From Envy to Admiration: The Hard Path to Positive Ambition

Posted: 3 September, 2018

I love meaningful conversations.

I love learning from others, and in particular, I dearly enjoy the feeling of walking away from a discussion with something new, be it an idea, a suggestion, a story.

During arguments, I do my best to embrace the uncomfortable thrill of having my beliefs challenged: this is when the real learning happens. You destroy a wall in the construction that is your persona, that which defines your relationship to the world. Ideally, this makes room to build a more solid wall, based on better reasoning and more complete evidence.

The willingness to change one’s beliefs does not only come from discussions, but it can also be triggered by changing circumstances and conditions. Think of your personal experiences: Did something change in you when you accepted a new job? When you moved to a new country? When you decided that your long-term partner was not the right person for you anymore? My personal experiences suggest to me that a full view of ourselves should take into account our tendency to change in ways we cannot today anticipate.

While this is usually not an easy process, it can be surprisingly liberating.

Indeed, throughout the whole Entrepreneur First experience, which started with a painful resignation letter from a beloved academic job, and progressed to me becoming the CEO of a quantum software startup, one of the greatest realizations was that there could be no room for envy in this, my new adventure.

What do I mean by envy here? I mean the suffering caused by another person’s successes. I am confident that we have all succumbed to the lures of the demon of envy at some point in life. It is particularly tempting to let the demon sit on your shoulder in a fast paced, success-driven environment like Entrepreneur First. Imagine this: You are thrown into a room, with 100+ talented individuals. Impostor syndrome devours your soul from within. People all around enjoy sharing with you the successful stories of previous co-founders, who have exited their startups for millions of dollars. There seems to be little or no room for failure, you must be the best, you must win the race.

But of course, you are never ahead of the race. The finish line, assuming it even exists, always lies beyond the horizon, and you feel like you are on a treadmill, exhausted by an endless, strenuous run that is taking you nowhere.

This is when envy starts creeping up your back: When you see another company close their first contract. When a team receives an early investment from one of their family members or friends. When someone’s story sounds so much more exciting than yours.

In these moments, you have two choices.

The first choice is simple, just be resentful. Get angry at the injustice. Blame the situation on external causes. Look at your companions as adversaries, and compete with them. Remind yourself that business is a Darwinian game, and you must succeed, no matter what. Suffer through the experience.

The second choice is hard. It requires you to embrace other people’s successes as you would your own. And the first step to do so is to accept that numerous people are more talented than you. Some are more talented than you will ever be.

Is this realisation scary? Yes it is, because it is the bitter end to the fairy tale where we are the hero of our own story, and everyone else is just a secondary character.

Is this defeat? No it is not. In fact this is one of the most exhilarating experiences in life. Once you stop trying to be the best person in the room, you can finally step back, relax, and wholeheartedly admire the people you are sharing a big part of your life with.

You can observe them. You can recognise their talents. You can learn from them.

This makes a big difference in how you approach your own work. Envy is made of dry, dead soil. No seed can sprout, things are bound to remain the same. Constructive admiration, on the other hand, is a fertile land. When paired with ambition and introspection it gives you the necessary space to grow and to improve.

Envy or admiration? The choice is yours.

The envious path is counter productive on a Founder’s journey. Envy and jealousy eat away at you, and bend you to define yourself and your endeavours within the context of others. This process is limiting and narrow minded.

So my proposition is to replace envy with admiration. I am ambitious, but I do not want my ambition to be driven by insecurity and jealousy. I want my ambition to be driven by respect, and appreciation for the people who are better than me.

At Entropica Labs we have undertaken a big challenge, creating software and algorithms to solve some of the hardest computational problems in the life sciences using quantum computers.

And we are very privileged. Thanks to Entrepreneur First, we are surrounded by some of the most talented and ambitious people on the planet. And I am not envious of them. On the contrary, I am humbled to be able to learn from their personal stories, successes, and even failures! My job, then, is to take these lessons with me, to help me do my part to bring quantum computing to the real world, and to make Entropica an outstanding company where people can grow, learn, and do exciting and meaningful work.