Meander Some

via Chris Dixon:

How can smart, ambitious people stay working in an area where they have no long term ambitions?

I encountered this question, again, a few weeks ago while spending time with some highly-motivated, super-smart undergrads at WashU. It wasn’t asked directly to me but my conversations centered around this concept on many occasions.

But even for myself I’m reminded of this dynamic while climbing my own hill and the decisions that I’ve made over the course of my life and career.

It’s not that I’ve necessarily taken the “road less traveled” nor have I necessarily made better decisions than others out there – I’ve just opted to forgo the short-term benefits and possible rewards to be gained from them and instead have made decisions that showcase a penchant for the more long-term.

I want to be clear, though. It’s not that I’ve opted for long-term rewards over short-term rewards, I’ve just made decisions that appear to have leaned more heavily in that direction.

I’ll admit, now that I give it some intentional and explicit thought, that in the middle of my decision-making process (whatever that actually “looks” like) I don’t actually consider the short or long-term rewards as part of the equation. It’s a bit more like a compulsion than anything else; something compels me to move in this direction more than that.

Images via BOSSFIGHT
Images via BOSSFIGHT

It’s visceral, emotional, and moving. And because of those things I’ve been able to meander a bit in my career and in the right moments I’ve been able to make the bigger decisions, the more risky ones perhaps, and have options on where I’d like to fail.

I don’t like to waste time either, which is useful internal metronome, and although most everyone would agree with that sentiment there are very few who actually act upon that belief.

There are fewer still that are so moved by this belief, this understanding, that they’ll do whatever it takes to get themselves into the right place, to climb the right hill, the right mountain.

At first I thought I had misread this line via Dixon’s piece:

This effect seems to be even stronger in more ambitious people. Their ambition seems to make it hard for them to forgo the nearby upward step.

This goes a bit counter to superficial logic (a’la cumulative advantage) as one would think that the more ambitious people would be the ones that climb the larger and more difficult hills (and there are many that do).

But as I survey my own relationships and the friends and colleagues that are also building businesses and enjoying the pain of startups; and even as I introspect around my own motives I realize that it’s not about ambition, clinically-understood. Rather, the ambition that I and many like me share is just different.

You see, the “hills” and “mountains” that I want to climb, to overcome, to win, are not always tangible yet they are almost always personal. The mountains that I climb are more ephemeral in type, metaphorical – they are about me and becoming a much better version of myself.

The business, the product, the challenges of becoming a profitable organization are the beautiful outcauses becoming a better professional, a more empathetic manager, a more situationally-aware leader.

I think about these things constantly. I never want to stop climbing.

Also published on Medium.