Think your goals aren’t big enough? Think you aren’t ambitious enough? Think you’re selling yourself short?
When I was in school, my teachers would often write on my reports that I’m an ‘ambitious student’. I obviously took it as a compliment, and so did my parents.
Being an ambitious student meant I was an overachiever. It meant I was always on top of my class. It meant I was always getting ‘A’ grades. It meant I always had the approval and admiration of my teachers and peers. So it was a big deal.
As I grew up, I internalized this definition of ‘ambitious’ that was thrown at me: famous, focused on the end goal, always on top, always seeking status and people’s approval. As an adult, I set goals for myself that any highly ambitious person would: study at the best university, get a high-paying corporate job, start a six-figure business, become a New York Times bestselling author, etc. The list was HUGE.
Only recently did I being to question my goals. Why do I want all of this? Where did these goals come from? Who said I have to do all of this?
The answer: People. The culture. Society. It’s their definition of ‘ambitious’ I was trying to live up to. For the most part, at least.
Do you find yourself in the same boat? You set goals but realize they aren’t big enough. You feel bad about not being ambitious enough. You feel you’re selling yourself short. Not living up to your full potential. Wasting your life.
If yes, then you’ve been successfully brainwashed by the capitalist and consumerist culture.
This culture shames you, mocks you, belittles you just so you would buy every shiny new thing that comes into the market. It sells you a definition of ‘ambition’ that if you don’t live up to means you’re failing at life. In your efforts to become ‘ambitious’ you fall into the never-ending cycle of chasing success and happiness in meaningless things.
But there’s another breed of people. They’re highly ambitious but not the type that the culture would define as ‘ambitious’. The culture would, instead, call them ‘mediocre’ and ‘lazy’. However, they don’t have a problem with that because they’re happy and successful on their own terms. They’re unconventional. They’re a small percentage. But they’re there.
Maybe you’re one of them too. To know this, see if you check the following boxes.
1. You Question Modern Culture’s Definition of Ambition
Merriam Webster defines ‘ambition’ as,
an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power;
desire to achieve a particular end
But unconventional highly ambitious people question this definition. Does ambition really equate to wealth, power, and, fame? Does the scope of ambition only encompass a Harvard degree, a Maserati, a six-figure business, and a net worth of five billion dollars?
Is nothing else ambitious?
When they search for the answers, they realize that their definition of ambition does not necessarily align with that of modern culture.
For them, ambition can mean making only four figures just so they can live in a cozy apartment that affords them the luxury of peace and a view of nature. For them, ambition can mean waking up every morning to teach a classroom full of children because that’s what makes them truly happy. For them, it can mean going to community college and simply getting a degree because at the end of the day all they want is a respectable job so they don’t have to live like their alcoholic, abusive parents. For them, it can mean simply writing a book even if it doesn’t end up being a bestseller.
This breed of highly ambitious people cares less about money, power, fame, and checking goals on a list that society handed to them and more about things like respect, peace, happiness, and meaning.
2. You Shamelessly Break the Rules
Since they don’t care about living up to society’s definition of ambition, this class of highly ambitious people doesn’t aspire to be the next Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian, or Seth Godin. Fame and status don’t appeal to them. In fact, they laugh when they see people chasing arbitrary standards of success and happiness instead of doing what truly matters to them.
Consequently, this class of highly ambitious people doesn’t mind being teachers, community workers, volunteers, vagabonds, and even stay-at-home mums and dads if that's what makes them truly happy.
3. You Ditch the Idea of Conventional Goal Setting
Modern culture worships goals. It says if you don’t have a huge list of goals then you’re not ambitious enough. If you’re not sacrificing every minute of your day working on your goals, then you might as well be dead but if you’re no different from an animal that has no goals.
But this breed of highly ambitious people doesn't subscribe to this notion of ambition. They don’t read books upon books on goal-setting. They don’t create huge lists of goals they don’t even care about just to please society. They don’t spend every second of their waking hours working on completing a goal just so they can start working on another goal right after.
Instead, they use the approach of pause-and-reflect. They ask themselves,
“What do I truly want out of my life?”
“If I was the last person to inhabit this planet, would I still want the same things?”
“How much is enough for me? Do I really need a huge list of goals?”
“What brings meaning to my day to day life?”
Using this approach, this class of highly ambitious people, only focus on doing things that bring meaning into their life. That fits their definition of success. That makes them feel connected to themselves. That also leaves enough room in their schedule to spend time with themselves.
They’re not the type you’ll always find hustling. They’re the type you’ll find peacefully enjoying morning coffee while looking out of the window or relaxing on Tuesday evenings.
4. You Have ‘Small’ and ‘Boring’ Goals
Highly ambitious people that are a product of modern culture have huge to-do lists and goals. “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t have time in my schedule for this”, you’ll often hear them say.
But the other class of highly ambitious people has small to-do lists. They only have a few things they want out of their life and they’ve decided to dedicate their whole lives to them. Some of them only want to travel the world. Some of them want to raise happy families. Others are content with living alone in a house that has a library full of books they can read for the rest of their lives (hey, that’s me!)
They’re happy with their lives because they’re not always focused on the next milestone rather living in the moments and being content with what they have. Consequently, when a friend or a family member needs them, they don’t consult their packed schedules to decide if they have the time to be there with them, they just are there.
5. You Don’t Explain or Apologize
Because they’re not living the conventional definition of success and ambition, this class of people often hear things from people like,
“Oh, so you’ve decided to settle down?”
“Isn’t there anything else you want to do in the future?”
“But you can do more than this.”
“It must be so hard to live like this”.
They brush off such comments and move on with their lives. They’ve realized that people will never fully grasp their definition of success and happiness, they’ll always try to talk them out of it, they’ll always question their values and beliefs. People will never understand and these people don’t even try to make them understand.
They don’t feel sorry for themselves. They’re proud of who they are and content with the life they’ve chosen to live.
6. You’re Okay With Being Invisible
Because fame, status, and society’s approval don’t matter to them, most of these highly ambitious people are invisible to the world.
They don’t flaunt their lives on social media. Because to be honest, they don’t have much to show to the world. Not Ivy League degrees. Not six-figure businesses. Not bestseller titles. Not fancy weddings. Not Ferraris. Not pretty houses by the oceans.
In fact, if the world knew the kind of lives they’ve chosen to live, it would only eye them with pity. And they want none of that. So they choose to live invisible lives behind closed doors. And it’s behind closed doors, they live up to their definition of success.
The world doesn’t know what they’re accomplishing but nothing they do is for the world to see.
Being ambitious can look different for different people. You don’t have to live up to modern’s culture’s definition of ambitious if that doesn’t bring joy and meaning into your life. Ask yourself, “What’s my definition of ambitious?”
Then shamelessly live up to it.