Why you should be more ambitious

Christopher Alexander:

In my life as an architect, I find that the single thing which inhibits young professionals, new students most severely, is their acceptance of standards that are too low. If I ask a student whether her design is as good as Chartres, she often smiles tolerantly at me as if to say, Of course not, that isn’t what I am trying to do. . . . I could never do that.” Then, I express my disagreement, and tell her: That standard must be our standard. If you are going to be a builder, no other standard is worthwhile. That is what I expect of myself in my own buildings, and it is what I expect of my students.”

Tyler Cowen:

You can raise the aspirations of other people signifcantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind. It costs you relatively little to do this, but the benefit to them, and to the broader world, may be enormous. This is in fact one of the most valuable things you can do with your time and with your life.

Paul Graham: With ambition, you tend to get one step below what you aim for. So unless you try to be the best, you won’t even be good.

Donald Hall:

I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems.

Let me hypothesize the developmental stages of the poet. At twelve, say, the American poet-to-be is afflicted with generalized ambition. (Robert Frost wanted to be a baseball pitcher and a United States senator; Oliver Wendell Holmes said that nothing was so commonplace as the desire to appear remarkable; the desire may be common but it is at least essential.) At sixteen the poet reads [Walt] Whitman and Homer and wants to be immortal. Alas, at twenty-four the same poet wants to be in The New Yorker. . . .

David Perell:

Whenever I set goals, I send them to one of the best entrepreneurs I know. Every time, he tells me they’re not ambitious enough. Then we work together to set a bigger vision. Feel like setting bigger goals is the closest thing to a free lunch that exists.




[3] https://www.strategy.rest/?p=1297

[4] https://poets.org/text/poetry-and-ambition

[5] https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/10/high-return-activity-raising-others-aspirations.html

January 13, 2023