The Cost of Ambition

The Cost of Ambition

When I think of the concept of “progress,” I admittedly have a difficult time trying to empirically break down my own perceived “success” on the topic.  We can always start from the beginning, I guess.  How do we define “progress?”  And I suppose the companion question to this is, what happens, then, if the individual in quest of “progress” is overly ambitious?  How does one know how to prioritize the goals one wishes to achieve?

I’m of the belief that we should chase our reality and not our dreams.  Granted, this isn’t an original thought.  I first heard this as a sound byte from what I think was a commencement speech orated by Christopher Nolan of Inception fame.  As my memory unsurprisingly fails me yet again, I think it went along the lines of society viewing our collective realities as the “poor cousins” to our dreams.  He then argues that dreams are merely subsets of our realities, making them just as valid as our realities and vice versa.  What I got from this is the notion that we aren’t able to operate in the plane of our dreams unless we concretely and passionately operate in the frame of reality.  In short, our dreams do not come true unless we’re firmly grounded in reality.  So what are my personal dreams?

I think those who know me and those of whom that watched my journey from afar are able to deduce what the main pillars of my dreams are.  First and foremost, one of my dreams has always been maintaining a healthy weight and being physically fit.  The rationale to having this dream is pretty obvious, but to keep it succinct, I’ll just say that health is probably the best investment you can ever make in your life.  The reality of my health was that for 29 years of my life, I was making excuses for myself as to why the scale wasn’t budging.  My metabolism is too slow.  I need to eat (in excess) to replenish the calories burned in today’s 30 minute workout. I simply do not have time to dedicate to working out.  I’m too busy with all my other goals.   In order to accomplish this dream, I needed to be operating in a frame of reality, and it was obvious that I wasn’t for a long time.

The next 2 dreams will be quick, and this is by design in order to make my final point.

My second dream is perhaps a less virtuous one, and that is that I wish to attain financial freedom, whether it’s from tirelessly working more hours at the hospital I work at, taking on too many audio engineering gigs I can handle, managing the marketing to the start-up I co-own, or reading and studying on business models that interest me.  I’ve accomplished as much as being able to claw out of debt and being able to live comfortably in my “luxury” apartment in the heart of Koreatown.

My third dream is actually two that go hand and hand with each other: creative freedom and emotional well-being (aka inner-peace).  Inner peace and creative freedom are very lofty dreams, and, in my opinion, I’m the farthest away from these dreams, not because I don’t operate in a frame of reality in regards to these goals, but because my reality simply does not nurture or foster this type of progress in any accelerated rate.

And that’s the cost of ambition.

Simply put, the cost of ambition, the cost of having multiple dreams and goals is that ironically, having multiple goals proves to be counterintuitive to actual growth and progress.  In addition to operating in a frame of reality when working towards a dream, it’s important to be mindful that each dream you have exists in a separate but equally valid reality.  To make matters worse, we must take into account of the reality that we ALL share: time is finite.  Therefore the time dedicated to one reality takes away from the time that can be spent on another reality.  It is no wonder we see the 30 going on 50 workaholic with deteriorating health or likewise, the “up-and-coming” music prodigy battling mental health issues.  

Am I arguing that we can’t have it all?  No, not in the slightest.  What I’m arguing is that the solution for this “cost of ambition,” is prioritization and laser focus on one reality before going all in on the next.  The collective emptiness we often feel even when we validate ourselves with little achievements we accomplish along the way with one dream is contingent with our collective lack of prioritization and focus.  Yes, I reap the fruit of my efforts in finance, creativity, and emotional well-being, but this is only because I have the energy to do so due to my prioritization that health came first.  There is no such thing as spreading oneself too thin when your dreams (and concurrently) your realities are prioritized.

We live in a society that glamorizes the hustle, and rightly so because there’s nothing I have disdain for more than complacency and escapism.  But with this in mind, it’s so damn important to acknowledge the darkside of “the hustle” when it rears its ugly head.  We must accept all the consequences possible when we choose to dedicate our time to a dream, a reality.  

So choose wisely.

-JD