The Difference between Ambition, Dedication, and Opportunity

courtesy of Jason T Clark


Some have it. Some don’t. Many don’t realize what it is. Merriam Webster’s definition of ambition is the “desire to achieve a particular end”. Simply put, it is the WANT to successfully complete something. The want and the desire to do something is important, but standing alone without the dedication and opportunity, your ambition will simply smolder in the basement of your conscience. I’ve struggled with having the desire to become a games developer for many years, not matching this desire with the dedication to seize the opportunity it also takes to achieve it. However, it is desire that serves as the fuel for dedication. Ambition is measured in liters, meaning that the more of it you have, the more you can tap into it to get the dedication you’ll also need. You cannot be dedicated- favorably dedicated that is, to software development without the ambition to succeed. Necessity sometimes tries to take on the guise of ambition, but as I’ve explained to my children, needs and wants are on two totally different levels. People needjobs. They want careers. People need to go to work. They want to be excited about the work they are doing. Ambition can mask itself as necessity, especially if your ambition is strong, but not the other way around. This means that I have the ability deliver on tasks that I need to do, but if I’m being honest to myself about that, I must also recognize that I’m not going to be as good at those things- not as good as I would be with the things that I am truly ambitious about.

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Some have it. Some don’t. Many know what it is and cannot make the sacrifice. Merriam Webster defines dedication as “self-sacrificing devotion”. The reality of this is that we at times only see the fruits of others’ self-sacrificing devotion. We see the success. We see the 1M downloads numbers. We see the championships won. What we don’t see (typically) are the long days and nights spent huddled around a dimming screen, trying to figure out why the hell your AI code is making your enemies all huddle together in the corner of your level for no reason, and that you’re practically tearing your hair out over it. Indie developers know that this occurs- those things happen that make us want to throw up our hands and give up. This is why I enjoy postmortem talks, simply because I get to see what’s behind the curtain. The things that gave our peers pain. The failure. The breakthroughs. Knowing that the success of others was a direct derivative of the same kind of dedication that you may have to employ is reassuring that success is possible, even when at times you cannot clearly see it. When your success is invisible, it is at these times when ambition kicks in and fuels your dedication to a point where success is not the end game scenario- it is the process of doing what you love that makes you happy, and not what makes you rich. Personally, this is a lesson that I am learning right now. Unfortunately, we all have external phenomena that we are equally, if not more, devoted to. A wife. A family. Your children. Your DAY job (if moonlighting is your alter ego). As long as you remember that the more you devote yourself to one, you sacrifice your commitment to the other(s). Time is a pink diamond.

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Ambition, check. Dedication, check. Great product, check. Now, where’s the money? Where’s the publishing deal? Where’s the merchandising deal for plush toys at Build-a-Bear? Opportunity is the black swan. As Taleb defines, it is a highly unpredictable event. I agree with this position, only slightly. Timing (opportunity) vs. Time (Dedication). If time is precious, then in my mind the correct timing is a very special occurrence. However, though it seems impossible, there are ways to predict the future and arrive at the ‘right time’. Meteorologists and the arrivals/departure boards do it all the time, right? Yes, and they also get it wrong. If you’re paying attention at all, we analyze market data, and trends. We even clone- all trying to match other’s success. With careful analysis, there are moments when the future can sometimes be predicted by looking at history. Other times, the dumbest video posted on YouTube gets 4 million views almost overnight. What am I saying here? Be prepared. Whether your predictions yield themselves to be true, or whether opportunity falls out of the sky, your ambition and dedication is what allows you to take the game winning shot with confidence.

Ambition we have. An ideal balance of dedication is what we want. The perfect opportunity is what we need to turn your 4 hour/night gig into your dream career.

Go get ’em, tiger.