Are You Suffocating From Ambition? : Under30CEO Are You Suffocating From Ambition? : Under30CEO
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Are You Suffocating From Ambition?

| August 15, 2013 | 35 Comments

The Thinker

I had an epiphany the other day, perhaps the most significant one I’ve had in a long time.

Prior to this epiphany, there was an underlying problem: I didn’t understand why I felt a quiet, but constant, dissatisfaction with life. I have (enough) money, good health, a variety of friends, a strong desire for self-improvement, and an entrepreneur’s grit.

Yet, in spite of my good fortune, I felt lost and unproductive.

It finally occurred to me that my ambition was suffocating me.

For more than a year, the “philosophy of uncertainty” was a central point of inspiration for me.

The problem was that I associated uncertainty with wander, not explorative wander, but wander with the expectation of finding my true passion. In other words, I was hoping to stumble upon my destiny or meaning. Uncertainty had become my foundation. Seeing the world as ripe with potential, my thoughts and aspirations waded from one thing to the next, each supplying me with joy upon arrival and frustration upon departure.

My epiphany has taught me the true meaning of uncertainty, but I must discuss commitment first.

Buddha Quote

I felt lost because I was lost.

I was mentally jumping from one grand idea to the next, each time thinking, “This idea will finally fulfill me.” Alas, nothing had really enthralled me, but it wasn’t because of the quality of the ideas. Rather, the problem had been my lack of commitment. There are very few things that I’ve truly committed myself to accomplishing, and I suspect this is common among aspiring entrepreneurs. We often want the title “entrepreneur” so badly that we forget to focus on the most important quality of an entrepreneur: commitment.

There are two main theories when it comes to discovering a passion: you either instinctively know what your passion is, or you discover a passion by becoming an expert in something. Personally, my inherent passions are broad and theoretical- they are best pursued as hobbies, for now. On the other hand, I know well what I am becoming an expert in. In this regard, there is no uncertainty, there must only be commitment. I struggled with this realization for a long time because I wanted to be good at so many different things.

I didn’t want to feel confined to one subject matter. This desire, however, led me astray.

You have to be comfortable with viewing yourself as only a small part of a much bigger vision. Otherwise, you will strain to do everything, burn yourself out, and, ultimately, feel lost.

Socrates Quote

Uncertainty is important, but what it really boils down to is a reduction in the amount of control you feel you need to possess. In other words, if you concentrate on your expertise and the various other things that are crucially important to you (your core values), everything else will come together. Embracing uncertainty allows you to relinquish your fears and concentrate on what’s important. I made the mistake of looking at it as something to search for, which was a futile mistake, but it ended up being a good lesson.

Even though this article is mostly philosophical in nature, there is one solid point you should take away: it’s okay if your dream is dauntingly big as long as you’re willing to commit to it, leverage your expertise to achieve it, allow others to help you with it, and accept the uncertainty that inevitably surrounds it.

Jerad Maplethorpe is a self-taught web developer, aspiring entrepreneur, recreational philosopher and one to embrace the unexpected. Jerad believes in building technologies that bring like-minded people together in person. You can follow Jerad on twitter @maplethorpej.

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Category: Career Advice, Entrepreneurship

  • Cody Ward

    I really enjoyed this article and can relate to the “suffocating from ambition” feeling. I’m glad you summarized it with a next action, commit. Makes sense.

  • Sushrut Munje

    This is so well written, because we often find it difficult to describe these emotions, leave alone finding apt words for it. There are times when we’re uncertain of the direction in which we’re heading and yet things end up falling into place if we trudge along. We don’t realize it then, but looking we remember focusing on those few things we’re really good at. Because that’s all we knew :) That’s all we truly believed in and trusted. Struck a chord, mate. Best wishes and thank you.

  • Liz Flores

    Great post Jerad. I can relate to wanting to be good at everything and essentially not really focusing on one thing and just being “ok” at things. I have tried to embark on that quest to “find my true passion!” but have found that when you go looking you end up in that wandering state you were talking about where it eventually ends with frustration. Just like you said-concentrate on your expertise, what you love, and passion and fullfillment will find their way to you.

  • Ryan Walden

    Great article, really resonated with me. I’ve had one major entrepreneurial success already, but I’m 25 now and recently sold my company and am having a hard time figuring out what’s next. I definitely get frustrated with myself because I have a folder full of ideas on my desktop and haven’t gotten started on any of them.

    The funny thing about this is that I was still in college when I started my first venture. I had no experience in the real world, and because of that I was very eager to go after this goal. Mark Twain once said, “confidence and ignorance are a sure recipe for success”. It turned out to be way more frustrating and difficult than I could have ever imagined to get the company off the ground. And now, after seeing how difficult it is to start a successful company, even though I’ve already done it, I feel less willing to act on my new ideas.

    Anyway, I thought this article made some really good points and it’s good to know I’m not alone in battling the mental obstacles of being an entrepreneur.

  • Pete Osborne

    Jerad, this describes my last year (and the 15 before it) to a T. Then I read Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You (2012) ( If you want some evidence-based, practical advice on the process of how to find satisfaction (via a meritocratic method), it’s a compelling read. It helped me be more aware of my wandering, turn it into a purposeful, mindful pursuit and avoid burn out as I move to take control over my accomplishments, growth and advancement. Can’t recommend it enough.

  • Pete Osborne

    You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Derek Siver’s notes from So Good They Can’t Ignore You:

  • Mark Heptonstall

    Hi Jerad. After reading your article it sounds suspiciously like you’ve got a scanner personality like me. Most Entrepreneurs appear to be scanners. I highly recommend reading ‘Refuse to Choose’ by Barbara Sher (i’m currently reading this book) or doing a quick google search for scanner personality. In a nutshell people who are scanners don’t have ‘one true passion’ and they just love to learn and explore new things more than anything else. So I guess you could say their passion is learning. According to Barbara Sher there are many different types of scanners. To a scanner the thought of finding one passion and doing that one thing for the rest of their life fills them with dread. They need a constant source of new things to keep them motivated and stop them getting bored.

  • MattWilsontv

    Hey Jerad– awesome stuff here. Really cool that this article came from one of our Under30Experiences alumni and out of one of your Facebook Post that really inspired a lot of people…

    I really appreciate how you openly discuss with the audience your dissatisfaction with life, and how you have been chasing whatever supposedly comes along with being an entrepreneur (money, freedom, power). You can never have enough of these things, and if you get caught up chasing them it becomes a dangerous game.

    The one thing I’ve tried to tie my own personal identity to is the mission that I’m on. If i’m not attached to a mission or a message, I feel like I’m wandering aimlessly without purpose. Dedicating my own personal efforts to something greater than myself has really made a huge difference for me.

    Great stuff, thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Marisol

    Mark, thaaank you for your post!! It made me feel not the only one with these characteristics; the idea of doing something for the rest of my life without learning continuously was killing me! definitely I am going to read the book you propose. . hope it has a sort of solution or a way to work with it and still succeed :P hehe.

  • Darren Magarro

    Jerad, well said my friend. Solid commitment and allowing for help where your specialty doesn’t lie is so important. That knowledge of pledging yourself to achieve a goal can conquer restless feelings of uncertainty. My own personal struggles a few years ago revolved around understanding that I wasn’t who I was in my previous career life. I was something different and it takes time to come to terms with that. We each play a role because of our attributes in a bigger “movie” so to speak. I tell everyone at our agency. Know your role, do your job and ask BIG questions to learn what you don’t know. That culture has led our team to thrive and not be afraid to dream big and try new things.

  • maplethorpej

    Hey Cody,

    Thanks for the comment. It really is a bizarre paradox. Typically you think of ambitious people as knowing exactly what they want, but I’ve learned that that stereotype can be misleading. I’m looking forward to seeing where passionate commitment can lead me…

  • maplethorpej

    Hi Sushrut,

    You bring up a really good point about retrospect, that even though the wandering can seem aimless, it eventually leads us to realize that it was our path all along. I’m glad you enjoyed the read! I’m sure I’ll write some more soon.

  • Mark Heptonstall

    Hi Jerad, You’re welcome. I know exactly how you feel and I personally felt relieved and energized when I came across this description. I’ve been looking for that ‘one life passion’ for about 10 years! with no success because I kept getting bored. A lot of people are scanners including my role model the serial master himself Tim Ferriss. Barbara Sher’s book breaks down the different types of scanners and suggests ‘life design models’ and careers/businesses for each type so that you can still succeed. In fact she believes its a unique talent that can help you reach great levels of success. Also recommend checking out @emiliewapnick and her site Emilie uses the term multipotentialite but essentially this is the same as a scanner.
    All the best

  • maplethorpej

    Thanks Liz!

    I think my mind wandered to the concept of the “Hero’s Journey” (monomyth) quite often, where I would fantasize about grandiose accomplishments and praise. I’ve started to realize, however, that wander always leads you back to the beginning of your quest, the point at which you stop wandering and really focus…

  • maplethorpej

    Hey Ryan,

    I think your struggle exemplifies how difficult it is to really feel successful. Despite other people’s praise and, often, envy of your success, you can’t feel at ease with your position until your accomplishments are completely a result of your passion. I’d never heard that quote from Mark Twain before, but I think it holds a lot of truth!

    Thanks for sharing.

  • maplethorpej

    Hi Pete,

    I appreciate the book recommendation! It can be difficult to find books that resonate with a personal situation through the typical search-engine methodology. I’ll definitely give it a read.

  • maplethorpej


    I didn’t even know this was a real thing, and I’m sort of surprised to be learning this for the first time… I was really under the impression that the ‘passion of learning’ was just a guise for an inability to choose one passion in particular.

    Definitely going to read the book. In fact, I think I’ll make time to start reading it tonight. Thanks for sharing!!

  • maplethorpej


    You sum that up perfectly: “We each play a role because of our attributes in a bigger ‘movie’…” I’m certainly guilty of having tried to be a one-man show at times, and it can be an extremely frustrating process when you realize how much you just don’t know about certain topics. I’m strengthening my appreciation of people’s unique expertise, and that I should learn from them, but not try to become them.

    Thanks for sharing the advice!

  • maplethorpej

    Thanks Matt!

    The Under30Experience trip to Nicaragua really did a lot to widen my perspective of not only other cultures, but also the strength of individual personalities. As entrepreneurs (or aspiring entrepreneurs), it really seems that we have to embrace our eccentricities and become comfortable with the concept of continuous growth and learning.

    I think your advice on this issue is spot on. You’ve spoken about legacy and long-term impact before too, and I try to keep those ideas in mind when deciding what I should devote time to.

    This has been a great, unexpected progression of events. I’m glad there’s a platform like Under30 that addresses these under-appreciated topics. Thanks.

  • Jake


    Great post. I can totally relate to the suffocation. I always feel as if there will some huge sign that will say now is the time to jump, but I think the issue is being ready to jump (commit). I tell myself I am ready and willing, but like all great adventures the first step is always the hardest. Living a comfortable life makes it easy to ignore the signs or to justify reasons why something isn’t quite right to commit to.

    I find myself always wanting a situation to be perfect and to scream at me. The reality might be that I am just putting my headphones in and dismissing it…

  • Bob Moran – NJ

    Hi Jared,
    Thanks for that post. My personal journey has had many of the elements that you describe. Out of my personal entrepreneurial wandering, I’ve finally committed to my vision: my startup is aimed at entrepreneurs and VC’s under 35. (I’m 51).

    One thing I’m exploring is the role that fathers (their absence/dysfuntion) and fatherhood has on people like us.

    The site is up on WordPress and I’ve posted on reddit to find people that want to be part of a community to work together to find their path.

    I came across Under30CEO’s and feel like a prospector that (finally) found the mother lode.

    I’m intentionally NOT going to give the address here to avoid blog spamming.

    Wishing you the best on your continued journey!

  • Belinda Summers

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one, Jerad. It’s safe to say we’re not always satisfied with ourselves, because there’s this feeling that we should be doing more. Once we have reached to our fulfillment, there’s always something missing that we still have to keep pursuing. That’s why being uncertain is either a curse or a gift. Do we let questions to ourselves stay unanswered for the rest of our lives, or do we take action to get the answer we need?

  • Yasmine Khater

    Hi Great post!

    Thats exactly what happened to me over the past year and a half and now I have feel more relaxed because I am clearer and I wrote it down! I constantly look back at it to make sure if I am on track

  • Justin Tan

    Hey Jared, love the article. I’m a big fan of philosophy and definitely think it should play a bigger role in today’s world than it does. One of my favorite modern philosophers, Bruce Lee, had a great quote that captures the essence of this article, “Fear comes from uncertainty; we can eliminate the fear within us when we know ourselves better. As the great Sun Tzu said: “When you know yourself and your opponent, you will win every time. When you know yourself but not your opponent, you will win one and lose one. However, when you do not know yourself or your opponent, you will be imperiled every time.”

    I’ve been where you are/have been (and might not even be out of it yet), but I know it’s an essential part of the journey and when you get out of it, it’s an incredible feeling. I wish you the best on your journeys and hope to see more articles!

  • Michael Luchies

    Fantastic post! Spot on. This really made an impact on me and is something I am very guilty of as well. Thank you!

  • Tyson Hartnett

    Hey, I think it’s important to dream and have ambition, but, with entrepreneurs, it’s hard to control it all. That’s why meditation and other relaxation techniques are important. If you have a 9-5, you know what the next 3 months will look like. You will wake up, work, and come home. Not so with real entrepreneurs. They have a different schedule and tons of ideas. Some will work, and some won’t, and the hard part is creating a schedule for it all.
    Great article though. Powerful and real.

  • Jo

    Thank you for this article. I seems strange but most times I receive a news letter, it tackles something I am actually struggling with. I have always believed myself to be multi talented and did not want to confine myself to one field of expertise, but I really have been burning myself out. Time to re-evaluate my goals.

  • Andrea Francis

    Awesome article! I find this to be a difficulty as well. I boiled it down to having an interest in too many things and trying foolishly to try and cram them all into my life at the same time, getting no results. I find letting go of being controlling very hard, but when I can, the relief is great. But it’s something I struggle with daily.

  • Michael Amushelelo

    This article deserves an award, we all have dreams and it is up to us to turn them into a reality. Mary Kay Ash once said. “Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as you mind lets you. What you believe, you can achieve.” DREAM BIG OR GO HOME.

  • Geoff McNeely

    Ha! I’m reading it right now too! Plate Spinning Jack-of-all-Trades here… Mark, has Tim identified himself as a scanner? Or are you just extrapolating? I totally agree, but wonder if he has embraced the term. Thanks for the tip on!

  • Mark Heptonstall

    Hi Geoff, I identified myself as a plate spinner too. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on making the most out of your scanner type. I’m planning on setting up a business incubator for start ups. I don’t think Tim has identified himself as a scanner. Reading made me realize that he was one. Would be good if he embraced the term and brought it into the mainstream.

  • Geoff McNeely

    Interesting. I also want to set up a business incubator. I want to enable social startups/ B-Corps to create viable businesses around ideas with social impact. I’m just grokking the scanner types and starting to realize the potential. I just realized that “grok” actually is a scanner trait. Interesting. Find me on Facebook or LinkedIn and let’s connect :)

  • Mark Heptonstall

    Guys, you can’t have an interest in too many things! Being multi talented should be a gift not a hindrance. The world and society urges you to focus on and be an expert in one thing. Its this that’s wrong, not you. Google scanner personality, check out or read ‘refuse to choose’ by barbara sher. You just need to change your lifestyle a bit to allow you to carry out your many interests, make use of your many talents and be successful in many different things – not just one thing.

  • cesar romero

    @maplethorpej:disqus and to think you almost missed on Under30Experiences Nicaragua because of the damn glitch in American Arilines; I’ll be honest, I thought you were not going to make it for a second, but I’m happy you did my friend. I remember like it was yesterday, After your arrival at Mango Rosa the next day, we had departed to the city, you secured a ride with one of the drivers from Mango Rosa and met with us half way……what a trip!!!

    I really love your article because I identify with it so much. I always find myself trying new things but not committing myself enough to them to see them through. I guess it’s my way of experimenting and trying different things and really getting to know more about myself and what I like and don’t like, but one thing is for sure, I’m committed to a life in “Permanent Beta” mode; always a work in progress and never a finished product; always learning new things with the purpose to inspire and educate those around me.

    I think there will always be uncertainty, but as long as you believe in yourself and dedicate to an ideal, that uncertainty can be reduced by pure faith.

  • Jerad Maplethorpe

    I really like the “Permanent Beta” philosophy. I can definitely identify with having that mindset!