The Joys of Wandering Through Life Where Opportunity Tugs — Without a Map

Am I ambitious? I’d like to think so.

But when I talk to many young people, especially entrepreneur types, I often think to myself, “Whoa, these people are way more ambitious than me.” I’ve come to learn, however, that these people are not exactly more ambitious than me, they simply craft and articulate their ambitions in a different way.

See, I’ve never said to myself, “I want to be the president” or “I want to be a Fortune 100 CEO” or “I want to make a million dollars by age X” or whatever. My parents have never said to me, “Ben, you can do or be anything you want, shoot for the sky!”

Rather, I’ve just lived year by year, slowly but surely ratcheting up my activities. I never said, “I want to be a CEO one day!” I just started building a company. I never said, “I want to publish a book by the time I’m 18!” I simply started writing a book and, sure enough, one day it got signed by a publisher.

It seems I often skip the “dreaming” phase. Maybe this is a good thing? One of the most brilliant business quotes of all-time is the Southwest Airlines Chairman Herb Kelleher: “We have a ‘strategic plan’. It’s called doing things.” I could adapt it: “I have a life plan and strategy. It’s called doing things.” The nice thing about not having too long-term a plan or living your life in pursuit of “a dream” is that it provides enormous flexibility for taking advantage of whatever life throws at you.

Although I do have some kind of larger vision — mostly around impacting on the world — in general I take life day by day, week by week, month by month. The only thing for certain is that tomorrow I have six hours of meetings, Thursday I have a coffee, two lunches, and a call, etc. Each day life pulls you in various directions and, like it or not, we’re often reacting. We have to do our best to make the most of the circumstances and try to do stuff doing that time instead of simply talking about what we’d like to do.

As much as I believe in “goal setting,” aiming high, and being open about your ambitions for sucking the marrow out of life, for me, the path of “wandering where opportunity tugs without a map” works splendidly, too.

10 comments on “The Joys of Wandering Through Life Where Opportunity Tugs — Without a Map
  • Yes, it is quite interesting to see everyone’s different styles. While most, the majority, like to believe set your goals for long term. Others will say, don’t worry about long term goals, only worry about day to day goals, he says “I promise you, if you hit all of your daily goals you will hit all of your long term goals.”

    Like yourself, Donald Trump doesn’t even plan his day he mentioned in something I read. He goes to build his buisness not really sure whats going on that day. Sure seems like personal perference now, matter of taste, I do not believe it a matter of truth to which way is better.

    Who is your publisher?

  • I wish I had that attitude to and understanding of life’s “mechanics/dynamics” when I was 18 (I am 39 now).

    I have always been overambitious, setting goals way too high. It did allow me to achieve a lot, though – when you aim high you are bound to be at least “above average” (or fail completely). Yet I was never satisfied with “good enough” (which drove my business partners mad as they thought I had to accept that even the 3rd place is OK).

    Well, we can only learn so much and a certain pace. All I can do now is to keep learning and to pass on my and other people’s wisdom (Ben is a good source of it) to people around me, especially my friends’ children (who are just starting to enter the phase when it pays to have a clear picture of life ahead).

  • How can anyone know what they’ll want to be in the future?

    When I was 8, I wanted to be a submarine designer.

    When I was 12, I wanted to be a science fiction author.

    When I was 16, I wanted a girlfriend (a goal that was hampered by the fact that I was already a sophomore at Stanford at the time, and that my taste ran to sexy 21-year-old seniors, making my objectives both unlikely and illegal).

    When I was 21, I wanted to be a millionaire.

    When I was 25, I wanted to take my company IPO.

    Now that I’m 32, I want my kids to be happy, and to be able to take a nap when I’m tired.

    Plans change. We change.

  • Great posting…I completely agree.

    I had a very famous professor at OSU (now in jail for insider trading) who said “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” and I certainly agree that planning is good because it can provide a direction and a destination. But for me, as Ben mentions, the real key to successful planning is in the doing. Planning is not useful because it says where you’re going or what you’ll be, but because it gets you doing by showing you where to start.

  • I always tell myself that I don’t need to become an entrepreneur. In fact that is not my goal at all. I’m really into the spirit of it. I do though see myself as an intrapreneur rather than an entrepreneur.

  • This was one of your most interesting posts! I am not much of a planner, either. When I was younger, I used to come up with really fanciful schemes that I would never follow through on. At some point, though, I became the type of person who preferred doing things to dreaming about them. Anyway, instead of planning things, I just try to seize whatever opportunities come my way or place myself in positions where there are more opportunities. Oh, and I never travel with a map. The whole “100k” thing is probably the second goal I’ve ever had (with the first being going to an Ivy League school (basically beaten into me since childhood)).

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