On Ambition and Contentment

Years ago, during an Arabic literature class in high school, our educator engaged the class with a discussion about an arabic proverb that goes along these lines:

Contentment is a treasure that never perishes

I’m not sure the English translation preserves this proverbs’ poetic or phonetic justice, as the selection of the arabic wording gives it a riveting ‘umph’. Despite its esthetic appeal, I had a fundamental problem with this proverb. I made the mistake of thinking that contentment was equal to the lack of ambition.

Years later, I came to the realization that I was awfully wrong.

As a young teenager, swamped with the mood swings due to the fluctuating hormones levels and overwhelmed by the feelings of rebellion, rage and delusions of grandeur, I could not envision a life bound by external rules or circumstantial consequences or even self-set boundaries. I was not able to accept that satisfaction, sometimes, comes from acknowledging the fact that attaining ones goals takes time. A pause, or a short break to reflect and appreciate the now. I was not able to process the idea that life doesn’t have to be an endless sprint and that it does not need to be driven by a relentless hunger for more.

Contentment is not the lack of ambition. On the contrary, it is the fuel of perseverance. It is only with the appreciation of the now that one is able to think clearly, to rise to higher levels after stabilizing oneself on a temporary plateau. Some of us, are not lucky enough to reach the sky in a single jump. Most of us, need to ‘brew’ and plan carefully each step of the climb. Taking breaks along the way; for as long as is needed, simply, to enjoy the present. Quantifying these breaks is up to each one of us. Shorter or longer, only one can define what is ‘enough’.

Ambition is a pre-requisite for success (whatever or however that might be defined), without which we are not able to discover our upper bounds, the limits, beyond which we need to constantly push ourselves. Contentment is not an inhibitor of progress, it is a tool that allows us to take a breath, appreciate the progress, manage our expectations, be happy with the milestone achievements and provides the will necessary to proceed.

The key ingredient of success: Motivation? Creativity? Perfectionism? No.

Maybe the title is a bit vague and this specific topic has been used, abused and dwelt upon by so many. Nevertheless, I believe if the topic is to be treated from one’s personal experience and perspective value can be found.

Many claim that motivation, creativity, perfectionism, work life balance and many other hacks and shortcuts are keys to success or at least achievement. Articles keep pouring in the online streams with stories about leveraging different key ingredients of success. There’s a lot of truth in them, but a component is missing. Discipline.

Let’s ignore the negative connotation associated with discipline because here I’m talking about Self-Discipline: willpowerself motivation despite irregular emotional states, hard workpersistenceendurancecapacity augmentationperseveranceobjectivity, personal rectification of inadequate behavior. In short “The Hard Way”.

We keep looking for these magical shortcuts that promise life changing results submerging ourselves into an incapacitative state of mental numbness and non fruitful, never ending search for a non existing ultimate solution.

I have been writing code for a decade now, there simply are no shortcuts in this endeavor whatsoever! It’s a never-ending hardcore training journey that requires one to constantly keep pushing the boundaries over and over again. It has been and still is very daunting at times, boring at others and painful even (the countless overnights spent starring at the screen). If it weren’t for self-discipline enriching a goal oriented mindset I developed, I would have failed miserably. The same applies to many other aspects of my life: My projects, startups, research, implementation of ideas even writing this and other blog posts etc…

The only way for acquiring this skill, I call it a skill because you need to develop it, hone it, harness its power and keep pushing it without ever giving up or making exceptions, starts with a decision. It’s not a short path, it’s a long one so be prepared.

Step 1: Decision
It starts here. Start now, as soon as you finish reading this post, start immediately. Do not postpone, do not procrastinate.

Step 2: Trial and Error
It will never work out from the first trial. Keep that in mind. It takes time, keep iterating.

Step 3: Making no exception
We are emotional beings and we have this powerful instinct to protect and shield ourselves from whatever we deem is harmful or unpleasant. For you to reach advanced levels of self-discipline, you cannot make exceptions! Reduce them to a bare minimum. If you fail, go back to step 1 and start all over again quickly. Do not let it drag.

Step 4: Acknowledging the achievements and the failures
The sense of achievement is what keeps me going personally. Hard work that is rewarded (in so many different ways) is my positive reinforcement that I try to maximize as much as possible. Although the result is not always guaranteed and hiccups are due to occur, during these bad times, do not quit. Keep pushing.

I failed many times at reaching my self-set goals. I will fail more. However I succeeded in so many others and overachieved beyond my wildest imagination.

The ‘I Don’t Give A Shit Attitude’

I Don't Give a Shit
Do I Look Like I Care?

The ‘I Don’t Give A Shit Attitude’

Wait… What? What is this about?!

In a world governed by hypercritical and highly judgmental critics having all the right to voice their opinion, trying to protect oneself from offensive non constructive criticism has become a tedious task. In a world full of multi-talented individuals, the race for the top is vicious. Whether in the office space, in the real world, amongst friends, in the business field the intense competitive edge is all around. It has become a vital aspect of our daily life. This symbol of democracy, fairness and righteousness has had a multitude of destructive consequences on numerous individuals, who for a reason or another were not up to this ferocious game. This constant fear of criticism, peer pressure and constant reflection on consequences has forced many to hide behind a shell and oppress their ideas knowing that some of them are quite bright.

Long story short, if you are one those people I described in the paragraph above. This is the time to embrace the “I Don’t Give A Shit” attitude. It is time for you to let go of the consequences, let go of the plans, let go of the continuous reflections on the “What If” question and to engage in the realization of your ideas. Whether you are an entrepreneur, an employee or a regular person with a dream; try to put yourself in a position where the answer to the question: “What do I have to lose?” is “Nothing”.

When you have that power: “Freedom”, you will be able to uplift yourself to a whole new game level. Yes, what you read is correct, a game. And mastering the attitude above is a solid way to beat it.

What do you mean? I don’t quite understand yet!

It is true, this is quite a complicated topic to discuss in one blogpost as there are numerous sub-topics (ideas) to convey that are as important. These sub-topics are branches of cases that split off the root idea, such as: exceptional cases, circumstances preventing one from reaching the level of freedom needed to acquire the “I Don’t Give A Shit” attitude, ease of behavioral change etc… However, the starting point is fairly simple. If you believe in a conceptidea that can be either big or small, but that will have an positive impact on your life andor the life of others, disregard the negative feedback from others for a brief period of time – which ends when your idea reaches the state of realization – and then, just then throw whatever you have built to the world and gather whatever type of feedback is thrown back at you. It is then, only then that the opinions you have neglected before mater. Only then, will the random voices contribute to the prosperity of your project. At that point you will have a solid entity that can morph into whatever shape it is needed to be.

But great ideas require dedication, hard work how does the above apply?!

Do I Look like I care?
Do I Look like I care?

The above applies to only a brief period of time. This period extends from the minute you have the “Eureka” moment up until the minute where your first prototype is completed (or any other form of proof of concept). During this period, you will not induce any changes to your current life and formal behavior. The process should go in parallel to whatever you were previously doing for multiple reasons:

  1. You should not start living in the dream world; where you induce changes to your life that might or might not happen as the consequence of the success of your idea.
  2. You should always protect yourself from disappointment. Strive to the success of your idea, but don’t get your hopes up too high for if you fail, the psychological impact will be devastating.
  3. Ego! Ego is very important as long as it is under control. Do not let your ego sky rocket. Not giving a shit does not mean disrespect to others opinion. It only means putting these opinions aside up to the point where they will have a value.

Conclusion

The discussion is far from complete. I will make sure to increase the contributions to this topic as much as time allows. The points discussed above are my personal observations derived from my personal life. I would be more than happy to discuss these opinions thoroughly with anyone who is willing to have an open objective discussion. I understand that this post is a bit vague and open to multiple interpretations; however with time I believe I will be able to convey my observations on the factors of success. Knowing that these factors might just be an illusion, I strongly believe there are lessons to be learned from them (more or less).