One of my favorite movies is Blow with Johnny Depp. It’s about a regular middle class kid who grows up to be America’s biggest cocaine dealer in the 70s. He lives a life of opulence and mafia prestige, commanding high admiration among the world’s greatest criminals.
At the end of the movie, while reflecting on his terminal journey into the abyss of crime, Depp says:
“So in the end, was it worth it? Jesus Christ. How irreparably changed my life has become. It’s always the last day of summer and I’ve been left out in the cold with no door to get back in. I’ll grant you I’ve had more than my share of poignant moments.
Life passes most people by while they’re making grand plans for it.
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve left pieces of my heart here and there. And now, there’s almost not enough to stay alive. But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent. There are no more white horses or pretty ladies at my door”
The hero’s journey that Depp goes on in the movie is relatable because of his “ambition exceeding his talent.” This is true for all heroes. It is what makes an underdog an underdog. As soon as talent exceeds ambition, the person looks arrogant and egotistical.
Over the last few years I’ve noticed this theme creeping into modern life. Ambition is becoming a lost art, replaced by hacks, mental models and optimization.
The space between our current state and our realized vision is not defined by raw energy, it is defined by a well manicured plan. There is a weird undercurrent of fear infecting a technology-first generation, a fear of wasted energy. Of wasted time.
This fear is masked by our phones and our screens. It’s masked by architected identities that convince us that we are not, in fact wasting our time, but are taking our time to think deeply about our place in the world. There is no rush. Just breathe through the anxiety that never seems to go away.
We are focused on our talent more than our raw ambition. The plan is the most important piece. We must learn how to think like a champion and adopt the habits of our idols before entering the arena. The preparation we do behind our laptops is becoming more important than execution.
While I believe in a measure-twice-cut-once framework for certain decisions, I think our collective ambition is dying a slow death, resulting in a population of lost, rudderless men.
The other day I started looking at real estate. I have never owned a house and honestly have no desire to but I need to buy a residence in two years to qualify for certain tax provisions.
I go through the sites, I save a few houses. I get an idea of what I like. Then I close the computer. Ok cool, that’s enough for today, let’s let that marinade for a few days then I’ll come back and see what’s changed.
This process happens day in, day out for me and thousands of people around the country. We’re all just waiting to see what happens.
Yesterday, however, I saw a house that I liked. Wow, I thought to myself, this would be great. I guess I should do something about it?
I looked on the website and there was no email address, only a phone number. Panic. Imagine having to talk to someone in real time instead of simply dropping a cold email? This doesn’t feel good.
But I called anyway. Someone picked up, we talked for 10 minutes and they sent me materials via email. I was on my way.
By picking up the phone I traded fear for time. The discomfort of having to deal with a salesperson for 10 minutes fast forwarded my real estate journey by weeks.
The entire process, from search to documents being sent, took 30 minutes. Before this I had spent two months browsing Zillow, telling myself I’ll figure something out next week.
How many other things am I putting off to do tomorrow? How many dreams are being delayed consciously and subconsciously?
What life am I actually trying to build?
OG Coin Mastery viewers remember my roots as a web developer. I left my job at a startup at the age of 25 and partied all weekend. I woke up that next Monday and realized I was kind of fucked, staring at a bank account with about $3,000 in it and zero idea what to do next.
My plan was to sell email marketing strategies to small businesses in Maine where I lived. That’s what I was doing at the startup so it seemed like the right move. But, to my utter shock, there wasn’t a big market for email marketing in Maine in 2010 lol. No one cared.
What there was a market for was websites. People needed someone who could build websites that cost less than $1,000. They didn’t want to hire an agency and needed something that looked nice.
This was great news. The problem was that I didn’t really know how to build websites. This also meant I had no portfolio and zero creditability.
But I had bills. And I had dreams.
I spent the next 3 weeks working about 18 hours a day, fueled by Red Bull and a manic desire to win. I have never wanted to win so badly in my life. I stayed up every night learning how to turn WordPress databases into websites. I learned how to customize CSS and parse HTML. I had no money so I couldn’t hire anyone, leading me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole.
The idea of stopping never crossed my mine. The boats had been burned. This was my only shot.
Through this process I started making up fake businesses and building fake websites for them. Random law firms and coffee shops which I could then use as my portfolio. I would build these fake websites, post them as previous clients, and literally faked it until I made it. No one ever knew.
I then started building websites for small businesses in town that didn’t have a website before asking them if they wanted one. I would go into their business at off hours with my laptop and sell them the site on the spot for $500, URL included. I would walk in, pull up the live site at their business URL, and tour them through their brand new site.
This led to a 25% conversion rate. 50% told me to get lost. The other 25% said they were going to call the police if I didn’t take it down. But I had something. I had an opening. This could work. Let’s fucking go.
The rest is history. I continued my furious pace of production. I made a deal with myself that I would ask for more money with every new client. I would never accept less than I had been paid previously. It was terrifying to ask a lawyer for $25,000 when I had no experience or credentials, but that’s the point. In the face of fear, you press harder. Ambition pushes you into the glory of discomfort. All your dreams come true in this land of binary outcomes.
I went on to become one of the biggest web providers for personal injury lawyers in the USA, publish over 1700 mobile apps and games, upload 1,000+ YouTube videos across various channels and many other things.
It all came from an ambition for something better. For something I could never get from a morning gratitude list or a ketogenic diet. A burning desire to live life to its fullest.
I’m no hero. I can be lazy just like anyone else. Money and warm weather has made me soft in many ways and it’s not something I’m necessarily proud of.
But I am starting to realize how a lack of ambition leads to nothing good. It is so, SO important to look inward and explore the self, but it must be balanced with an outward drive towards something better. Momentum is gasoline. You need to turn the potential energy of yourself into kinetic energy.
Every day you and I wake up and consume information. We look at charts, Twitter, Discord, Slack, Instagram, TikTok and the news. We loosely think about our future and what we want. We put things on the back burner and wait.
So. Much. Waiting.
With all these conveniences I think a lot about why I need a vision at all. Why do I need to be ambitious? Who cares? Everything is so easy.
But then I remember all the best times of my life. They are defined by momentum, by raw unadulterated firepower, gunning relentlessly towards something better.
In these periods of life I do not waste time. Time is a valuable, precious resource, not some uncomfortable space between flashes of inspiration. Opportunity pops up in every moment, the forces of the universe feel like they are conspiring to help me win.
I know that balance is key to a long and fulfilled life. If you’re constantly ambitious and never turn it off, you will end up like Johnny Depp in Blow — losing everything you built, alone and unhappy.
But I think our idea of balance has been warped in the last two years (for obvious reasons). What previously passed as lazy is now accepted as normal life. I’m starting to think that may be a big mistake, that our human experience is not supposed to be defined by relaxation and pleasure but of driving and relaxing, sprinting and resting, lifting and stretching.
I want to get back to a life of Yin and Yang. Power and grace. I want to see people start dreaming big again…and going for it. I want to see more people, myself include, cut the shit and start making things happen every day.
I want to stop letting life pass us by while we’re making grand plans for it.