this idea and says, “One of my most disconcerting observations about the world is that the number of people who will, in their life, pursue a concrete goal with focus and determination for several months is much much lower than what I would have assumed it would be.”
Why are some people more determined than others? Or why do others never give despite failing repeatedly? A harsh truth many people refuse to accept.
Look, youngsters my age (17) or older haven’t experienced true failure in their life. Why? Most of them because they haven’t really tried anything. To fail, you have to try. If you never try, you never fail.
Since early on, we take pre-planned paths such as standardized testing and getting A’s. As long as you do nothing dumb and do what teachers tell you, you will be fairly successful. Just be complacent and follow others. Simple, right?
Real-life is not like that.
Once you graduate college and you are finally dropped off at the so-called “real world” with no instructions. Most people struggle with how to be successful. You try things and you fail.
The first failures are rough because you aren’t used to them, so they are cruelly painful. Like when you told that one girl in fourth grade you liked her, but she rejected you. Well, maybe it’s not that painful.
You try things and you fail. Then one of two things takes place. You either try again and learn and improve or you avoid pain altogether.
Again, neither is right nor wrong. Each one comes with pros and cons.
The first option of trying things and failing is a lot tougher short-term but benefits people long term. Few people take this road because humans love comfort and avoid pain.
The second option of avoiding pain is far more common and causes people to stick with jobs and careers they don’t like because it’s “too hard” to change. This road is easier in the short-term but leads many people to become depressed and “giving up,” which is what I’m talking about when people grow up and “lose ambition.”
Enough of my ranting. How do you know what road to take?
Every young person wants to be unique. We want to dream and we want to inspire others. But that doesn’t always happen because lots of times it’s easier to follow what others say and do what others do.
Many people reason by analogy (because someone did it), and few reason by truths or first principles (what do I think is true for sure?).
To think for yourself independently of others takes more mental output and yes it’s freaking hard, but only if you do, you can start fully living.
Being ambitious isn’t for everyone, but most people should dare to try it. Yes, it’s harder, tiring, and perhaps even meaningless. But I’m still ambitious.
Nothing that we’ll ever do will matter. Nothing. If you look at the world not in years or centuries, but in billions of years. Few things will matter. So why even bother?
At first, you may become nihilistic but if you look at it more carefully, you’ll realize that because nothing will matter, you might as well try to optimize every minute you live by helping others, being happier, loving more, and being more ambitious.
Young Human: I want to eat the world.
Old Human: Try to not get eaten first, kid.
Young Human: (says nothing and thinks to himself, “Who was the weirdo who looks like he was eaten?”
Old Human: You’ll understand…
Perhaps I’m dumb for trying to be ambitious and even dumber for trying to help others to see if being ambitious makes sense for them. Like someone told me on Twitter, “Bookmark this tweet, set a timer for 20 years, and you’ll be able to answer this yourself by then.”
But I refuse to wait twenty years. I would rather try to learn from the mistakes of other people and have an answer that makes sense for me. An answer that aligns with what I think, what I say, and what I do.
That answer is that being ambitious is worth it. It’s not about being rich or famous but understanding what you want and why you want it while treating ambition like a garden that can be grown and cared for.
If you can listen carefully and garden your ambition, you can start fully living the life you want and choose for yourself.
Also, remember priorities might change. You thought you wanted to be an astronaut, but now all you want to do is play with your toddler and help him/her accomplish their dreams. Life is always beautiful, just make sure you’re the one planting the flowers in the garden.
If you decide you want to be ambitious, understand you may fail, and once you fail. That failure will take you back to the fourth grade but keep going, you may want to find friends who are ambitious, optimistic, and driven because they will be the one who will hold you accountable and help you when you fail.
And if you remember anything from this essay, remember that everything and anything you do won’t matter and will be meaningless. All the hard work, all the stress, and all the worries will be meaningless. But if that is true, you optimize for doing what makes you happy, for trying to help others, and perhaps being more ambitious.
Now, I’m starving. Let’s eat the world!
 Think of ambition as 'feeding' as a small but consistent habit. Every action is a vote for who you will become and what you will achieve. This is how you build ambition.
Thanks to my friends in my dorm who inspired me to write this essay after hours of deep conversations and discussions! Thanks, guys!
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