Being a slave to ambition

I’ve heard it said that among successful people, it’s common knowledge that it’s hard to beat people that never give up. If you work twice as hard, you get twice as much done. If you work three times as hard, you can do the math. This can be a dangerous game though. If there is one thing I’ve learned playing this game, it’s pace. It’s the same as running a race. If you go really fast and push really hard, you can tire out early and be out of the game. If you pace yourself and learn your body, you can sustain a constant flow of energy towards your goals.

By nature, I’m a long distance runner. I’ve become in tune with my body physically. Becoming in tune mentally was an entirely separate struggle. When I was a new college student, I was eager to push my limits. In freshman year I went from engineering major, art minor, to engineering dual major, triple minor. I was a slave to my ambition, curious how far I could go.

Sophomore year came with higher credit loads and harder classes. 18 credit semesters turned into 22 credit semesters. The nights got later and the mornings got earlier. First semester junior year came. 7 engineering classes, 4 with weekly lab components. It was the only way to graduate on time with my course load. Get to school at 8AM. Leave at 2AM. Repeat every day. Stop eating, stop sleeping. I knew the third shift cleaning crew in the academic buildings on a first name basis.

That semester fall of 2013 nearly killed me. Even if I made it through the semester, I had a similar course load scheduled until my last semester senior year. That’s what would be needed to graduate on time. My measure of success was graduating on time. I NEEDED to graduate on time. I didn’t graduate on time.

Failure is an interesting beast. Until you meet failure eye to eye, you think it will eat you alive. The truth is, failure is quite docile. It is entirely what you make of it. I did finish that semester. I rolled into the pit stop with four flat tires and a blown engine, but I finished. Where I had failed was my perspective. My pass or fail metric I set to graduate two degrees in 4 years was flat wrong. The road I had set out for myself was going to do more harm than good. The hardest thing for over ambitious souls is finding the courage to quit.

The next semester I had originally scheduled was looking to be around 23 credits. Instead I moved to Arizona for an internship and did 14. I didn’t graduate with my class. Instead, I gave myself the time I needed to learn myself. I went for long runs, climbed mountains, read books, and started a business. Now I still get up early and work late, but I sleep at night and eat during the day. I learned a lot from shifting my perspective on success and failure.

I hope you learn your perspective and pace too. It can take a while, and will be painful at times. Just take the time to get a good night sleep while you’re at it. You deserve it.

Danny Lykens

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You'll either find Danny in his startup's office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.

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