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Ambition, Discipline, Purpose



Mai Le


*Written at Zurich airport

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

The journey to the UK 5 years ago began on my own. Since then, I have been to a countless number of airports. It always brought me the same feeling: The eager feeling of new ventures/destinations and the nostalgic feeling of leaving things and people behind. Surrounding me are the new strange faces around the waiting area, the crowds rushing through the gates, and the distanced announcement on the airport radio. All brought me back to that first day, the first time that I embarked on the journey on this foreign land.

I remembered the last night before my departure. My parents’ exact words to me were:

“Mai, the amount spent on your education is more than most people’s life fortunes. A farmer, an average worker or anyone working for an office job here can only dream or work hard for their entire life, to earn how much we are investing in you. Make it worth it.”

I cried, and cried so hard like I never had the chance to cry. I knew how fortunate I was. I knew I can never afford to be average, and I promise to myself I won’t.

These words of my parents resonated in my head as the plane landed on September 8th, 2009. It was a cold, foggy day, yet I looked through the glass window seeing a new shining promised land.

Since then everyday I have strived to be a better person than I was yesterday. I have learnt new skills. I have broadened my circle and taken a step to understand everyone I cross path with. I have read and I have practised. I have reflected honestly on my emotional and psychological deficiency to improve them until I’m stronger. I understand my limitations all the time but I never give up striving to reach new levels.

I tried. I failed. I tried again until it’s no longer a try but a success.

To me, the formula of not being average is very simple. Do, or do not. There’s no try.

There’s only Yes, or No in life. If you settle for Maybe, it won’t happen.

I have chosen to live life in these extremes as I actively choose to be different.  I either do it really well, or I don’t get involved at all. Most of the time I give up 95% of what I could do to focus on the 5% I can do really well. There’s no maybe. It’s difficult for others to understand this binary way of thinking. However, I am confident in this choice of how I live or action because it’s who I am.

Not everyone lives this formulas and I won’t recommend everyone will. If everyone does, life will be either a 0 or 1 and there’s no in between. Everyone will either want to be unemployed or be the boss, and no one will settle to be the worker. There must be a belt curve distribution with the majority surrounding the average, to allow for the success and scarcity of the 1%.

If you know this fact, use it to your advantage. Appreciate people who are better than you in some aspects because you can learn from them. Appreciate even more people who are not as good as you in those aspects because they can work for you (and they will, if you actually can persuade and earn their loyalty). It’s about moving up the distribution by utilising the necessary leverages.

Every action is a decision. Every inaction is also a decision. It must be your active choice to be different. It’s comfortable to be with the crowd. And hidden in the crowd. If you do what everyone else does, you will get what everyone else gets.

The disadvantage of living the extreme is you may well live “below average”, or you will be a 0. The advantage of living the extreme is, with the right combination, there’s a high chance you will be 1. The one.

What’s the right combination? I learned this from a talk of a CEO three years ago. Someone asked him what his key to success was. He said, very concisely, in three words.




You need ambitions to envision your success. However, too many dreamers station at the imagination stage and “talking big”, without executing the tasks it take to realise it, hence stuck at being a zero. To swing to be the one, they will need rigorous disciplines to constantly moving forward and slowly build the dream one step at a time.

That’s what it takes to be in the 1%. However, if you want to take it further with the desire to be in the top 0.1%, having a purpose is the key to step it up. Your purpose, whether it’s from your philanthropy or ideology, will keep you moving from one success to another as it will drive you forward.

Now you have it. The key to success in three simple words.

Think of life as a plane. Your ambition maps where it flies. Disciplines is like the engine that will start it off from stationary. And purpose is what will keep the plane going, through turbulence and extreme conditions to new ventures in Promised Land.

And here I am, catching the plane, again 🙂

I have collected over 100 of myself and my friends’ cover letters and published it at Cover Letter Library to help you. This member-only library includes successful cover letters from people who secured jobs at all major investment banks, big 4 firms and other. Check it out 🙂 


Illustration by my friend at ANML Studio. Check out her IG and support by buying her art @anmlstudio

I am also active on Instagram too! 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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