The Values of Ambition

Driving insights into others’ worlds

Micah Tinklepaugh
4 min readMay 6, 2023
Photo by Cash Macanaya

We all want to do great things. Many of us focus on how what we think is great should get done without stopping to ask what about ‘what’ is really great. Should you run a race you didn’t think you could? Should you call that person you are angry at and be kind? How will you prepare for the race? How will you speak to the person you are mad at with empathy? What lacks from the mazes of thought we endure through is a focus on a north star: our why. Simon Sinek talks more about this [1].

Why do we do something? I’m watching a film on Elon Musk called ‘Return to Space’ and you can see plain as day how much he has cared about getting our species onto other planets. And this is true of anyone that can be admired. Think of the person you admire. Could you guess what their ‘why’ is? Probably.

The decent scientist, designer, or engineer can figure out ‘how’. The good ones can figure out what. The brilliant ones determine the why.

Ever since I ran an Ironman in New Zealand, I’ve struggled with what to do next. Having just started a job in Defense and Aerospace, I thought maybe I should try to become the first person to ascend mountains on the moon and mars. So I thought maybe I’d bike up Pike’s Peak. I should be able to do that if I would ever make it up Olympus Mons on Mars, right? But then there is experimental rocket launch call Balls. Shouldn’t I go there? Both trips will cost money and time. And then there is my love for quantum computing and my interest in cognitive engineering tools to support it. Maybe a doctorate should be my focus?

The problem with each of these lines goals is they don’t intelligently comprise a system capable manifesting a ‘why’. And why climb up the tallest mountain in the galaxy? That is all about proving myself. So that eliminates biking up one of the tallest paved roads in America then. Now quantum physics is beautiful, so why not devote myself to that? Well I’ve devoted myself to the technology of Augmented Reality for the last ten years and while it has brought about a fair amount of success — it was short sighted. A technology doesn’t solve problems. A technology shifts how humanity operates which always opens new problems to solve.

Fortunately I had a ‘why’ I’d written before I got a job at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. I did this while considering a custom doctorate in Cognitive Engineering. It was part of the application process to write a sort of personal statement. Now after I thought through it — I realized — I don’t need a doctorate. But I do need good people who share my love of Aerospace. Luckily, I found them at my new job. So here is where I left off last February.

Inspire a global generation of scientists from underserved communities to publish immersive research in quantum applications by building a sensory simulation of a nuclear propulsion system sending a mining payload to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. This will be connected to devices we launch from our moon’s lunar gateway.

Something is still missing is it not? I’m calling out specific technologies and locations in space. That opens the door for a lot to go wrong. Here is my new attempt.

Help humans plant the U.N. flag on Mars, Titan, and beyond by building sensory simulations for space resources for and by people who love science.

Simple. A great thing. A reason to get out of bed. An outcome that doesn’t solely depend on me. A cause I could never be the center of yet a ‘why’ that requires me to follow all my passions in harmony. Now I’m no longer trying to pick between cycling up a mountain or attending a wild rocket launch.

Think about what has to happen to plant those flags. The first thing I’ll do is start reading the Artemis Accords.

Next, I’ll ask myself if I’m the type of person who can unite others around me. Because if I can’t do that here and now — good luck ever helping anyone plant a flag on another mountain. See how the what and how change?

As Simon Sinek says, start with your why.

[1] https://simonsinek.com/books/start-with-why /

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Micah Tinklepaugh

I design products for people and systems. I also like to swim, bike, and run.