Ambition vs. Opportunity

How unexpected detours and surprising pivots lead to the most rewarding destinations

Ambition is overrated. At least the laser-focused, heads-down, charge towards a singular goal type of ambition. That might get you from Point A to Point B. But what if real success comes from zig-zagging to Point Z instead?

That realization didn’t come from the depths of a self-help book but the twists and turns of my  professional journey. Let me explain… 

The itch to start my own business was relentless. Surrounded by tech enthusiasts, I too dreamt of launching a successful software startup. Over the years, I experimented with various ventures, from a sports sponsorship platform I co-founded at 18 to a content analytics app to help show brands who was sharing their content online. Yet, none truly took off.

Then one weekend during COVID-19 lockdown, when banana bread recipes were all the rage, on impulse, I cooked up something different, something without a predefined recipe—a content-focused corner of the internet dedicated to furniture and homeware. I called it HomeSupply, though it would later become Living Cozy. 

A few weeks post-launch, an early morning notification changed everything. While sat my kitchen table, I found Living Cozy had earned its first £9.37, an affiliate commision on a bedding set. It was a modest amount, yet the thrill it brought was incomparable to any paycheck I'd received. It was validation, the first tangible sign that this could become a real business. All those past failed attempts in software faded as I began to think “maybe this is the one, maybe this is my route to entrepreneurship.”

But it's not just my story. There are numerous tales of individuals who found success when they veered off the expected path.

Take Byron Allen, the media mogul who put together a $10 billion offer to buy ABC from Disney. Allen's career started with a bang — performing standup on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show at just 18 years old, before he graduated from high school.

But as his career in comedy was near its peak, he pivoted. Turning down lucrative offers to launch his own business — “Entertainment Studios.”

That bold move paved the way for a media empire: Television networks, production studios. He even acquired the Weather Channel.

All because he zigged when he should’ve kept going straight. 

Allen's story isn't just a tale of an individual's success; it's a testament to the power of letting your interests guide you, and seizing opportunities, even if they deviate from our original plan. It's about not being so tunnel-visioned on a set ambition that you miss out on potential game-changing opportunities.

Bob Iger, longtime Disney CEO, has echoed similar sentiments. He's seen this play out many times, not just with entrepreneurs but with countless individuals in various stages of their careers. In his memoir "The Ride of a Lifetime," Iger reveals how obsession with ambition can sometimes lead us down a narrow path, where we become fixated on our end goal and forget to seize the opportunities that are available to us in the moment.

Iger urges us — sure, have a plan, dream big. But remember to also take advantage of the moments when things present themselves to us. We should try to make sure that our plans are flexible enough to adjust to the opportunities that come our way — so that we don't miss out on something great, for the sake of pursuing something good.

While ambition can set our direction, it's the unforeseen opportunities that often shape our destinations. 

I've lived it too. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. Seeing my dad run his own business inspired me from a young age, and planted a seed. But that seed took its time to sprout.

My career got started in the 2010’s, around the time that Marc Andreessen explained that Software Is Eating the World. And by happy coincidence, or maybe by the fact that Andreessen was right, and software was in fact taking over the world, I built my career working in marketing for software companies. My speciality was content marketing, essentially helping startups to build audiences via blogs and podcasts. I helped scale Buffer’s blog to over 1m monthly visits, and produced and hosted podcasts like Breaking Brand and Small Business, Big Lessons

Everything was going as it should. My career was happily moving along, following the usual path from Point A to B, to C. But beneath the surface, there was a restlessness. A sense that, while I was on a path, it might not be my own. Each promotion, each milestone felt good, but there was this nagging feeling—like I was a musician playing all the right chords, but not to my own melody. 

Then came that lockdown weekend where I passed on the banana bread and built Living Cozy — a business I’d never planned to launch. 

While producing the Breaking Brand podcast, I noticed a surge in direct-to-consumer home and furniture brands. They seemed to be everywhere, especially on my Instagram feed. Initially, I saved these brands to an Instagram collection, which quickly expanded into a spreadsheet. And then on that unassuming lockdown weekend, I transformed that spreadsheet into an online directory. I fired out a tweet, not expecting much. And it didn't break the internet, but the encouraging comments and genuine interest encouraged me to keep going.

After many late nights and weekend work around my day job, Living Cozy took off and eventually became my full-time gig. Then it was acquired. I hadn't set out to become a media entrepreneur, especially not in the home industry. But by embracing an unexpected detour, I found success. (Though in hindsight, the dots seem to connect more clearly.)

This wasn't the straight path I had envisioned for myself. But then, how many stories are truly linear? We hear tales of overnight successes, but behind the scenes, there's often a maze of trials, errors, and serendipities. My winding road to Living Cozy was no different, and perhaps, that's precisely why it worked out.

The lesson — ambition provides direction, but obsession can tie our shoelaces together, making us trip even before we start the race. Construct plans, have goals, but leave room to go off track. So, if you find yourself on a path from Point A to B, don't be shy to take that offbeat diversion and zig-zag your way to Point Z. Who knows? That unexpected turn could be where your golden ticket is hiding. 

So, here's to the beauty of the detour, to the art of navigating twists and turns, and to the magic around the unexpected corners. Because sometimes, that off-the-beaten-path is where the real story begins.

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