Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

Blog Notes Photos Links Archives About

On Dreams and Ambition

I found an old document I had written around 2012, six years ago, I’ll quote it in full here:

I remember when I was in high school, I made a bet with a classmate that I would be able to become president of the country before he could. Our wager was worth one cubic meter of solid gold.

A few years back, I made a wager with an officemate who was about to leave my company to go independent; I bet that I would become famous before he would. To win the bet, one would have to be named person of the year by a major international publication such as Time or Newsweek.

I'm still a dreamer, I always have been. Since I was young I've dreamed of accomplishing something great. 

I think everybody has a dreamer inside them, especially when they're young. But as we grow older and face the different trials and tribulations of life, they start to chip away slowly at our dreams. Everyday we make some simple decision that trades a part of those dreams for something pragmatic. 

We tell ourselves we'd just be working for a year or so, until we figure out what direction I wanted my life to take. We have so many options in this day and age; never has the barrier for entry into freelancing, entrepreneurship or innovation been so low. One year passes, then another and then yet another. But we still don't know where we want to go.

We say to ourselves; it's okay, I can work on my dreams in my spare time. I'll write a chapter a day. I'll code a few portions of my revolutionary web service after I get home. I'll do design work on my game on weekends. I'll brainstorm business ideas on the way to work. But when we come home from our daily grind, we're dead tired and just want to relax, or surf the web, or play games on our consoles. I'll start tomorrow, a familiar mantra. And days turn into weeks and turn into months and into years.

I need to get some experience first. I just need to save up some more money. I'm already doing pretty well, why ruin it? I'm pretty lucky to have a well-paying job in this economy, I'd be foolish to take risks now. I don't think I can maintain my lifestyle without my job. 

These are the lies we tell ourselves when we find ourselves wondering what happened to our dreams, when we wake up to find ourselves trapped in the loop of ordinary life.

In the end, we tell ourselves more lies. I could've been great. I never had any opportunities. If only I had gotten a break. 

And we end our days, humble and simple, having lived an ordinary life. Just another statistic in human history, just another cog in the great wheel of destiny. 

For some people, this ordinary life may be enough, and that's great for them. They will live out their ordinary lives with their ordinary ending and grow old and raise their kids and enjoy the company of their grandchildren and they'll be completely happy and satisfied with that.

That isn't my story. I don't want that to be my story. I'm greedy, I want more out of life. I don't want my dreams to die.

While I think I more or less still agree with the sentiment expressed above and recognize it within myself, I think the past six years have also added to my perspective in certain ways.

For one thing, at one point in the intervening years I suffered what I consider to be true burnout (I will write about it in more detail someday). That experience created a part of me that’s just weary of the world in general and just wants to rest and chill and enjoy life.

Having worked in a startup recently, I can see how much hard work it takes to try to reach for your dreams and build something for yourself. After having experienced burnout, I am not sure I am willing to put myself through the same level of stress I used to tolerate in the past, much less the additional stress involved with managing my own business.

For sure part of me still has that same ambition and fire from six years ago, that still hopes I’ll be able to figure out something clever and build something great and make a name for myself. But now there’s another part too, and that part just tells me that I’ve already worked hard enough, that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, that I’ve earned a break.

I know that this isn’t an option for anyone and I realize that I am quite privileged financially – having significant savings contributes to the fact that I can even consider taking a rest.

But this isn’t about financial security. This is more about two conflicting philosophies. The first is that you should work hard to get the most out of life (ambition). The second is that happiness should not be dependent on success (contentment). Ambition pushes us to keep reaching for ever-increasing heights; but too much ambition means we may never find contentment since we keep searching for something greater beyond the horizon. It’s a kind of delicate balance we need to walk. We need the fire of ambition to keep us moving forward, but we also need the wisdom of contentment to appreciate where we currently are.

Posted by under post at
Also on: tumblr twitter / 0 / 919 words