To be successful at most things you have to have ambition. If you don’t want it, then you’re never going to get it.
Let’s say you’re starting off and taking ballet (something you all should do, especially if your goals are remotely physical in nature). You come to class, do the plies and the rond jambes. You stretch, follow everything the instructor says, eat well, etc. If you do all of that you can still end up good. As long as you have a good instructor and put in the hours, you will likely end up as a good dancer. But to be more than that, to be great, requires something else.
That something else is ambition. Ambition is that fire in your heart, the tiger yearning to be unleashed. It is primal, yet methodical, passionate, yet thoughtful. You have to know you want to be the star of the Joffrey Ballet and put your all into it. Everyday when you show up to class you have to be alert, always working to improve yourself. For you ballet should not be something to relax the mind, it should be instead a gauntlet for your mental faculties.
None of this will likely come as a surprise to you, dear reader. I’m sure you could suggest quite a few books on the subject written by people much more successful in their respective fields than I in mine. What I aim to do here is not to write out a step by step plan on how to achieve success or how to establish a personal training regiment. Instead I merely aim to clear up a misconception.
I would bet that most people, if you pressed them hard enough, will tell you that they have an ambition, a dream. This is especially the case for those just starting out in their fields. They will tell you that one day they want to be on stage with Cirque du Soliel, to write for The New Yorker, or to run a mile in under four minutes. For me though, these are not ambitions, they are aspirations. You can copy the moves of the best jugglers or go through the motions of the best dance instructors, but to succeed you will need something else. You will need drive and you will need insight.
Drive is the straightforward one. You will need to practice on your own outside of class. You will need to adopt Churchill’s philosophy and only “be satisfied with the very best.” As a result you will constantly be needing to seek out new ideas, never stagnating.
What is less straightforward is insight. To be an artist, whether with a brush or with a sword, you must do more than imitate. Although you can still allude and reference, you must begin to make something uniquely yours. This doesn’t mean that you should forget those who came before you. Instead it means that your must internalize their ideas and play with them until something new emerges. This is what it means to be an artist.
Having high aspirations and setting goals are good for you. But to be truly great, you must be ambitious.