Thought Leadership

Careers and ambition

By Colin Walls

I have been giving thought to a couple of “big” questions lately. First: how do you decide what career to embark on? Second: how can you achieve ambitions, when there never seems to be enough time? The first is inspired by having a daughter, who has graduated from university, but is not sure what do do next. The second, which has been around longer, results from my having reached a “certain age” …

When it comes to career selection, some people are, IMHO, rather lucky. They have a “calling” or a vocation. They just know what they want to do. Some people think that God is telling them their purpose on Earth, others just know that they were made to do something or other. In my life, an example of such a lucky person is my father. When he was about 8, he decided that he wanted to be an architect. He may not have known the word, but he was clear about what he wanted to do. In due course, he studied hard and had a successful career as an architect. By “successful”, I am not saying that he got rich – his fortunes went up and down with the health of the building industry, so sometimes he was quite well off, other times, money was short. He was successful because he spent his working life doing something that he loved.

My Dad’s career set me an interesting example. I saw someone who did not dread Monday mornings. He might work weekends. He might take a day off on a Tuesday. His work was never far from his thoughts and there was a very fuzzy divide between his personal and professional lives. I grew up thinking that everyone was like that. I thought that everyone actually chose their career. In due course, I realized my error and observed that a very large proportion of the population actually hate their jobs, but they need to make money to stay alive. But I was already “programmed”. I did not have a vision at age 8 of what I would do, but through my education and my career, I have always tended to choose things that I like doing. I have had a lot of lucky breaks and it has worked out quite well for me. I guess my advice to anyone trying to choose a career is “follow your heart”.

My other distraction was the question of ambitions. I have always had some and am quite surprised to find people who seem to have none. Why do they get out of bed in the morning, I wonder. When you are young, you can afford to have lots of ambitions and say that you will fulfill then “one day”. As you get older, you need to be more specific, because if you do not start to focus, the fulfillment may never happen. You may find yourself too old, perhaps lacking the physical or mental capabilities that you need. So, eventually you need to “put up or shut up” – in other words, have a firm plan to do something or actively decide to not do it. With this is mind, I have been trying various things and addressing a number of issues in my life. For example, I have taken classes in glass blowing, stained glass making, drawing, blacksmithing and flying a plane; I am taking classes with a view to learning to swim properly – this is work in progress.

Some of my other ambitions are harder. I want to play a musical instrument. My plan is to find some classes later this year. Speaking a foreign language is harder still, but I have a [vague] plan to spend about 3 months living in Italy, while taking classes and living the life. My only advice with ambitions is to make a list, check off your achievements, add new goals and sometimes scrub them. Just try to avoid the term “one day”. Because one day might never come …


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at