31 causes of failure #3: lack of ambition

This is a continuation of my series on Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich that began with this post.

The Third Cause of Failure: Lack of ambition to aim above mediocrity

I was a high school athlete. I was a varsity tennis player, and I had my moments; I was a varsity member of the #4 team in my state my junior year, and I won a lot of critical matches both as a doubles and singles player. I received a few offers for college scholarships (for smaller schools) and I thought of myself as a “serious” player. I expected to be taken seriously as a player and as a competitor. But the truth of it was that I was never willing to spend time like my teammates did at paid summer tennis camps. I enjoyed playing but I hated practice and drills. If I had a conflict between practice and school events, I would skip practice. I had no real ambition to be anything other than a mediocre tennis player, and the result was that I put down my racket in college and have almost never played tennis again.

If you want to fail, plan to do “just enough to get by.” Sometimes that may work for a long time before you fail. You may be able to skate by in school, in work, in relationships, in health, in managing your money. But the simple truth is that in seeking to reach a goal only one of two things will happen eventually: you will succeed and achieve your goal, or you will not. Sometimes you may strive your whole life to achieve your goal and fall short. Sometimes you may not make any effort, but still you manage to tread water or even slowly float forward towards your goal. But you will fail or succeed eventually. If you have no ambition to become more than mediocre, you will automatically become mediocre. You must WANT to rise above mediocrity.

“We offer no hope for the person who is so indifferent as not to want to get ahead in life, and who is not willing to pay the price,” says Hill. He offers no further analysis, and this line says it all. If you do not want to get ahead, there is no point in hoping that someone else will help you. You may hope for the lottery, or a rich spouse, or some other grand stroke of luck but the simple fact is that if YOU do not have an ambition to succeed, nobody else will do it for you. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

What does success mean to you? A TV and a chair to watch it from? A Social Security check and a steady diet of strained peas? What are you willing to do today to have what you want tomorrow? What are you willing to do to help others now so that you will succeed in the future? Does the thought of being mediocre bother you, and if not, why not? Do you want to succeed or just pass the days until you are shipped off to a nursing home? What is stopping you from succeeding – is it you?

A moment most of us have had is the moment when we give up. We inwardly admit we won’t be the smartest, the funniest, the prettiest, the strongest, the happiest, the healthiest. And we think well, that’s OK. That’s the moment when you start living life on your knees. I rationalize it to myself as saying it’s learning to be happy with what you have, but that’s not what it is – it’s giving up. You have to want to excel, to succeed. Admitting your interests have changed is fine, but putting years of your life into a sport you are not crazy about just to pass the time is being mediocre. If you are engaged in an activity, be “in it to win it” – or get out and find something you CAN win at.