Our Love/Hate Relationship with Ambition

As young adults we have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We want to do everything right the first time and/or have it all figured out without taking any pain or punishment along the way. Especially for those of us with a lot of ambition - when we do underperform or fail to reach our goal(s) we tend to beat ourselves up. Now, why is that?


There are many reasons we punish ourselves and I think one of the main reasons is because we expect so much out of ourselves on a daily basis… BUT dedicating 100% of yourself to every aspect of everyday is impossible! Everyday brings new challenges, so we have to adjust on a day-to-day basis. For example, could Lebron James score 60 points, grab 20 rebounds, and dish out 20 assists in one game? Of course! But you can’t expect him to do that for you every single game! Why? Because each game comes with new challenges and requires a different set of needs.


It is difficult for ambitious folks (including myself) to accept this. So, here are some ways I believe one can perform at a high level on a consistent basis while not letting the pitfalls of ambition get the best of you:


1. Write everything down:


A few years ago I was seeking advice from a friend of mine who is an entrepreneur… I was telling her “I have all of these ideas about the future and what I think I can do, and sometimes these thoughts consume me.” She told me, “Get a nice-looking, small journal that you’ll carry around at all times, and just write everything down. Every idea, whether good or bad, outlandish or simple - write it down and don’t share it with anyone (unless you want to).”


I’ve followed that advice for 3 years now and it has helped me tremendously! It’s like having a storage bin of ideas I can pull from at any time. It eases my anxiety to know that if I have an idea I can just put in the book and go look back at it whenever I need to.


2. Know when enough is enough:


Look y’all..


“Health is wealth…”

There are only 24 hours in a day (and besides working we should be finding time to eat, sleep, drink water, read a book, take a walk, etc… all the little things that make us human and not robots)... I know how things can get… You always feel like you’re behind, you always want to push yourself to do more - but remember, in order to succeed you must be able to operate at your highest capacity and you can’t reach that threshold if you are constantly tired, fatigued, sick, and/or burnt out. We need to know when to say, “you know what, I’ve done all I can do.”


3. Ask for help:


I believe that knowing your limitations is a key to success. You should never be ashamed to ask someone for help or advice because no one has been able to succeed on their own. Quick story: In late 2017, I was down in Dallas playing basketball when I sprained my ankle (still got the “and-1” though…). The doctor said I had to be on crutches for 6 weeks. Well, that next week I flew back to DC I had to install my exhibit at a gallery. Up until that point, I had basically always done everything on my own including the installing of shows. Well obviously that wasn’t going to happen, so I called up friends and family and asked for help and they were all MORE than happy to help me achieve my goal — and you know what? That day with them was so much fun, and it also taught me a valuable lesson: In order to achieve my success, it’s gonna take some assistance, and that realization fully enforced my dedication to collaborating with others and being a facilitator, or ‘maverick’ as Malcolm Gladwell would say.


4. Plan ahead:


This is vital. Piggybacking off of #1 and 3…You never know when an opportunity is going ton present itself, so when it does you want to be ready — that means saving money or brain space for something that may not happen for 2-3 years. For example, if you want to own a building one day, you should probably find out how much that’ll cost you when the time is right, so you can start saving now. Or if you’re an artist (Derrick Adams said this) create enough work for a few solo shows! That way if someone calls you, you’ll already be prepared. For me, not having information gives me anxiety, so seeking info helps me create a map as to where I’m going (even if this map is full of blank spots — at least I have something.) When an opportunity comes you never want tom be without either money or ideas… You never know…


5. “Don’t worry about how pretty the plates are”

This was some advice a mentor of mine gave me. She encouraged me to just do… just act… just perform in whatever capacity and don’t worry whether or not it looks perfect. There are enough things in life that hold us back — whether that be people not believing in us, being overlooked, people not extending their hand for help when we ask for it… or it could just be the intimidation we feel when we think about how many steps it’s going to take to reach our goals. It’s like stressing about future stress (but it’s actually not funny lol) So, just like I was encouraged to, I would encourage you to just do something that’s gonna push yourself forward and to that next level. I have that problem all the time. Sometimes just doing something IS the hardest part. Whether it’s talking on the phone with the IRS for two hours to get your business EIN number registered or searching the web for the best online course to take — work is never easy. But putting one foot in front of the other is the only way to move forward.


Being ambitious is HARD! Especially when “rich” people on Instagram make it look easy! That sh*t can get the best of you at times, but perseverance and good work ethic is how we’ll push through.

Let me know your thoughts! Happy Black History Month!

— Thomas

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