Naive ambition

Naive Ambition

What is Naive Ambition? Let’s start this off with a few definitions…


  • (of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment.
      “he was a naive young man that was easily misled.”
  • (of a person) natural and unaffected; innocent.
      “Andy has a sweet, naive look whenever he smiles.”


  • a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.
      “his ambition was to start a business.”
  • desire and determination to achieve success.
      “life offers limitless opportunities to those with ambition.”

Putting the two together, Naive Ambition could be defined as:

Naive Ambition
/nīˈēv amˈbiSH(ə)n/
noun (maybe…)

  • a strong desire to do or to achieve something, but not having the experience, wisdom, or judgement to fulfill.
      “his naive ambition was the reason his competitors put him out of business.”
  • desire and determination to achieve success with the innocence and belief that all things are possible.
      “life is harsh to those with naive ambition.”

My Personal Naivety

This was me during my early 20s.

My naive ambition led me to believe that anything was possible. I believed a little hard work and determination could get me to where I wanted to go.

When I was in University, I needed $6000+ CAD per year for tuition. I needed $10 000+ CAD per year for books, food, and rent. If there was anything left over, perhaps I could buy a new shirt or a nice meal out.

This need drove me. I spent every weekend working in a potato chip factory, cleaning machines. I gave this company 24 hours of my life, each and every week, for almost 5 years.

When I finally graduated from University, I maintained this sense of “If I do the work I will succeed.”

I traveled around Canada for a while. Picked up a job whenever I was low on cash. And bounced around with this naive notion that I would always succeed.

Long story short, I flew to Japan with a bicycle to pursue a greater purpose for my life. I had only one plan: get an English teaching job and see what happens.

I didn’t get further than Yamaguchi Prefecture.

My naive ambition led me to an opportunity and I said yes the moment I found it. There were no second thoughts. I settled in, introduced myself to the community, and began carving a way forward for my future.

There was an incredible turning point in my life. After 3 months working in a private school, I quit, decided I could do this on my own, and began wandering the streets in search of students.

I had no experience teaching. I was just 25 at the time and limited to the book smarts and streets smarts I picked up from Canada.

However, if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again!

G-d damn naive ambition.

I struggled hard in my first year as a private English teacher. I was making $350 CAD per month. Paying $250 CAD for rent, $50 CAD for utilities, and left with $50 for food.

However, I continued to wake up and work my way into the English teaching niche.

How did I survive?

Aside from the generosity and kindness I enjoyed from a few locals who became my mentors, my close friends, and my family, there was something I listened to each and every morning.

THE STRANGEST SECRET by Earl Nightingale

Click that link. It will take you to a 31 minute YouTube video made in the 1950s with fundamental ideas that still apply today.

I listened to that daily and I believe the words helped to shift my life from naive ambition to a focused, calculating ambition that gave me a capitalistic edge.

Within 8 months, my business went from $350 CAD per month to $3500 CAD per month.

That’s 10x the growth!

There were many reasons why I transformed my life from naive ambition to one that was calculative and, I guess you could say, cold.

People were taking advantage of me. I was lowering prices to secure any new student to survive. My competition was constantly talking shit behind my back and secluding me because I was the youngest in the community to pursue my own English business without any teaching experience whatsoever.

It was a challenge.

However, I do think the “naive” portion of my ambition buffered and brought me through some of those hard moments.

I didn’t need any experience to teach. I just needed a strong work ethic. I required real relationships with people, who believed in me and wanted to spend their hour per week learning English together.

Making Changes

In addition to the video I shared earlier, I was also reading a lot of business books:

I admit, some of these books are overly optimistic, extremely generalized, and “preachy”. However, there are undoubtedly nuggets of knowledge you can use and apply to your life.

For example, THINK AND GROW RICH by Napolean Hill had a questionnaire near the end of the book that asked you to dig deep into yourself to discover your goals, reasons why you haven’t been achieving them, and what steps you should take to follow through.

Let me show you what I wrote in response to these questions on 02 November 2015:

  • Have I delivered service in the greatest possible quantity of which I was capable?
      The growth and development of my business has been, to my surprise, a great success. When new students arrive, I adapt and adjust my life accordingly to meet their needs. As of now, I truly believe I can take on 20 to 30 more students. Preferentially if they are in groups of 4 to 8. That will be the focus for 2016. Generating large group classes.
  • In what way have I improved my ability to provide service?
      Recently, I have begun merging English and Japanese to lay a foundation that is understandable. Once the foundation is met, more advanced learning can proceed. Also, I continually improve my library with textbooks and materials to bring to my classes.
  • Have I expressed, either openly or secretly, any form of egotism?
      Certainly, I have allowed my ego, which I may have labelled it as naive ambition, to come through in a culture that laughs upon the ego. Of course, this can be used for great purposes, but as a concentrated whole, it is a delusion that requires great effort to stymie.

Wait, did you read that?


  • prevent or hinder the progress of.
      “it is a delusion that requires great effort to stymie.”


Anyway, my writing has changed. My thinking has improved. My business has grown. And, I must give credit to my naive ambition all those years ago to take stupid risks and make snap decisions which gave me some of the best life expeirences I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Thanks for reading.

Jef van de Graaf
Canadian Copywriter & World Traveler
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