Ambition In A World Of Mediocrity

Updated: November 4, 2014


By Marty Skovlund

Ambition is often lauded as an amicable quality, but in reality anyone who possesses this quality is often in receipt of disdain by many in our modern society. It’s a painful truth; we tell our kids to have ambition and were probably told that ourselves growing up. But the words and actions of many in our country just do not match up with that sentiment.

The dutiful yet very mediocre employee who does their work at a consistently ordinary level and tackles the weekly 9-5 in hopes of some day retiring at 65 and receiving a modest pension to supplement their social security check is seen as honorable and appreciated for their contributions to the company or community.

They don’t really make any waves; they just fly under the radar, doing as they are told. Maybe they even sneak in an occasional game of solitaire or minesweeper on the clock, but that’s about as daring as they get. It’s a safe lifestyle. They know what to expect day-to-day, week-to-week. They have predictability in their paycheck. They hope to maybe get a raise, or maybe a promotion if the opportunity presents itself – like a superior who finally retires. Certainly they are not to be looked down upon, I’m not suggesting that at all. They typically are in receipt of neither disdain nor praise… it’s emotionally safer that way.


There is the ambitious individual who attacks everything in site with fire in their eyes and is never satisfied. Who shows up an hour early and stays four hours late, sacrifices security for the chance at something bigger… something better, who makes the hard decisions and never settles for mediocrity. They are painted as the evil in the world. The ones who crush others’ dreams under the weight of their drive and ambition. They are labeled as “opportunistic,” “greedy,” or “with out a soul.”

The entrepreneur who works for twelve hours a day, and studies for another eight, who sells everything they own in the hopes of keeping the doors open just one more month, who tells their spouse at least twice a month, “We are almost there, I promise!” They secretly weep from constant self-doubt, questioning their own sanity, their own ability to execute. Finally though, they make their business successful and profitable, only to be told that he or she is a “Greedy, capitalistic, corporate monster who cares about nothing but becoming rich!” They are spit on when their gamble doesn’t pay off and they find themselves on the streets, and they are cursed at when it does pay off and they are building or buying their dream house and driving their new car.

The athlete who runs until they cough up blood, who lifts until their hands are blistered and bloodied. They put in the hours on the court, in the pool, on the field that others spend on their couch. They play through sprained ankles, bruised ribs, and concussions. While their friends enjoy nights of drinking, they are running sprints under the street lamps. When they make it to the pinnacle of their sport, they are asked, “Why does anyone need to be paid that much to play a game?” They are told that the fruits of their labor are God-given, not borne of their blood and sweat.

shutterstock_91060538The soldier who stays up after lights out in basic training doing push-ups, sit-ups and flutter kicks. Who volunteers for the shit details, asks to be first out the door on an airborne jump, and studies long creeds and unit history in their time off. They never settle for the minimum standard, yet they are ridiculed when they volunteer for a SOF selection. When their hard work pays off and they are selected for service in a special operations unit, they are told that they, “don’t know what it’s like to be a grunt, are spoiled with excessive unit funds and training opportunities, and get off easy with shorter deployments.”

We live in a jealous society, not one that overwhelmingly supports ambition. We are often either too good or not good enough. Our past mistakes or our future ambitions are laughed and pointed at by almost everyone around us. In reality, those who laugh, who point, who stymie our progress or ambitions, are too scared or not capable of doing the same. There is comfort in being surrounded by people who live a similarly mediocre life. Who have the same mediocre excuses for not pursuing greatness. Mediocrity is honorable… and ambition is demonized.

To the entrepreneur who lives on food stamps, the athlete who buys their shoes and equipment second-hand, the service member who feels the deep burn of their ruck on Saturday morning, I say to never give up. Your ambition is not only welcome in the right circles, it is expected. You may experience a hundred defeats on the way, but your persistence, hard work, and ambition… will pay off ten-fold. You will lead teams, businesses, cities, states and nations. You will set the example for hundreds, thousands, or even millions. You will defend freedom from the shadows, or provide new jobs when others are cutting them. Those who are jealous at heart will hate you, but no need to worry. You never were, and never will be… mediocre.


Marty Skovlund, Jr. is the CEO of Blackside Concepts and the author of Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror.




  1. Sandho

    November 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Good way to explain what ambition is. Unfortunately too many promotion minded SNCO’s confuse ambition with politicizing and replace hard work with throwing anyone under the bus possible in order to get a leg up.

  2. JG

    November 4, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Amen. Closed my real estate business penniless, and under a mountain of debt, moved my family to a new state with a better economy, started at the bottom with a small company, never turned down overtime, night or weekend work, got hired by a fortune 500 company with a promotion becasue I was noticed by a manager I worked with, and moved to a tiny little mining town, lost that job after 2 years due to a reorg, got hired by a different fortune 150 company and had to move 3 states away, 4 months later this company announces a reorg and that my job is going away….a director in another part of the company is looking for someone to run one of his major markets, and keeps hearing my name brought up and how hard I work. Long story short, I get offered a job in another state with a promotion. My reward…more hard work, and a great opportunity to prove myself again!!! I learned long ago from my Airborne NCO mentors that you may be broken, bloodied, and battered but you are NEVER beaten.

  3. Josh

    November 4, 2014 at 11:23 am

    I refuse to accept mediocrity. I found this quote as a child, and it reminds me every day that the haters do not matter.

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

    Remember, those who aspire to be in the crowd, do not count. Instead, choose to bleed in the arena.

    • JG

      November 4, 2014 at 4:22 pm


      I have that quote on the mirror in my bathroom, so I can read it every morning. The quote that sits right next to it is,”I am not judged by the number of times I fail but by the number of times I succeed, and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail and keep trying!” It helps me start the day off in the right frame of mind.

  4. Rook

    November 5, 2014 at 8:34 am

    This is great. What a great reminder. I needed this.

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