What Is Aspiration?

Updated September 18, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

I Want Aspirations But I Don't Know What I Want Out Of Life
You're Not Alone. Therapy Can Help You Align With Your Goals - Get Started Now.

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"She has political aspirations." "Being a good parent like that is something I have always aspired to." "My main aspiration is to fall asleep at night knowing that I have made the world a better place." "What is your aspiration in life?"

What Is The Meaning Of Aspiration?

An aspiration is a strong hope, dream, or goal. The idea of aspiration has a positive, upward connotation. We aspire to be or to become something that is seen as better than what or where we currently are. People can have social aspirations, career aspirations, and personal aspirations. One way to think about the meaning of aspiration is considered the idea of reaching for the stars. We may never quite make it, but the act of looking and moving upwards is what makes our day to day life meaningful.

How Do Aspirations Differ From Goals And Ambitions?

Since an aspiration is a strong hope, dream, or goal, it is reasonable to ask how aspirations differ from goals or ambitions. In some senses, these words are synonyms. If someone uses "#goals" on Twitter or Instagram, they are clearly referring to an aspiration - either one that they have themselves, or one that they believe that they exemplify for other people. In the same way, a person might be said to have ambitions towards writing, or be possessed of career ambitions. But while these are ways that goals, ambitions, and aspirations are similar, they are different in important ways.

3 Differences Between Aspiration, Goals, And Ambition

  1. Aspiration is generally long-term. Goals can be almost anything. We could make a goal to spend five minutes weeding the window box, or an hour in the gym. These are not aspirations. They may, however, be stepping stones on the way to an aspiration. So while some goals can also be aspirations, most goals are tools that we use to further our aspirations.
  1. Aspirations are directional; ambition, however, can be unfocused. An ambitious person may be eager to take on difficult tasks or roles for the inherent challenge alone. Some people just like to do difficult things. Just as a goal can be an aspiration, or a mere tool for the journey so that an ambition can be an aspiration or just a short-term challenge.
  1. An aspiration can exist without action, while ambition always provides movement. A weak aspiration can be more like a fantasy. People may say that they aspire to a goal without taking steps to reach it. Ambition, on the other hand, is always connected with action. Strong, successful aspirations require some ambition.

Is Aspiration Important?

The question "what is aspiration?" has another definition. This second definition looks, at first glance, to be entirely unrelated to what we have been discussing. "Aspiration" also means to breathe something in. We aspire air (and things that we shouldn't, like food or liquids).

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On further inspection, however, the two definitions of aspiration have more in common than we might think. Aspiration, in the sense of breathing, is a physical necessity. Aspiration, in the sense of aiming at a higher goal, is a mental and emotional necessity. Our aspirations keep us going.

Aspirations answer the question "why?" Why do we sit at a desk every day? Why do we run cash registers? Why do we attend meetings? Sometimes that answer is as simple as feeding, clothing, and sheltering ourselves. But even these supposedly simple answers are tied to our aspirations. What are the other things that we want to do with our lives, once we are fed, clothed, and sheltered? These sometimes mundane jobs often provide for the hobbies, families, and service activities that make up our aspirations. Our aspirations are the things that keep us moving through daily experiences ranging from the mundane to the truly difficult.

Are Aspirations Always Good?

Our aspirations are our hopes, dreams, and goals. They keep us moving purposefully through life. But are aspirations always a force for good?

Like almost anything, aspiration can have a dark side. Inappropriate or unrealized aspirations can cause a lot of heartaches. People may aspire to things that are completely unrealistic, or disconnected from their daily lives. These aspirations could cause them to neglect important people or responsibilities. Sometimes, people's' aspirations are set by social or cultural pressure, rather than an expression of personal desire. In those cases, reaching these aspirations is unlikely to make the person truly fulfilled.

On the other hand, failing to reach our aspirations can lead to despair. Unfulfilled aspirations have even been connected to suicide risk. Like any truly important factor in your mental health, aspiration is only one piece of the puzzle.

What Is Your Aspiration In Life?

We've seen how aspiration differs from mere goals or ambition. We've looked at why aspiration is important, and we've briefly considered the dark side of aspiration. All of these factors are important for the next question:

What is your aspiration in life?

If you don't know the answer to that question, here are three steps to help you think about it.

  1. See if you have an aspiration or aspirations without being consciously aware of them.

Consider your actions. Are you working hard to a degree, in hopes of getting a good job? Is that job connected to higher aspirations? Perhaps you are content to work a lower status or lower paid job to free yourself from other activities, such as gaming or hiking. Do you have aspirations in those hobbies? Or do the job, and the hobbies together serve a different aspiration, such as making you a stable, well-rounded, reliable person for your family and friends?

Look in the direction of your actions, and see if you can spot an aspiration of which even you were unaware!

I Want Aspirations But I Don't Know What I Want Out Of Life
You're Not Alone. Therapy Can Help You Align With Your Goals - Get Started Now.

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  1. Ask yourself "why?" Perhaps your actions don't point you to an aspiration that you can articulate. You can then begin to ask yourself why you do those things.

There are many possible answers to every "why?" question. We work, play, and maintain relationships for all kinds of reasons. Find a quiet space, and ask yourself why you do what you do. See what answers you find.

After you find the answers to your "why?" questions, decide if you like them. Consider ways that outside pressure from family, peers, or culture may be influencing your motivations. If you feel stuck, anxious, or depressed at this point, a trained counselor, like the ones at betterhelp.com, may be able to help you navigate.

  1. Articulate your aspirations. Once you have looked at your actions and asked yourself why you do what you do, you may find that you lack aspirations. Take a little time to think about the kind of person that you would like to be. Is there a social role that you would like to fill? A field of activity or study that you would like to participate in? Write down a word, phrase, or detailed description of what you want from and for yourself. Congratulations! You have aspirations.

What If It's Hard To Find My Aspirations?

Some circumstances make it difficult to find or articulate our aspirations. Mental and physical illnesses may make it seem like our life is controlled by our limitations, rather than our aspirations. What can we do in those circumstances?

First, remember that aspiration does not need to be lofty. It does not need to involve high powered careers or large amounts of money. We can aspire to be a better person, no matter our circumstances. We can aspire to goals that look smaller to other people, like being an available friend.

Second, allow yourself space and time to figure things out. Aspirations are important, but they are not always urgent. Sometimes we just need to survive. If that's where you're at, then it is permissible to put aside more lofty aims in favor of treading water while you find help.

Third, if it feels impossible to think about or discover your aspirations, you may benefit from professional help. The therapists at betterhelp.com can assess your situation. They may be able to help you feel less overwhelmed, more in tune with your desires and capabilities, and ready to take a look at what you truly want out of life.

What Is The Meaning Of Aspiration?

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Our aspirations are the core of what keeps us moving through life. Aspirations can be the wishing star that pulls us forward or the secret inner life that keeps us alive through difficult times. But to take their proper place, our aspirations need to truly reflect what we want and what we are capable of. Unrealistic, unmet, or inappropriate aspirations can take a toll on our mental and emotional health. In the face of this, some people decide that aspirations aren't worth the risk. It is, however, better to name and chase our aspirations, than to drift through life without them. If we have a proper understanding of the place of aspirations, and our mental health is in good order, aspirations will always serve as a guide and a touchstone, rather than an opportunity for despair.

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