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Ambition, Success and what they cost us


"We pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won."
- LM Montgomery

While most people subscribe to this idea of success doesn't come cheap and while ambition as a character trait is held in very high regard, I'm not entirely convinced that it comes at a cost. It is just a matter of the willingness to pay.

There are two kinds of consumers in this world. One, the vast majority, are always looking for the best deal, the greatest value for money. And often, this value is not attributed on the basis of how useful or joyful the product or service being purchased was to the consumer. Instead, it is attributed on the basis of what someone else managed to purchase for the same amount, or on the basis of whether you managed to get a 'discount' on the 'market rate' for that product or service. 

The other kind of consumers, a stark minority, aren't looking for the best deal, aren't comparing, but are just happy to part with a certain amount if the product or service that they are receiving in exchange is useful to them or makes them happy. This is why some people pay for a Netflix subscription while they can watch the same quality videos by downloading them on Torrents. This is why some people pay whatever price is quoted and don't bargain with the vendors. This is why some people don't look for a sale or coupons before purchasing something. They value something else.

The same analogy holds for success and ambition. You can be successful if you have a well-paying job and a house of your own. You can be successful if you walk down the road and people recognise you for the book you wrote or the movie you made. You can be successful if you sit at home and bring up kids. You can be successful no matter what you do. It is just a perception at the end of the day. It is just a feeling of having achieved what you had wanted to achieve. Success is the product or the service that you buy as a consumer.

Where as, ambition is your wallet. You might want the best of all worlds. You might want to start a startup that goes on to be worth billions. You might want to travel the world. You might want to have a smart, attractive and understanding partner. You might want to be the best boss, the best parent, the best daughter. You might want to be a bestselling author. And obviously, you want to be these things because that is how you define success. 

Just like you decide to forego buying some things while purchasing some, all by managing your wallet, managing ambition and success is a very similar exercise. Attempting to be all the things above is like having a thousand bucks in your wallet and trying to buy an Armani suit, and Prada shoes and eat at Shiro.

When people say you can be anything you want, as long as you are dedicated and focused and productive enough, you ought to take it with a pinch of salt. Ambition is not about having the highest goal for yourself and stretching yourself to breaking point in an attempt to achieve it. Ambition is about getting 1% better each day, maybe at just one thing a day. Ambition is not the grand end goal that you can define. Anyone can do that. It is about taking baby steps forward. Constantly. It is about prioritizing. And sticking to it. 

When I read this article by Ian Tang on 'The cost of ambition', I initially thought it made sense. But then I felt that the cost was all artificial. It is what we bring upon ourselves by wanting it all. If you're enjoying what you're doing in moving towards your definition of success, there is no need to feel that it is at the cost of something. If you do feel that way, then you might want to have another look at your definition of success. 

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