“Ambition beats genius 99% of the time.” – Jay Leno

“Ambition beats genius 99% of the time.” -Jay Leno
What is the defining factor that sets the most successful among us apart from the rest? Some might say that the winners of the proverbial rat race are lucky. Others may claim that those who seem to have reached their dreams are really great with people. Still, more may say that the biggest influencers are just really smart.

Any of these qualities (being lucky, likable, intelligent) are fantastic and can definitely help when you are attempting to do big things, but one quality outweighs the rest when discussing the idea of trailblazing and building the seemingly impossible.

I’m sure that you can already guess from the title quote what the characteristic that I am referring to is. It is the trait of Ambition.

Without Ambition:

Luck is worthless.

Likability is wasted.

Brilliance is hollow.

To effectively utilize any other positive traits there must be the drive to accomplish something great. The reason (as Mr. Leno posits) that ambition is greater than genius (and other qualities) is that those who can outlast the competition win.
Let’s look away from Jay Leno towards another individual that I think truly embodies the quality of ambition:

Elon Reeve Musk. (Check out a bio here)

Elon is lucky and was born into a family who could afford to buy him a computer at 10 years of age, but he later lost most support when immigrating to Canada and then the U.S.

Elon is very likable from a distance, but certainly not the most likable up close (examples abound here, here, and here)

Elon is very intelligent, but not necessarily the smartest of his age.

What sets Elon Musk apart from most others is his tenacity and resilience to failure. He has his eyes set on lofty goals and will never admit defeat. When he encounters what some call failure he responds by saying something like “For my part, I will never give up and I mean never.”. He simply sets a seemingly impossible goal, ignores the opinions and accomplishments of others, and goes about accomplishing it.

PayPal done.

Tesla done.

SpaceX done.

The crazy Hyperloop idea…about to happen. 

Nobody else can seem to compete because they won’t even try to get to his level.

Now let’s turn this around.

It’s important to work hard in order to be as smart, skilled, and likable as possible. You should do everything that you can (ethically and legally) to tilt the odds in your favor. But if someone else seems to have the edge in intelligence or ability, you should feel encouraged that you can outwork and out-dream them.

Set your goals higher than others and pursue them relentlessly, they won’t be able to keep up.