Hidden Ambition

Why does everyone hide their true ambitions from the world?

  • We’re scared of losing, but we’re terrified of being called a loser.

We’re trained to do this from an early age.

  • We grew up watching elementary school bullies pick on the “nerds”.
    • If you’re like me, you were usually the target of the teasing.
  • It’s easy to internalize the idea that being ambitious isn’t cool.

We still follow schoolyard rules.

  • Social media is full of bullies making fun of anyone ambitious or optimistic.
  • We talk about the same things as everyone else, but we’re curious about so much more.

Remember the age before bullies?

  • When someone asked you wanted to be when you grew up, and you’d earnestly answer something like ‘ballerina’ or ‘astronaut‘?
  • Kids are more honest with themselves and others because they’re not afraid of being judged.

Let’s bring back that childlike sense of truth, wonder, and optimism!

Send your kids to NASA Space Camp! (Kennedy Space Center has camps for adults too!)

The 3 Lies That Keep Ambition Hidden:

Lie #1: You have to be a genius to be super ambitious and successful.

  • Famous people purposely create a mystique around their success.
    • It’s good for their brands to have dramatic origin stories.
  • But celebrities and billionaires are surprisingly normal people.
    • Including all the same insecurities and anxieties as the rest of us.
  • The biggest difference is that these people got comfortable taking risks.
    • And they persisted long enough to succeed.

Lie #2: Success is all about money.

  • Media likes measuring success by dollars because it’s easy to count and compare.
    • This turns people off from appearing ambitious because they don’t want to look greedy.
  • Success is about changing lives.
    • Start with your family and expand.
  • How many lives have you already impacted? How many more could you impact?
    • This list is longer than you might think!

Lie #3: You have to struggle and be in pain to be successful.

  • It’s possible to be very ambitious and very happy at the same time.
    • The key is celebrating the progress you’ve made (the “gain”), not obsessing over where you’re going (the “gap”).

Let’s All Be More Ambitious!

You can change people’s whole lives just by encouraging them to be more ambitious.

  • Young people are especially open to this encouragement.
    • They just need one person to really believe in them.

Parents unintentionally limit their kids’ ambitions.

  • How many dreams have ended with the question: “What would my parents think?”

Parents have the right intentions but send the wrong signals to their kids.

  • Kids will work towards their parents’ dreams for them even if that’s not what they really want to do.

Adults have to unlearn this negative conditioning.

  • We can increase our happiness in the present and ambition for the future by letting these limiting beliefs go.

We have to give ourselves the freedom to be more ambitious.

  • We are usually our own harshest critics.

What is the most ambitious work you could be doing?

I’m really asking: What would you do if you could do anything?

  • Send me your answer!
    • I’d love it if you answered publicly!
    • If you’d like to tell me privately, DM or email me.
      • Just be prepared for me to encourage you to publicly share your dream with the world!

Life is too short to be anything other than our truest, most extraordinary selves

“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

— Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society, quoting Walt Whitman‘s poem O Me! O Life!

What will your verse be?


Hidden Ambition is on my list of The World’s Biggest Problems.

  • This idea is a work-in-progress. If you’d like to riff on it, hit me up @neilthanedar on Twitter.

Published by Neil Thanedar

Neil Thanedar is an entrepreneur, investor, scientist, altruist, and author. He is the founder & CEO of Utopic, his startup studio. He is also the founder & chairman of Air to All, a 501(c)3 nonprofit medical device startup, and Labdoor, a consumer watchdog with $7M+ in funding and 20M+ users. He previously co-founded Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has worked with community organizations since 2007 and political campaigns since 2016 to fight for better education and economic opportunities in Michigan.