“A dream without ambition is like a car without gas. You’re not going anywhere.” So says actor Sean Hampton. Or to employ another metaphor that may have been used before but if so, I haven’t seen it, The Dream is the wood and Ambition the match that makes it a fire.
Perhaps I suffer from the same scotoma Steven Schussler describes in It’s a Jungle in There, of the notion of ambition in a business context “conjuring up images of backstabbing corporate climbers” rather than something that “drives people to realize their full potential.” (29) I think a lot of entrepreneurs suffer from this malady and I’ve seen it. You dreamed the dream, but do you have what it takes to make it come true?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think startups necessarily cough, sputter, and ultimately fail entirely because the founder(s) either lack ambition or equate it with Gordon Gekko style capitalism. Entrepreneurs by nature tend toward the ambitious side of the scale. We have already made the break from the safety and security of the regular paycheck and taken responsibility for others in many cases. Often the need to survive replaces any need for ambition. Mr. Schussler very aptly points out that “feeling economically pinched can actually stimulate the creative juices” and push us to success; the type of ambition most entrepreneurs know only too well. But if the money was all that motivated us, we’d just go back to our jobs, right?
But many entrepreneurs I encounter (and often, I admit, myself) underestimate what kind of commitment a truly successful enterprise will require. Rather than wake up every morning, drive to an office, and work for a paycheck every day, we like the flexibility of working at night, mid-morning, or whenever it suits us…on whatever suits us. But true success, as Mr. Schussler would agree, requires more. Every waking hour should produce another spark, another innovation, another contact….something. Mr. Schussler even created his own formula: Passion + Ambition Yields Success. You better be doing something about which you truly feel passionate because to succeed, you’ll be doing it a lot.
For example, I’m quite passionate about politics and actually have considered seriously running for office, but had to do a real gut check recently and determined I really have no ambition to wade into that murky morass of questionable benefit and den of iniquity. My passion derives, it turns out, from a deep seated need for justice and fairness in the world and a collective commitment to create a more merit based reward system. I determined that politics will never serve those goals in the US because our political system has been corrupted by an uber wealthy class of businessmen. The political culture will not change until the business culture stops incentivizing graft, bribery, and greed, which we must not confuse with ambition.
My decision to convert Abundance from an unremarkable Tax and Accounting service into an engine for passionate ethical entrepreneurship (and a huge reason I enrolled in this program) finds it roots in my passion for fairness in the world. Don’t mistake my passion and ambition here as an argument that business doesn’t deserve a seat at the table of state. It just doesn’t need to own the table and every seat around it like it does now. Those seats must be filled with individuals committed to the good of everyone, which is good for the community, and therefore benefits the company and its shareholders. This dream gets me out of bed every morning bright and early to keep on working to make it a reality. I plan to spend every waking hour available making this happen.
We as entrepreneurs need to keep this mantra close to our hearts and repeat it often. The dream never becomes reality without ambition. Just like your car is going nowhere without some gas.