Defining Ambition

I recently encountered a post from a Japanese game developer and it made me retrospect a little bit. I’ve always thought of myself as an ambitious person which I consider to be one of my better traits. But my narrow interpretation of the word has burned bridges, and this post is about the lessons I had to learn the hard way.

Just to be clear, I don’t proclaim to know better now – I’m barely old enough to drink in certain places, and I’m sure I’ll see these words in a different light a few years down the road. But I think it’s important to be critical of, and honest with yourself whenever you can – how else can you claim to have grown?

Respect people

People are different, and seek satisfaction in various things. Some find it in their jobs, some find it in their lovers, some find it in a drink after work. Each of them are equally valid.

To look down on people for having different ambitions in life, or for pursuing a career path you don’t associate with success, is extremely shallow. If anything, it’s something to be respected – they’re content. Isn’t that what you’re working towards?

Take responsibility

I thought I was damn good at my job. I worked hard. I brought results. I didn’t cause problems unless the project depended on it. Which is good, right?

But I got upset that people around me weren’t meeting my expectations. Worse, I did nothing to change that, and instead watched them fail.

I naively assumed that everyone should be directly comparable to their peers, and that it wasn’t my responsibility to make others perform to the level I expected from them. Of course, if I was as good as I thought I was, I would’ve known better.

Most people are great at something the team or project needs, so look for alternate ways to make them succeed instead of focusing on their current lack of productivity.

Be honest with yourself

I measured my success by comparing it to that of others. I told myself I was better to sometimes distance myself from outside criticism and feel good about my own work, even when it wasn’t good.

It’s a skill to know when something is good enough. It’s also a skill to admit when it’s not despite giving it your all. Don’t try to deceive the person that knows you best and never, ever use the perceived stagnation of others as an excuse to not improve yourself.

Embrace failure

You can’t always play it safe. Sometimes you have to take risks. That means seeing a feature you made which people said was going to be shit, turn out to be shit. Disappointing people you absolutely did not want to disappoint. Being responsible for the failure of the entire department.

Take it. Iterate, iterate, iterate. You’re going to fail many, many times before you can pat yourself on the back. Fail while you can and make the most out of it, lest it bites you in the ass when you’re no longer in control.

Get uncomfortable

You will encounter dead weights which you’ll have to carry by yourself. You’ll meet someone way, way better than you. You will have to deal with petty office politics. One day, you will fail harder than you have ever before.

You can stop whenever you want, but that’s also where you’ll peak. Are you at a point in life where you’re content? In my case it’s a resounding “not yet”, so it’s back to the grind. Here’s to a challenging and rewarding 2019.

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