“Be more passionate than ambitious”

Masai Ujiri says passion trumps ambition

That’s what Raptors President Masai Ujiri said to Bill Simmons when Simmons asked him, “what your best piece of management advice?” Ujiri was on Simmons’ podcast on October 25, and it took him a minute to answer; he’s probably more used to answering general basketball-related questions rather than workplace management questions.

Finally he said it: “Be more passionate than ambitious.”

I loved the answer. It really hit home and got the wheels turning in my brain. Because I agree: passion trumps ambition.

Here’s what it means to me:

Don’t get hung up on titles…

When I think about where my career might go next, it is nice to have that director title on my cv… but if my next role “only” comes with a manager title, it won’t be a step back—as long as I get to continue doing the things I’m passionate about. If I find a role that offers me team leadership and mentoring opportunities and the opportunity to work with good people in a marketing organization that demonstrably impacts revenue… then what does the title matter? I’m doing what matters to me. If you know what’s important to you, then don’t get hung up on whether the role comes with the right title.

… but don’t lose your ambitions completely!

Aligning your career to what you’re passionate about doesn’t mean you stop moving forward. It just means you strive for the things that matter most to you. To follow on from my previous example, if my marketing initiatives are delivering results, I’m going to analyze what’s working and/or learn something new, so I can continue to deliver even better results next time. Being ambitious, to me, means being driven to get better—and that means more than getting a title.

Ambition and ego can clash with collaboration; unity will get you farther

There’s an old expression, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” I firmly believe a group of people untied for a common goal will always go farther than a group of individuals. I love working with others, and that’s a huge part of the reason I’ve made my career in marketing; collaboration comes with the territory. But how many times have you seen someone’s personal goals throw a project off track, because they’re not aligned with the project goals? Far too often, I’d wager. It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of “this isn’t what I want to be doing,” or “it’s not the way I’d do it” or even “how do I make this project make me look good” rather than focusing on what’s good for all. But if you’re all in because you’re passionate about what you’re doing? Then success is only a matter of time.

Passion is contagious; ambition is lonely

If you’re doing things you love, chances are it will energize you—and that energy will spread to others around you. And not just at work or in your team environment, but to your family and friends as well. Think back to when you did something that made you happy or proud; chances are someone commented that had an extra hop in your step or a permagrin, right? It’s notable, and it’s infectious. But personal ambition often has an opposite, alienating effect. When people sense that you’re only driven by your own goals, they’re more likely to be turned off than energized by it.

You’re not a failure if your job or industry isn’t your passion

I’m a B2B marketer, and I like being in this business, but I don’t consider it my passion; it’s the vehicle that lets me explore things I am passionate about, such as helping others succeed and creating things that make a difference. These are the things that matter to me. Would I one day like to combine these with other things I’m passionate about, like, say, comic books or sports? Of course! And I’ll continue to seek out those opportunities out, but I don’t need it all, all at once.


I know I’ll be keeping Masai’s quote in mind as I consider the next steps in my career. What does passion mean to you, and does it trump ambition?

Image courtesy Sportsnet.