Highly ambitious, highly motivated, driven – I keep seeing these words used in almost all CVs I receive for a review.

Recently I saw a candidate who had all 3 written on it – I casually asked what is ambition, what is motivation, and what is drive? What is the difference between the three?

Here is how I make distinctions between ambition, motivation, and drive. 

Ambition seems to stem from knowledge. The knowledge that there can be a better future than the current situation.

It often happens when you are exposed to what is possible. One way to drive ambition is to hang around with people way more successful than you in the area where you want to nurture your goals to feel what is indeed possible. It could be businessmen, artists, whichever is your chosen field.

Motivation is what creates action toward those ambitions.

But ambition does not translate to motivation because 99 percent of us know there can be a better future, better health, better relationship whatever.

And motivation comes from the feeling of certainty it is personally possible for you to do it yourself. Not just for that someone you saw on video or someone else model on, but for you personally as an individual. So a great video may trigger your ambition but not the motivation. This is also why once you have done something once, it is easier to do the next time.

The amount of action you will take is directly proportional to the level of certainty that you can achieve the goals you are working towards.  

The 3rd component is what keeps this motivation on and on – what is the fuel, or the drive?

A lot of people give up after a certain level or a certain number of tries, some people keep going and keep pushing till they succeed and some.

The drive is what maintains motivation and keep them going through tough times.

Drive seems to stem from deep desires or needs.

1. Need to feel unique/ be heard and want to stand apart :

2. Need for growth

3. Need for contribution

4. The thrill of solving problems.

Examining what drives someone is critical because success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.

1. Need for significance and feeling special – 

I consider this the lowest quality drive – This stems from the fact that I believe all animals including humans are clones of each other. However, each individual is made to feel unique, so it follows the genetic programming of survival and procreation making sacrifices to keep the species going. The level of uniqueness is adjusted to the level of the intelligence of the species. Ants feel they belong to a group based on specific smells, for penguins, it is based on unique sound, humans based on faces, color and a host of other features including concepts we make up like nationality, etc added in to keep them in the genetic survival game. However, in the end, we are all in the same game along with the ants. Hence their need to feel significant is a futile exercise at best and in some cases, they become obnoxious to deal with an end up power-hungry and alone.

A lot of good can happen to the world by these people, like a bee collecting honey selfishly and pollinating the plants as a consequence – but those who chase significance often end up alone and alienating others.

2. Need for growth :

In life, everything is either growing or dying. So we all have a need to see the increase, Learjet used to use a famous line on their advertising “progress is everything” Excessive focus on growth at all costs can be terribly bad if it leads to bad decisions. When we see some startup companies sacrificing everything else in the name of growth, and suddenly the CEO has to be replaced because they “grew too fast” etc. comes from excessive focus on growth.

3. Need for contribution:

Some people will join Elon Musk’s team because they find his vision appealing. They may feel the need to contribute, giving them a few thousand dollars more will not motivate them to switch to another company, contribution focused people are often, and they need to see that their contribution is valuable and is leading to the growth of the company and their careers. People who are attracted to a companies vision are those who feel that have something to contribute to that. They leave when they feel the vision is just a statement copied from somewhere or their contribution is not valued.

4. The trill of solving problems and puzzles: 

Richard Feynman despised the noble prize, he did not even bow to the guy who was giving it to him and later called it a burden. He was not driven by significance – this often happens to people who figure out that “feeling special is just a variable to fool all animals.”

Another person who thinks that every life is equal and spends time-solving more and more essential puzzles is Bill Gates.

These people are driven by natural curiosity to discover and who sees learning or the journey itself is the reward. They may vary in their level of ambition, and motivation, but this is their drive.

I am off to meet the next highly ambitious motivated and driven candidate.