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Ambition, Discipline, Purpose



Mai Le


Written at Zurich airport

I remember the day I left Vietnam for the UK 5 years ago: 8 September 2009. I was 16 and had never been on a plane before in my life. Although I had lived by myself for 7 years prior, since second grade, it was still somewhat frightening to step away from the warmth of my family.

The journey to the UK 5 years ago began alone. Since then, I’ve been to countless airports. They always evoke the same emotions: the eager anticipation of new adventures and the nostalgic pang of leaving things and people behind. The unfamiliar faces in the waiting area, the crowds hurrying through the gates, and the distant announcements over the airport’s loudspeakers all take me back to that first day when I set foot on foreign soil.

I recall the last night before my departure. My parents said:

“Mai, the amount spent on your education is more than most people’s lifetime earnings. A farmer, an average worker, or anyone in an office job here can only dream of or work their entire lives to earn the amount we’re investing in you. Make it worth it.”

I cried like I had never cried before. I was acutely aware of my privilege. I realized I could never afford to be average and promised myself I wouldn’t be.

These words from my parents echoed in my mind as the plane landed on September 8th, 2009. Despite the cold, foggy weather, through the plane’s window, I saw a land full of promise.

Every day since, I’ve aimed to be better than I was the day before. I’ve acquired new skills, expanded my network, and made an effort to understand everyone I meet. I’ve read, practiced, and introspected on my weaknesses, always striving to overcome them. While I’m aware of my limitations, I never stop trying to surpass them.

I’ve had failures, but I kept pushing until my efforts bore fruit.

To me, the concept of not settling for mediocrity is simple: Do, or do not. There’s no try.

Life presents two options: Yes or No. If you settle for “Maybe,” it leads nowhere.

I’ve chosen to live by these principles, always striving to stand out. I either commit wholeheartedly to something, or I don’t engage at all. I prioritize the few things I excel at over the myriad I could pursue. This binary approach may baffle some, but it’s true to who I am.

Not everyone should adopt this philosophy. If everyone did, life would be too black and white. There’s a need for a bell curve distribution in society, with a few outliers and many around the mean.

Recognizing this, use it to your advantage. Learn from those who excel in areas where you don’t, and value those who might benefit from your guidance. Life is about climbing the ladder and using the right tools to do so.

Every action or inaction is a decision. To stand out requires an active choice. While it’s comfortable to blend in with the crowd, doing so guarantees mediocrity. If you follow the herd, you’ll achieve common results.

Living by this philosophy means risking falling below average. But with the right approach, the rewards can be immense.

What’s this approach? I once heard a CEO sum it up in three words:




Ambition lets you dream big. But many stop at dreaming. To truly excel, one needs discipline to move from dreams to reality, step by step.

And if you aspire to be among the very best, purpose is your compass. Whether rooted in philanthropy or a personal creed, purpose propels you from one achievement to the next.

Think of life as a plane journey. Ambition charts the course, discipline powers the takeoff, and purpose ensures the plane stays on course, navigating turbulence and charting new territories.

And here I am, boarding another plane, again 🙂


I’ve amassed over 300 cover letters from myself and friends and curated them in the Cover Letter Library to aid your endeavors. This exclusive library showcases successful cover letters from individuals who landed roles at premier investment banks, Big 4 firms, and more. Check it out 🙂

Illustration by my friend at ANML Studio. Support her by checking out her art on Instagram @anmlstudio and consider making a purchase.

I’m active on Instagram as well! Follow me @official.mai.le 

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.


1 Comment

  1. Dan

    I have learned a lot by reading your blog.
    I’m so surprise that it was 2015, you were 22 when writing this gem.
    Thank you so much, Mai!


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