Personal Development

How to Have an Improved, More Ambitious Life


Have you had difficulty coming up with ambitious dreams? Do you find yourself constantly ignoring possibilities, thinking that you couldn’t do or be enough?

Last week, in an effort to give back to my old high school, I joined a number of other alumni in giving presentations to the freshmen and sophomore men. The organizer’s two main goals for these presentations:

  1. To reach out to those students who are on the fence about the possibility of going to college.
  2. To encourage those students who are planning on going to college to try to go to the best college they can.

I took the big picture idea to be: dream big.

My presentation focused on my own uncertainty during my time in high school. I didn’t know what to expect after high school ended. To make it worse, my fear of the unknowns of college and my future kept me from creating a plan. In the end, things worked out better than I ever expected. I finished by asking the students to embrace possibility, ignore mediocrity, and dream big.

What I didn’t realize until after I had given the presentation four or five times that day is that there seemed to be a pattern with my ability to embrace change which probably made all the difference in my life.

Anytime there was some challenge or opportunity, I would think, “I can do it.”

I was in student council. I was Homecoming King. I took drawing, painting, and accounting classes rather than take a free period. I was editor of the school paper. I was in the honors program, received great grades, and was a member of the National Honor Society. I organized an all-day event to replace a discontinued annual event instead of leaving a gap. After high school, I received my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science along with two minors: mathematics and microelectronics. I started my own indie video game business. I tried out for the Chicago Fire soccer team.

I didn’t list those accomplishments to toot my own horn. My point was that in each case, the idea that I could actually DO it was natural to me.

That isn’t to say that actually DOING these things were easy. As editor of the school paper, I only published four issues out of the entire year, and I managed to get the paper in trouble with the school administration (it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission?). Going for two minors along with my major took me five years instead of four. Forming GBGames, LLC took me months longer than it should have.

But because I thought I COULD do it, I eventually found a way. It would have been easy to ignore the fact that the Chicago Fire was holding open tryouts. I hadn’t played soccer in 10 years. The odds of me suddenly becoming a professional soccer player were very slim indeed. Why bother?

I’ll tell you why. The barrier to entry was laughable. I pretty much had to sign my name on an application form and send in a small fee. Bam. I was one of the 156 people who tried out, and I got to play soccer with some of the best and brightest amateur soccer players from around the world. I had no illusions that I was going to get called back for the 2nd or 3rd days of the tryouts, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that with my attempt, I had a blast, and now I have this great story to tell people. How many people do you know that can say they tried out for a professional soccer team?

But I never would have even bothered looking up the application process if I didn’t think that I could do it.

So if I could that presentation again, I’d sum up everything with “Believe you can do it.”

If you internalize that thought and apply it to every opportunity you care about, you can’t help but be more ambitious. Why settle for a dead-end job when you could go to college? Why settle for a community college when you could find scholarships, grants, and loans to send you to the best college you can find? Why settle for any relationship you can get when you can find a fulfilling one? Why settle for mediocrity when, with a little thought and effort, you could attain awesomeness?

What is your pattern for approaching possibilities, challenges, and opportunities? Do you surrender immediately to the idea that you can’t, or do you generally feel confident that you can?

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