When I was young, I was very ambitious. I wanted to be an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright, someone who is famous world over for organic architecture. I was always drawing futuristic buildings and making sci-fi bases and spaceships with my Legos. I remember my grandmother saying one day “You’re good at this building and drawing, you should become an architect when you get older”. To me, as an 8 year old, that sounded like as good advice as any. I equated being ambitious as successful. I thought that success meant respect, quality, and fame. I thought was famous would be cool. I also thought fame came quickly. To be an 8 year old again…
I give you this backstory because as I’ve matured my outlook on respect, success, fame, and quality there has always been one thing that can easily sabotage your progress; patience. This topic is something that is near and dear to me because it’s an issue that I, personally, struggle with on a regular basis. I see it in myself, good friends and colleagues have pointed it out to me, and those closest to me often feel the brunt of this quality.
Here’s a bit more backstory. As a student at Hussian School of Art I was a very driven individual and I admit, I had no time for my fellow students who weren’t as driven as I was. At best, I was an “annoying elitist”; at worst, well…just string together a few expletives and you’ll get the idea. I was so focused on what I wanted that I was moving at a much faster pace than most people in my class. My patience with them practically wore thin in the first semester, after that it was non-existent. At this point in my life, I hadn’t read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” but I wish I had. The next four years were an awkward time and I’m thankful for the few friends I had. It was my ambition and friends that kept with me throughout college.
Upon graduation, I was already living back in Central Pennsylvania and I surveyed the landscape of advertising agencies, design studios, marketing and communications firms that called this area home as I was searching for a job. That hustle I had in school, that ambitious tenacity, served me well as I rose quickly through the ranks at each successive job I had. I started out as an intern at a publisher and within 14 months I had risen to creative director of custom publishing. Between being an intern and becoming the creative director at a local publisher, I had worked at a Lancaster based ad agency as an intern, quickly made into a full time designer, then offered a role as an art director, putting me in competition between two firms that wanted me in leadership roles. After a some time working in the agency and publishing world, I took a position in-house with PAFP as their designer and social media specialist. Going from agency work to working in an in-house communications team was a bit of mental adjustment, but being able to focus on one brand instead of many allowed me to hone my abilities further. Working in-house has allowed me to full develop projects that would have been rare to find elsewhere.
Now, I didn’t tell you a mini history of my professional career to boast, but rather to illustrate a theme. In a relatively short time, I rose up through several different positions, each with their own responsibilities. I was able to do this with a mix of luck, networking, and probably most importantly, being ambitious. Ambition is the desire to achieve some goal through hard work and determination. It is one of the traits that is highly respected by all who see it demonstrated. Ambition can arise from many sources and when applied diligently, it will become that internal motor that drives you to succeed in your goals. A lot of people say that passion and faith is what is needed to drive through hardship and negativity to achieve your goals. I say that passion and faith is great, but they are worthless without the ambition to get down to brass tacks and getting stuff done.
But there is a dark side of ambition. When ambition can really play against you is when you become misguided, confused, or disillusioned. Those states can lure you into a false state of security or knowledge. Whether it is a situation in your career, a client project, an academic endeavor, or what have you, plowing full steam ahead without understanding at least some of the consequences can derail you faster than anything. It could lead to a loss in social interactions, client contracts, and even dismissal from employment. In short, blind ambition can damage your reputation; sometimes irreparably. In the creative industries, your reputation is your calling card and that is something you always need to maintain and protect. When you work for someone, for agency, studio, in-house or on a team of contractors your ambition can serve you well to achieve results. When your ambition negatively affects work and relationships it can easily come crashing down on you.
I’m not immune to blind ambition, no one is. To be ambitious is a good thing, but tempering it with patience and thoughtfulness will take you much further in life. I see ambition as a means to improve and change things for yourself and in the world. Blind ambition is something that is solely focused on yourself, regardless of how your actions affects others. It’s a natural state for us to get into and the intentions are not wholly negative. We all want to advance in life, whether it be in your career, your project work, or achieve the lifestyle you desire.
When I started Azrael Group, my ambition allowed me to overcome a lot of initial hurdles that I faced, like running the business side of design, time commitments in my day job and with friends, good industry contacts and knowledge gaps in skills (I still hate ASP.NET). My ambition has served me well. Have I taken on projects outside of my scope and abilities? Yep. Have I been in situations where my ambition has negatively impacted those around me? Unfortunately, yes. The biggest reason why these have happened was lack of patience. Patience for myself, patience in my schedules, patience for others, and patience for outcomes. These are just a few of the proverbial mistakes you will make in life.
Really, this advice goes to anyone at any point in their career and it isn’t even specific to designers and developers. Learn to develop patience to temper your ambition. Make strategic moves, even when following your gut instincts. Develop gut instincts through experience, typically any experience with dealing with others will help gain better instincts. Take ownership of your mistakes and strive to rebuild trust, that is a sign of integrity. Lastly, my colleague Mike Zigmund said it best, don’t let your ambition compromise your commitments.
So as you may have guessed…I didn’t become an architect. I know just enough math for coding languages and even that makes me a bit numb at times. Ambition is great, but like any kind of motor, you need to know when to switch gears, slow down, speed up and how to make the right turns. Your colleagues, commitments and reputation ride along with you, make sure you take care of them so they can help fuel your ambition.
Alright, enough car euphemisms. I’d love to hear what you think. Leave me a comment or drop me a message.