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If you paused for a moment before answering, that’s a good sign. It means you’re aiming big enough that even you think you might be crazy.
No one ever achieved something great by reaching for low-hanging fruit, so it’s good to be on the border between delusional and ambitious.
But does it really matter which one you are? Can both be good?
Ambition is good, sort of
When growing up, many people are told, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Such encouragement is supposed to engender a sense of ability and capability, positive notes for anyone. Sometimes this idea sticks and people go on to think and do big things.
Other times it leaves people with a sense of entitlement and imaginary accomplishment. These people think, “I know I could do better than so-and-so, but I just don’t want to (or, more commonly, “I don’t have time”). They feel capable without showing they are actually able.
So ambition is good, but not if it just leads to wanting to do well. Ambition must be paired with action and execution to be truly meaningful. Otherwise, it’s just a daydream.
Delusional is better
According to Psychology Today, delusional people are happier and more productive. The first part isn’t too surprising – after all, ignorance is bliss. But delusional people also tend to be more productive, which is less obvious. Why? Because delusional people are more optimistic about completing goals, and humans, as emotional beings, are more likely to work toward (and execute on) goals we think we have a good chance of completing.
Another benefit is that delusional people imagine and build the impossible. Elon Musk was completely delusional about his company, Space X, sending a private spacecraft into orbit and then docking with the international space station. That was impossible and ridiculous, and he did it.
Walter Isaacson talks repeatedly about Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” and how it enabled him to push boundaries and do the impossible. Delusional people are disruptive (which is why we often dismiss them), but they advance great things even in failure.
How to get there
The best way to move from ambitious to delusional is to constantly reevaluate goals and look back on past successes that made you most proud. Those wins were probably not layups. Rather, they were likely long shots that worked, or a payday that resulted from measured risk and months of hard work.
If you haven’t thought of yourself as crazy in a while, you’re probably not delusional just yet. Look for areas you can really stretch and push boundaries. That’s where you can really shake things up.
Everyone wants to succeed, but it’s only the ones who set crazy goals and do the requisite work who log big wins. The idea of being delusional is scary to some, and totally necessary to others.
So if you want to make a splash, start looking to the “crazies.” They’re usually on to something.
Tim Murphy is a writer and the founder of ApplyMate – a free job application tracking tool. When he’s not writing about career issues and entrepreneurship, Tim is running, writing gear reviews, and eating his way through Chicago.