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Ambition or Patience

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Ambition or Patience

Scott Miker

While you are waiting…

Most of life is about waiting.  We have to wait until we are “old enough” when we are children.  We have to wait until we have enough experience to get the job we truly want.  We have to wait for fate to show its hand before we know how our life will unfold.

When I was younger this caused a lot of anxiety.  I wanted everything right away and didn’t want to wait for things to happen.  I was impatient and impulsive and did not put enough patience behind anything.  

In a way this is good.  It forced me to be about getting things done.  It became a way of going about things and the ambition was noticed by others.  It helped me to achieve some of my early successes.  

But this isn’t ideal.  The reality is that, as easily as I grasped onto something, I would also just as easily let it go.  Because I had this unease about the way I went after my goals, they often were accomplished but not kept.  I had a difficult time with any sort of long-term goal.

Lao Tzu asked in the Tao Te Ching “Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water’s clear?”  He also says that “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

The reality is that ambition is helpful, up to a point.  Then it is a combination of patience and ambition which will truly help you succeed.  Burning out too quickly is just as common as waiting without knowing what you are waiting for.  

I used an analogy in my book You Can’t Surf from the Shore.  I heard a saying about patience that “a seed cannot be forced into a tree.”  The idea is that patience is required and pushing too hard to get the tree before it is ready will actually destroy the tree.  

But I have found that most people don’t even get to that point because they don’t plant the seeds.  The reality is that there is a combination in life of being ambitious (planting the seed) but also being patient (letting the tree grow).  One alone isn’t going to help us truly succeed.  We have to be able to use both.

But how can we become more patient but still be ambitious towards our goals?  They key is to evaluate the systems and habits in our lives.  

The systems and habits in our lives encompass all the behaviors that drive us towards our goals.  The habits that we rely on throughout the day are incredibly impactful, yet often ignored.  By starting to evaluate and systematically improving our habits we can start to make progress.

This tends to be slow, long-term progress which really helps to learn and apply patience.  You are better able to evaluate the direction you are headed.  If it is moving you towards success you can remain patient that you will reach your goal.  If it isn’t leading towards success, then you continue to systematically improve until you feel confident you are heading in the right direction.

Being ambitious is a great trait to have.  But blind ambition without adequate patience will lead us into a losing cycle moving from goal to goal without any sustained success.  Being able to hone our ambition but remain patient in order to reach long-term goals helps create balance which will ultimately lead us to our goals.