We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
— William Shakespeare
“There’s a difference between goals and ambition”. I never thought much about this until I was reminded in a conversation with a close friend. And it sparked my curiosity in writing about and understanding the distinction of why both are important.
Goals don’t get the best reputation these days. We set and forget them. They’re the holy grail at the beginning of a new year and the last thing on our minds a few months later. Goals are motivating and demotivating because they wake us up to what we can achieve—and the work we have no choice but to put in to get there.
Ambition is different. Ambition is the dream of striking the north pole with our flag. It’s the byproduct (what we really want) of our goals. If goals are the what, ambition is the why. Our ambition tells people what naturally drives us. It enables us to go on and achieve better things in life. The force that picks us up through setbacks and failures. An earnest desire to be strong-willed and strive for mastery.
Why does this matter? Well, do you ever think about what you want to achieve in 3, 5, or 10 years’ time? Humans are inherently driven toward progress. We live for having plentiful goals and, importantly: achieving them.
Ambition and goals are essential because they allow us to imagine, be creative, feel young, and move towards a better future than the one we’re in. They’re also neurologically important for deconstructing our life’s biggest problems.
Both are important, but your why is everything
When I was stuck figuring out what to do with my life, it wasn’t until I figured out the why behind my choices that things started to change. When you’re stuck, you probably say:
I don’t know what I want to do.
I don’t know what I need to do to get started.
To leave my rut behind and commit to a sustainable, happy life, I had to know the why behind my biggest choices.
Think about a problem in the world or industry that naturally grabs your attention. Something that you feel needs improving. A problem you’d love to help solve. For me, it was getting information to people about improving their health and self through writing. Aligning your work with a problem in the world that needs solving gives you your purpose. And it doesn’t have to be the same forever, but a single purpose is enough to change your life.
Your ambition is your purpose—the mere reminder of why you’re doing something. And it’s bigger than you or anyone else; it’s the higher power that connects you with the world.
But when you tell someone your goal, and they acknowledge it, psychologists have found that it's called a social reality. The mind is kind of tricked into feeling that it's already done. And then, because you've felt that satisfaction, you're less motivated to do the actual hard work necessary.
— Derek Sivers
Our minds mistake talking for doing. There’s research behind the idea that we should keep our goals to ourselves. Because when we do not, we feel a level of gratification that overshadows the satisfaction we would get from achieving the goal itself. In other words: let your actions be your noise.
First things first - research your curiosities and note 3 or 4 ambitions you want to achieve in life. Then, write 3 or 4 further goals you’ll need to move towards it. It’s important to know your direction and not just your ambition.
Define, define, define - have a clear image of what success looks like and what you’re going to do next. Avoid getting stuck once you’ve completed any step.
Don’t start too many at once - it will only overload and distract you. Focus your biggest bets on one or two key ambitions.
Time - a timeline is vital in keeping you ticking along and making sure milestones are met. Don’t give yourself too much or too little; keep it relative to the size of your goal against your willingness to achieve it.
Be flexible, but not too flexible - life happens. So don’t let it bother you if the things that are out of your control take over. But set your boundaries and stick to them. Don’t let yourself overrule them unless absolutely necessary.
The best thing about your goals and ambitions is they tackle more than just your desires; to be the person who succeeds, you have to change for the better, which will make you a better person who gets to live life on your own terms.
What I’ve Learned
Here’s a visual representation of what I’ve learned lately, courtesy of Ash Lamb:
1. It’s not the size of the mountain; it’s how you climb it
2. Create yourself, starting from the inside out
3. Strive for progress, not perfection
What’s on My Mind
To align my brand across all my work, I refined my two ebooks: The Core Book and Morning Core. I’d love it if you could check them out or share them if you know of anyone struggling with aches, pains or weaknesses.
A Question for You
“Looking back over the last 1-5 years, where did I go right? Where did I go wrong?”
Until next time,
i am thinking about writing the post-retired male actuarial version (age 74) of your excellent article. i may share 30-50 years with my slightly younger spouse and maybe a second generation of our havanese puppies. the basic lesson for all is that...you may live in your body for a long long time.