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Babafemi Aderounmu: How to Survive the ‘Burden’ of Ambition

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About two years ago, during one of our usual unscripted 1-2-1 sessions, I had a chat with a C-level executive. I seized the opportunity to learn more about how he has maintained focus, dedication, and high ambition over the years, even when the journey looked torrid and insurmountable. As I learn and grow as an individual, many things make more sense daily and ultimately complement other lessons picked up along the unfolding rollercoaster journey. Now, as I listen to the track “23” by Burna Boy echo away in the background, I’ve decided to share some of the nuggets and key lessons from that exchange.

We learn and become better versions of ourselves with every experience

There will come a time in life when we begin to ponder what’s in it for us and ask ourselves: what more can I learn here? Some will call it a feeling of saturation. While the natural instinct is to run into our shells and shut our minds to new perspectives, it is helpful to keep in mind that each day has got its own unique set of variables. Even if we find ourselves doing the same things over and over again, there will be new variables from time to time – new players, new stakeholders, new interests, something new to unravel, a new dimension or layer we can add to our arsenal. It is, therefore, imperative to stay tuned in and attentive enough to observe and catch every new dimension that life offers.

Even though we are blindsided and perhaps subdued by doing the same things all the time, we need to warm up to the opportunities such moments present and make them into sustainable wins. An experience is only stale once we stop reflecting on our interaction, existence, and our role in the overall scheme of things. There is a lesson in every scenario, the task is to stay attentive and keep an open mind because those are the moments that will set us aside and strengthen our stamina for the next piece of the puzzle, challenge, or opportunity we’ll encounter.

Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have

In our journey through life, we hit small jackpots that are ultimately unnoticed, unreferenced, or unappreciated by us because we have our eyes set on greater milestones. While I can’t fault being ambitious, the smaller victories along the way are influencers, propellers, drivers, and ultimate preparation for the bigger accomplishments to come. Small victories also count!

It is natural for humans to always want more, regardless of what we already have. This is the reason why we wake up every day to do whatever we do. As we evolve and go through self-discovery, we should learn to remain the masters of our ambition. We cannot afford to be a slave to our ambition, otherwise, we can easily turn what drives us into something that creates a constant moment of depression, deflation, and lack of gratitude. We need to be cognizant, mindful, and grateful enough to appreciate how far we have come per time, and this has to be done with grace, humility, vulnerability, and used as an outlet to build momentum for the journey ahead. Time flies but our journey counts and they have been memorable so far, we just need to look carefully and hopefully with a smile and heart of gratitude.

Understand the roles of terminal and instrumental goals

What do you do when your dreams do not materialize just yet? 1 + 1 is not always 2, and the things we do may not always deliver the desired outcome. That’s life, and the unique rude awakening it comes with. Sadly, it doesn’t come with a manual, so we have got to be able to recalibrate, learn from our flaws, reinforce our foundation, and stay patient. It’s like being 1 – 0 down in a soccer game but hanging around, grafting, and chasing every pass to give the team a fighting chance of equalizing or even getting a win.

To stay in the game, it is important to develop and pursue short-term/instrumental goals that altogether complement or enrich the journey and lead you toward the terminal goals. Leveraging and adapting to the opportunities within reach, in the meantime, keeps you in the game.

Terminal goals hardly change and, borrowing a page from Simon Sinek, they can be referenced as the infinite game of life. Your terminal goal could be to become a thought-leader in your space, become a serial entrepreneur with a handful of successful companies under your belt, climb to the top of the corporate or political ladder while delivering solutions or governance that become the bedrock for generations to come. In as much as we think terminal goals are usually all about living the kind of life we have envisaged over time, the infinite game never ends. Even when our time ends here, hopefully fulfilled and at the ripe old age, the game is the legacy passed on to generations to come. The instrumental goals, on the other hand, are centered around the short term milestones we cross in stages as we navigate through life.

Ambition is priceless, but every passing moment counts. For every opportunity, aspiration, relationship, status, goals that we hope for, we need to stay ready until the right one comes. In the meantime, being a lifelong learner and refueler could help unlock the growth mindset and drive required to stay ready.


Photo by Renan Lima from Pexels

BJA | Maximiser, Strategy, Excellence. I am passionate about creating value, inspiring others and bringing structure to complex and dynamic challenges. I bring my purpose to life through Products, Markets and People, along with unparalleled Execution and Excellence. In writing, I have been able to find expression for my yearnings, passion and surrounding experiences which all together have daily gratified my journey towards fulfilment.

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