The 1 Common Outlook I Find In People I Admire Most

wooden stairs near mountains

This week I listened to Cal Newport’s Deep Questions podcast. He led with a topic I am going to expand on here: ambition without burnout.

To do so, we’re going to lay out 3 broad categories of ambition.

3 types of ambition

  1. No ambition
  2. Pragmatic ambition
  3. Grand ambition

Let’s explore the pros, cons, an example, and define each of these.

No AmbitionNo goals.You can be more present.Can be boring or unsatisfying.
Grand AmbitionNEED to be the best.You accomplish great or inspiring things.Never have enough.
Pragmatic AmbitionProgressively get better.You get the satisfaction of getting better.Won’t be THE best.
ambition archetypes

Someone with no ambition might take on the worldview of, “what’s the point?” Hard to find a public example of this.

Someone with grand ambition would be like Tom Brady, Michael Jordon, Gordon Ryan, or Elon Musk. They accomplish inspiring things and become the best in the world at what they do, but there is also a tinge of sadness. You get the feeling that they probably won’t ever be happy.

Someone with pragmatic ambition seems to ratchet their skills up over time, setting goals for themselves that they know will be satisfying, and knowing when to walk away. Cal Newport gave the example of Bill Watterson, author of Calvin & Hobbes. He progressively got better, made a big impact on his industry, then, once he had enough, turned down deals that would have scaled his business and walked away from it all. To this day he doesn’t give interviews, and, as far as people know, he spends his time painting somewhere in Ohio.

The people I look up to most have pragmatic ambition punctuated by fulfilling & challenging work, a fit body, and a seemingly happy home life. This is promising, because pragmatic ambition is achievable and satisfying.

You won’t hear this talked about much, but it does seem like a great path to go down.

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If you’d like to listen to Cal’s full talk, check it out here⬇

One Comment

  1. I’ve never seen these ambition mindsets laid out like this. Attention always goes to the Tom Brady / MJ mindset. Love seeing the pragmatic alternative as well. Pragmatic ambition probably gives more space for a overall balanced life!


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