The Complete Anatomy of Ambition

Do you ever look at the successful people and wonder what made them go this far? Do you ever wonder what qualities do they possess that make them different from the others? 

If you observe them, you will find they each have one thing in common; ambition.

Ambition seems to be the driving force for successful people. In many instances, ambition overrides talent, allowing people who may not have the appropriate skillset to skyrocket to the top. Ambition is the work that goes into achieving your dream. 

What is Ambition? 

Ambition is our desire to receive recognition and importance within various facets of our lives. Ambition may manifest itself in the way behave and can motivate us to do things others might never accomplish in their lifetime (Oksana, Psychological Characteristics of Ambitious Person). 

Unfortunately, ambition has a bad reputation as it relates to how others may see and how it may affect your mental wellness if you are not resilient in the face of challenging or stressful situations. There is some thought that ambition can cause us to behave in ways that signal aggression and acquisitiveness for self-aggrandizement (Dipiro, Ambition for Success). Also, some people see ambition as a facet of greed or a desire for something more than you deserve or physically need. 

Ambition is not greed. What separates greed from ambition is the idea that enthusiasm for success allows us to flourish (Psychology Today). 

However, there is something to be said for being driven in ways that many people are not.  Ambition motivates us to change our current state of existence and push for something more significant. 

Some of us confuse ambition with aspiration. Aspiration is a journey we take when we are looking to achieve a specific goal. Ambition, on the other hand, is a trait. It is a behavior that recycles over and over again, challenging us to continuously set and achieve new goals. 

12 Key Traits of Ambitious People 

What do ambitious people have in common? Ambitious people are self-driven and determined, but they also seek recognition from others. Think of them as your highest of achievers in the spectrum of top performers.

They are leaders and they do not slow down for much on their way to success. Studies show that ambitious people attain higher levels of education and achieve successful careers. Also, they have a higher income. They tend to lead a more satisfying life. 

Here are eleven actions ambitious people take. 

1| Sacrifice

Ambitious people have very few qualms about sacrificing some aspect of their lives to achieve their goals if they are confident it will get them what they want in the future. 

2| Mindset

Ambitious people have a positive mindset. They possess the skills to:

  • Focus on the positive
  • Find humor in a crazy situation
  • Consistently translate failures into successes 
  • Sidestep negative thoughts and negative talk for positivity
  • Live in the now

Positive mindsets allow for a positive emotional and mental attitude thereby yielding positive results as well as:

  • Optimism
  • Resilience
  • Acknowledgment of the good and the bad
  • Integrity

Next, these individuals only see opportunity. They are often looking for the next thing they can do to change the state of the world. These individuals understand the importance of cultivating a positive mindset so that there is a sense of physical and mental wellness. 

3| Set Goals And Achieve Them

Ambitious people are goal setters. They have the acronym SMART goals branded in their minds, and they are always working towards the next big thing. Some of these individuals will share their goals with you but many will not, choosing to keep their plans close to the vest unless that person can be a means to an end. These individuals can be somewhat superstitious about jinxing big plans before they get off the ground if they dare to divulge any inkling of where they are going next. 

4| Act As Risk Takers

Ambitious people are risk takers. Where other people might turn away and stay within their comfort zone, ambitious individuals operate with a distinct level of drive and are rarely reluctant to confront their fear and head-on. 

5| Courageous And Deliberate

In addition to being risk takers, ambitious people are bold, and they are deliberate in all that they do. In addition to goal setting, they do not do anything without a purpose.

6| Self-Regulation

According to a 2016 study featured in the Journal of Process Management, the psychology of ambitious people and the way they engage with others shows that these people have a unique approach to life and the people in it (Oksana, Psychological Characteristics of Ambitious Person). This particular trait can get in the way sometimes because it can cause problems during collaborative activities. 

7| Positive Self-Esteem

Ambitious people have a high level of self-esteem, but it does not mean they are not sensitive to criticism. They receive criticism, and they use it to look for ways to improve their potential. They learn from their victories but they also learn from their defeats, setbacks and they use it as fuel to motivate them to succeed (Oksana, Psychological Characteristics of Ambitious Person). 

Individuals with high self-esteem are likely to strive for big things because they genuinely believe they can accomplish them.

8| Keep An Open Mind

Ambitious people embrace new ways of thinking and adapt it to meet their needs. Open-minded people view various situations and events differently than most. Open-minded individuals may not engage in a debate in the same way as someone who has already established an opinion. Instead, he/she might choose to listen to all views on a matter then leverage the additional information as a kernel of information.

Open-minded individuals are willing to be wrong and listen to others. They are okay with not being the expert and welcome others to weigh in and provide their thoughts. Open-mindedness allows us to be more compromising. We are willing to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else and see things from their perspective.  

They can effectively communicate with others. They know when to ask questions, and they know when it is time to be quiet and listen to what others are saying simply. These individuals may be perceptive and flexible but do not mistake silence for acquiescence. The wheels are always turning. 

9| Stay In Competition With Self

These productive beings only compete with themselves. They are not looking for ways to “one-up” their coworker, peers or frenemies. They always in search of ways to best themselves. They seek new opportunities and measure themselves against their last most significant accomplishment. 

According to a study conducted by two professions on the topic of ambition, some people are not necessarily looking to become the CEO at a major corporation. Instead, these people are merely looking to be the best salesperson they can be (BBC News).

They are resilient and readily bounce back after a failure.

10| They Are Accountable

They are responsible and often step up to take responsibility for things when they go awry. They do not shy away from disaster. Amazingly, they are not highly likely to depend on others to clean up their mess. 

11| Emotional Wellness

These individuals are emotionally healthy. Emotionally well individuals recognize that to remain in good, emotional health; they must confront even the most difficult of situations. There must always be a sense of control or self-care and self-management. Each of these perceptions feeds into our overall quality of life. When we have emotional wellness, we are capable of controlling our feelings. We can participate in decision-making activities without the confusion of other influences that may be internal to who we are or from the environment surrounding us.  

12| Network With Other Ambitious People

Ambitious people tend to surround themselves with like-minded people. They get their energy from interacting with people who understand what it means to experience successes and failures. 

7 Signs You May Lack Ambition

Some people lack ambition as a result of not having direction and discipline. With this thought in mind, we must ask ourselves if lacking discipline is the reason some of us do not have ambition. 

Here are a few symptoms of limited ambition to consider. 

1. Feeling That You Have No Purpose

If you think that you have no purpose in life, there is no drive to propel you forward to do big things.

2. You Never Finish What You Start

When you lack ambition, you are at particular risk for not finishing what you start leaving you with multiple incomplete projects. 

3. Bad Attitude

Often, when we have a bad attitude, we are not likely to participate in activities that challenge us. People may even see us as untrustworthy and unaccountable, further diminishing our perception of self and drive to complete a simple task.

4. Lack of Awareness

Self-awareness feeds our conscious and feeds our willpower and willingness to do things challenge us. When there is a lack of awareness, it creates a gateway to negative thoughts and feelings. 

5. Inability to Commit

Our interest in or willingness to commit to people or job duties diminishes in the face of low ambition. When our commitment is high, we are likely to give our all but as commitment wains, so does our confidence and willingness to meet a specific target or goal.

6. Procrastination

People who lack ambition are at risk of putting off the next step that will take them closer to achieving great things. You may know the signs. You want to wait until you “have the feeling” to do something. You often purposefully allow other items or events to take priority over the real tasks you need to complete first. There is no willpower, motivation or enthusiasm to trigger action. 

7. Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can have a detrimental effect on your enthusiasm to attempt to do new or exciting things. It can make it difficult to be promoted within the workplace or take on new responsibilities in your life. It can feel like you are in a prison of your own making and generate feelings of frustration, aggression, and depression.

Low self-esteem can trigger other symptoms such as:

  • Negative thoughts
  • Lack of pride in your appearance
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices 
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor self-confidence
  • Fear 

Ambition plays a significant role in achieving success. It is not something that is necessarily measurable from person to person. 

6 Reasons Ambition Is Key To Achieving 

Ambition is the key to achieving great things in life. There are those who would rank this trait as being more important than real talent. As long as we are willing to put forth our best effort and take practical steps to achieve expected outcomes, people often won’t mind if you are not perfect as long as you are trying. 

Sets the right mindset to achieve. Without an ambitious mindset it is difficult to achieve much in life.

1| Provides Focus and Creates Opportunity

Ambition creates focus and motivates us to work hard in accomplishing our goals. That focus enables us to jump over hurdles and achieve great things. Ambition creates the opportunity for excellent experiences and inspires us to take the initiative in situations the average person might avoid. 

Keeping your ambitions in focus also ensures that we don’t participate in activities that create an unsafe environment for us physically, mentally or emotionally. Focus requires concentration, awareness, and a sense of boundaries under the umbrella of ambition. Focus and planning have a unique relationship. 

2| Boosts Confidence and Strength

Ambition feeds our strengths and enhances confidence. Ambition and confidence go hand-hand, particularly in the workplace. Determination and enthusiasm can propel you to places that your actual knowledge, skills, and ability might otherwise keep you from going. Of course, they can be that much more effective when you have the talent to back them up. 

3| Keeps You in Competition with Yourself

Ambitious people compete with themselves, not with anyone else. They do not care about what others are doing in their lives, as they are more in tune with themselves. This action not only helps them with securing success but also keeps activities associated with jealousy and aggression at bay between two or more high-performing individuals. 

4| You Attract Other Ambitious People

Ambitious people respect hard work and passion and gravitate to those who possess the same qualities. They prefer spending their time with people possess an equal hustle in life instead of being with people who do not have any goals in their life and do not work hard to achieve them.

5| Better Decision-Maker

Ambition is not only restricted to work or career-related issues. Ambition is a complex trait that bestows the capacity to make difficult decisions. Ambition triggers us to make decisions without fear. 

6| Ambition is Humbling

Ambition grounds us and shows us the way to improving ourselves as a better individual. It reminds us that we should continue to strive towards goals. One must be careful not to allow ego and arrogance to take hold of their day to day interactions with other people. 

How To Improve Your Ambition in 12 Tactical Ways

How might we create opportunities for ambitious moments in our own lives? Ambition is steep in self-confidence or a belief in our potential. Look for ways to jump out of your comfort zone. Visualize where it is you want to be and make plans to get you there. Do not wait for opportunities to present themselves. You will need to kick those doors down or at least, find the right people who get it and understand what it is you are trying to achieve. 

In addition to leaving your comfort zone and visualizing where it is you are heading, there are dozens of steps you can take. Enhancing your layer of ambition is not a single step, and it does not happen overnight. Instead, it is a process that requires consistency and dedication over time. 

No one action is better than the other. You have to choose those things that work best for your temperament, aligns well with your goals and will enable you to succeed. 

1| Establish A Positive Mindset

There are those who will tell you that not every ambitious person achieves success. Others will advise you that in addition to ambition, you must have a positive mindset to succeed. 

Establishing a positive mindset can have a significant effect on your ambitious journey. It will require you to:

  • Understand the Why – Know why you are doing what you are doing from establishing goals to what it is that is driving your ambition and take time out to remind yourself.
  • Appreciate Your Worth – Believing in yourself is just one piece of the ambition pie but a vital ingredient for maintaining a positive mindset. You must find a way to get to the place where you are happy and in sync with your ambitious drive.
  • Learn to Stay Calm – Learn to identify those things that are within your control and which situations are outside of your control. 

2| Learn To Recognize Negative Thinkers  

You must prepare yourself for negative thinkers and talkers who will try to deter you from being overly enthusiastic about your goals. Ignore their reactions and negative energy. You may even need to consider removing these people from your inner circle. 

Negative people generally possess the following characteristics:

  • Pessimists – Keep an eye out for those individuals who cannot recognize that the cup is half full. Pessimists can weigh you down and distract you from positive thoughts. They will often see the worst in every scenario and convince you that the worst is about to happen. 
  • Complainers – Complainers, whiners, Debbie-downers…these folks are loud and have a mentality that everything is wrong with the world and no one understands them or what they are trying to do with their life. Be careful not to allow these folks to fill your ear with their gripes. 
  • No Sense of Purpose – Some people lack purpose or drive and will not understand your endless sense of determination. 
  • Critics – Negative people are often the most prominent critics. They can find fault in just about anything, and they will find fault in what you are trying to do. Take caution not to give any energy or to participate in the drama these individuals will bring to the table. 

3| Continue To Set SMART Goals

Goals should be SMART, and you should establish a frequency in which you evaluate and update those goals. While your goals should enable you to stretch, your ultimate goal should be not to break. Goals must have the following characteristics (

  • Specific: Goals must be specific or simple, sensible and significant. Your goals should clearly describe what it is you are planning to do.
  • Measurable: Your goals should be measurable, meaningful and motivating. Goals must have a tangible quality.
  • Achievable: The goal you set must be attainable or within reach. If you set the bar too high, you may increase the risk for failure. Keep in mind that you should have the knowledge, skills, and ability to knock that goal out of the park.
  • Realistic and Results-Focused: Keep your goals grounded in reality. Your goals should align with specific outcomes and not necessarily the work you will do to get there. This requirement means that the goal we choose must be somewhat in step with the reality of our lives. Yes, you can set goals that challenge you to grow, but it also has to be realistic.
  • Time: You must attach a timeframe to your goal. Timeframes prompt us to move with a purpose towards achieving results. Without prescriptive qualities, goals might be left open with no specific outcome.

Remember to make the time to evaluate and reflect on your goals. Permit yourself to make adjustments as you conquer your goals. As you complete each one, celebrate your successes no matter how big or small. 

4| Build Your Network

Some of us are not so great at creating networking. Here are five things you might try the next time you go to an event or seize a networking opportunity:

  • Establish a plan of action: Make sure you are very clear about the kind of people you are looking to add to your network.
  • Consider finding a mentor
  • Network frequently: Seize opportunities to network even when you do not necessarily have a specific need. Sometimes we wait in a particular need to attend networking events when in reality, we should keep our options open. Waiting until we have an absolute necessity can be frustrating and frankly, it may prove off-putting to a potential connection.
  • Keep your options open: Be careful not to appear desperate or tied to an agenda. Keep your options open by being approachable. You never know who is watching or hovering in the background that might prove to be your best connection yet. 
  • Identify how you might be useful to others: Introduce yourself, identify what it is you do then ask how your knowledge, skills, and abilities might be useful to that other person. 
  • Follow through: If you manage to make a connection at a networking event or on a social media platform like LinkedIn and you promise to follow-up later, take the time to keep your word. 

5| Do Those Things that Support Your Strengths

Know your strengths and use them to your benefit. We are taught throughout our childhood to work on fixing our weaknesses. By the time we reach adulthood, some of us become conditioned to only focus on those things that we are not so great at doing, rather than spending a little time getting better at what we are good at doing. 

Spending time challenging ourselves to become better at what we do well can be a fantastic self-confidence and self-esteem booster. Think of those strengths as the foundation of who you are and all that you do well. The good news here is that you cannot overdo it and it will serve as fuel to building your ambition. 

6| Embrace Creativity

Do not fall victim to believing that to be ambitious you have to work within the confines of some expectation. Ambitious people often have to think outside of the box to achieve their goals. Be prepared to encounter rejection and ready to try something else that bucks the trend.

7| Build a Comfort Level for Self-Sufficiency

Remember to ditch those excuses and do not participate in the blame game when things go wrong. Be humble and acknowledge your errors. Trust that your ambition will pull you out of the temporary hole and move you towards success.

8| Be Mindful

Be mindful and self-aware. Live in the now. Do not relive past failures or lament about yesterday’s mistake. Instead, use every minute that you have at this time leverage lessons learned to garner a positive outcome. 

9| Do Not Quit

Who said ambition is easy? Ambition will undoubtedly cast you into situations that are uncomfortable and daunting. Voices in your head will call to you to throw in the towel and give up. Do not walk away. Ignore those voices in your head and do not give in to your fear of failure. Trust your talent and swim in the opportunity test your strengths and abilities.

10| Passion

Ambitious people always have passion about whatever it is they are doing. Keep an eye out for opportunities to improve what you are doing or ways to improve upon yourself. 

11| Compete with Yourself

Competition is healthy and competing with yourself is also beneficial for your mental wellness. You have probably heard this suggestion before, but you may not feel clear about what it means. Competing with yourself is all about pushing yourself to do work harder –but in a good way. When we compete with others, we do not get to enjoy the rewards of hard work. Instead, we spend time in a constant battle with trying to get ahead and we do not get to learn a whole lot from the experience. 

Competition with self changes the pace of things, and we have a few moments to jot down a few lessons learned along the way. Check out these tips for healthy competition with self. 

  • Establish Your Baseline – To compete with yourself, you have to know what your foundation or starting point is and build from there. Once you know your baseline, you can establish goals that encourage you to exceed expectations.
  • Ignore the Noise – If you are an entrepreneur, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of concerning yourself with what your competitors are doing. Industry averages are beneficial to know about on a broader scale, but they should not drive your actions. The best thing you can do is to aim for surpassing your baseline performance in sales and customer service rather than paying too much attention to what is happening in your competitor’s sandbox. 
  • Ditch the Fear – This piece of advice yet another repetitive theme throughout the road to ambition but we have to repeat it to ourselves more than once. Competition with self requires that we ditch the fear and thoughts about failure. We must plan for leaping out of that proverbial comfort zone and prepare to hop mulitple times as growth happens throughout the competition process. 

12| Improve Your Self-Esteem

Finally, work on your self-esteem. Your self-esteem is the key to your emotional and mental well-being. Your self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-confidence are all related and can make or break your ambitious efforts.

What can you do to repair your self-esteem? 

  • Identify your strengths: Once we know what it is we are good at in life, we can continue to build on it rather than spending time obsessing over our weaknesses.
  • Practice mindfulness: mindfulness meditation helps to promote self-awareness, improving our capacity to be assertive and engaged in the here and now.
  • Help others: Sometimes volunteering our time or acting as a caregiver to others helps us to appreciate who we are and what we have. 
  • Learn to live in the now: The choice to live in the now will enable you to appreciate your surroundings and to make decisions. 
  • Celebrate positive moments: Celebrate your successes no matter how small.
  • Use positive affirmations: Do not minimize this exercise or chose generic affirmations. Choose statements that are relevant, believable and applicable to your end goal. 
  • Accept positive feedback: Use this positive feedback to fuel your ambition. Treat it as your reward. 
  • See a therapist who can help you build your self-worth.

In Summary

Ambitious people possess a unique set of traits that enable them to succeed and achieve great things. These individuals are risk takers and relish the opportunity to take on stretch opportunities within and outside of the workplace. If you are hoping to improve your ambition gene, you must seek opportunities that allow you to be a risk-taker. 

Ambitious people recognize that persistence is the only way to get what they want and they rarely slow down if at all to catch their breath. 

Be a risk-taker who embraces every opportunity to learn from your mistakes and celebrate your successes. 

Ditch the excuses that hold you back. Expand your network and partner with others who are also ambitious and can help you elevate your game. 

Stay in competition with yourself and do not spend too much time obsessing about how you are performing in comparison to others in your profession, age group, town or school. Establish your baseline and set goals that allow you to move the needle each time. 

Finally, back your ambition up with talent. Seek out opportunities that help you grow personally and professionally.

Ambition will rocket you closer to achieving your dream, but knowledge, skills, and abilities will keep you there.