In an interview in 2013, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said "I’ve said I want to die on Mars, just not on impact" while discussing the ambitions for the company. I think this perfectly sums up the right mindset for the overly-ambitious individual.
I have always felt a close affinity and understanding with those who consider themselves as overly-ambitious, a category I hesitantly place myself in. Of course, like everyone, I can have my procrastination moments and often feel like I could "do more", however, ambition to me is a drive and desire to achieve more than expected and I cannot argue that this has always been my mindset.
I grew up and live in a ex-fishing city in northern UK. A place where many consider the highest level of achievement landing a steady nine-to-five and owning a flat-screen TV. Although attitudes have changes over recent years and we now see substantial amount of entrepreneurs emerging and investment finding it's way into the city, I still find people telling me that my goals are "too big for this city". While I would suggest that you should never let others set the ceiling for your own ambitions, it is important to manage ambition to avoid over-shooting your goals and, in the words of the almighty Musk, "dying on mars". I decided to write this article as I have most definitely been guilty of getting this balance wrong in the past and suffered the aforementioned crash landing.
My current thought process when considering ambition is to identify my "ultimate ambition". If we really lean into this space analogy then, what is Mars to me? Once I have worked out my "Mars" I work backwards to identify the steps I need to fulfill to achieve this. There's no point planning out my new Mars home when I haven't even built a rocket.
Yes, I know, this seems obvious and not particularity insightful. Most people when consider goals will create a checklist of what they need to get there. For many though, this is all this is, a checklist, a set of menial tasks and milestones to race through to get to the final goal. This is where I find the Elon Musk analogy really begins to hold weight.
Imagine that your end goal was as grandiose as going to Mars. This completely changes the mindset of the steps in between. For many of us the steps to achieve our end goal are much smaller and can be seen as insignificant tasks to tick off our lists with little thought. This is where the problems can lie. We can be so focused on our "Mars" that we don't pay enough attention to the here and now.
If I was travelling to Mars and had to build a rocket, I would be in no rush to throw something together. I would want to spend the time getting it right, testing it, looking at all the variables and making sure I had the best rocket I could possibly make. I would have the Rolls Royce of rockets. Who would want to be hurtled into space in anything less? So, why do we not treat our own journeys to Mars in this way?
This mindset has completely changed how I view my goals both personally and professionally. I no longer see each milestone I need to achieve as a task to complete but as a new rocket ship that needs to be built. A rocket that will determine my survival on my journey. I focus on the challenge at hand and aim not just for sufficient but amazing.
This mindset allows me to make sure that I am making the progress I need in order to achieve my ambitions instead of being too distracted my the idealism of them and never making the journey. As an overly-ambitious, over-thinking creative, this is something I have always been cursed with as I'm sure many others are too. So, next time you find yourself considering your next big ambition think, "what is my mars?" and then go and build your rockets like your life depends on them and the journey won't seem so far or perilous.
I'll see you all on Mars!