Ambitions: As CEO and Just Starting Out

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We all have them, but in order to realise them efficiently and be happy, we have to dig deeper than we usually think.

I have spent the last 8 years working with structuring my ambitions and organising and thinking about them in a way that makes it more likely to come true as well as feel fulfilling when realised. Running an animation company, any company really, requires you to be good at setting goals and reaching them — I believe this to be true for anything though, personal life or professional, company owner or not.

I have discovered a fair few things about what works for me and I thought I’d share them with you:

What do you want to accomplish? It can be today, this week or over a lifetime. Ambitions can have any size and shape — they are personal to you and that’s how you should keep them. Not a secret, but free of whatever perception and expectation you might think others have of you.

I have been teaching a fair few times and always begin by having a talk with the students about their ambitions.
There are always at least a handful, who want to work for one of the big studios and the conversation always goes something like this:

Me: Why do you want to work for one of the big studios?
Student: I get a fair salary, I work on amazing projects, I have great creative colleagues and I get to spend the time it takes to do quality work.
Me: Sounds great — what if you could have this, all the same things, but at another company — not one of the big studios, but somewhere else — would you take the job?
Student: Yes (I have never encountered a no 🙂 )
Me: Okay, let’s say then you can have all the things you mentioned, but it’s not at one of the big studios and the salary is low. You can get by fine, but it’s on the low-end — would you take the job? It’s still an amazing project, great creative colleagues and you get to create quality work.
Student: Yes (Haven’t gotten a no here yet either 🙂 )
Me: Okay, say then that you have all the above, but the project you are offered to work on is not interesting to you. It’s quality, but you don’t resonate with the designs and the story. It’s a salary, the team is great and you get to spend the time it takes doing quality work — do you take the job?

This is usually where they have to start to really think, because this starts to be a compromise of their true ambition. Compromises are usually something that is very hard if not impossible to avoid to some extend, which is why this critical thinking is so important. Don’t chase a job at a certain place if all criterias can be met just as well somewhere else. This usually leads to a bland feeling of not being happy even though your ambition was realised — but was it your true ambition?

The conversation with the students then explores a few more varieties to let them discover whether colleagues, project, money or quality of work is most important to them so they can plan towards whatever ambitions will make them happy to achieve.

We spend so much time focusing on our careers that the least we can do is to make sure that every step we take is a step in the right direction towards a better life.

Find your true ambitions, be aware of the compromises that come and how they will affect your goal. If a compromise renders an ambition unrecognisable or undesirable, maybe it isn’t worth pursuing anymore. Only you can decide for yourself, so practice listening to and trusting that gut feeling — it takes bravery and honesty to first find your ambition and begin to realise it.

Setting Up For Opportunity

Once you’ve discovered your true ambition, again this can be small or big, you want to realise it!

Most ambitions are not easily realised and they require a plan. It may take money, a team of people and more to realise your ambition, and your ‘job’ is to create the best opportunities for your ambition to be successfully realised.
One easy way to begin doing this is to be open about your ambition. Tell it to friends, family, co-workers — people at bars who want listen! Don’t be afraid to share. In a lot of cases opportunity comes through network — people can’t help you if they don’t know you exist or what you’re thinking/hoping to do. This is also a great way to practice your pitch and it can even serve as a way to begin protecting your IP if your ambition is a project of sorts 🙂

What I like about this is that you begin creating a positive stream of trusting in others, transparency and passion and this usually circulates back to you eventually. If you talk passionately and honestly about your ambition chances are that you inspire people, they will remember you for that feeling, maybe not even your ambition, but just that feeling, and they’ll want to help you. This usually also connects you to the opportunities best suited for your ambition.

Another thing about opportunities is that they can come from places you didn’t expect and at times that can seem even inconvenient right away. I think it’s very important to always be open to opportunity — always be ready to pivot your ambition — it might be for the better! Your life isn’t a to-do list you need to check off and the better a journey you can create for yourself striving to realise your ambitions the better.

At every opportunity — go back and revisit your original true ambition — the one you set out to realise after critically looking at it and boiling it down to its essence. Now do this again and apply this new opportunity to it. Will it further your ambition? Is it a way to realise your ambition, but it comes with a compromise? Find out and trust your gut feeling. Don’t blindly move ahead just because it might take you to the end-goal — again, the goal isn’t to just realise your ambition, it is to successfully realise it.
Say an opportunity I get for my animated film is that an investor will give me the entire budget of the film, but it’s 70% of what my already stretched budget is. Sure, I can get to do the film, realise the ambition, but I’d have to either work insane hours, pay the crew less than what they are happy with etc etc. This opportunity might take you all the way, but you might not arrive and be able to recognise your true ambition anymore.
Opportunities like these are tempting and we will all probably fall in once or twice, but hopefully then learn from it.

Another important part of creating opportunities for yourself and your ambition is to dare believe in reality to surprise you. It is so common that people don’t want to ask for what they want, because you might just be turned down — get a no. Getting a no is not fun at all, but it clears your mind about the ‘what-if’s’ and allow you to look ahead.
In my experience reality will surprise you — people will surprise you — and you get to move forward rather than treading waters around something. Ask! Most people admire the courage it takes to do so — this also goes for the people who can help you realise your ambition.

Trust in yourself, trust in your ambitions — good luck realizing them 🙂

Frederik — Co-founder and CEO of Craft.

Why not start now? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.