Balancing Ambition And Well-Being: Strategies For Achieving Success Without Burnout

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In a world where the word "hustle" has become the mantra for many, individual goals and dreams often take precedence over a person’s well-being. Ambition has often been heralded as a quintessential ingredient for success. This burning desire for achievements has been the wind in the sails of voyagers, inventors, and dreamers alike, contributing to monumental discoveries, life-saving advancements, and countless personal triumphs. However, like a double-edged sword, it has the potential to cut both ways. From excessive overtime to pushing yourself beyond your limits, ambition can sometimes lead to stress and burnout.

Amidst the noise of deadlines and aspirations, some people may forget to tend to their well-being. However, it can be possible to achieve success without sacrificing your overall well-being. Whether you're a budding entrepreneur, a parent looking to re-enter the workforce, a college student with stars in your eyes, or anyone in between, you can use the following strategies to help you find a harmonious balance between ambition and overall mental well-being.

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Maintain well-being while striving for success

Understanding ambition and well-being

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), burnout and stress have been at all-time highs in recent years in the US, and a 2021 survey found that nearly three in five employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress. In some cases, ambition may lead to stress, especially when one does not attend to their mental health. 

Contrarily, ambition can lead to personal growth, career advancement, and substantial societal contributions. Pursuing career goals, the aspiration to master an important skill, or the yearning to make a difference can all germinate from the seeds of ambition.

Unchecked ambition can prompt individuals to become singularly focused on work at the expense of other critical areas of life, like relationships, family, physical health, and mental health. It can lead someone to work extremely long hours, endure chronic stress, and ultimately face burnout. 

In this situation, it can be crucial to focus on personal well-being. Achieving optimal well-being often requires creating a sustainable lifestyle with regular self-care practices. Self-care can mean making time for meaningful conversations, taking a walk in nature, or getting enough quality sleep.

For some, self-care can seem like a luxury when ambition drives them to reach deadlines and goals at any cost. However, it can be vital to not view ambition as an extra step but as an integral part of the journey. At their core, ambition and well-being may not need to be opposing forces. Instead, they can balance and strengthen each other, enabling you to reach your fullest potential without burnout or compromising your health.

Recognizing the symptoms of burnout

The stress of unbridled ambition can have serious long-term consequences. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon characterized by exhaustion, negativity or cynicism, and reduced productivity. 

Burnout is not classified as a medical condition but a complex reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress, and it can manifest in various physical, emotional, and mental challenges. Depending on the severity of the burnout, these new challenges can include fatigue, unexplained physical pain, insomnia, irritability, and a lack of satisfaction from your achievements.

Recognizing the signs of burnout can be helpful before it takes a severe toll on your life and career. Common symptoms may include:

  • Feeling emotionally drained or exhausted after work or on the weekends
  • A lack of motivation and enthusiasm
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Feeling disconnected from your work or people
  • Frequent illness, headaches, or fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or disturbed sleep patterns
  • A general sense of dissatisfaction with your work.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it can be valuable to take steps to address the underlying cause, as the psychological and physical effects of burnout can be serious.

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Six strategies for balancing ambition and well-being

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Reaching your goals without compromising your health or well-being can be possible. Below are some tips that can help you balance ambition and well-being. 

Set sustainable goals

One of the potential pivotal steps in balancing ambition and well-being is setting realistic goals, as doing so can keep you on track for achieving what you desire while recognizing and honoring your other needs and limitations. The SMART framework, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, can be an excellent tool in this regard. It can help you formulate realistic goals that align with your overall objective.

Prioritize self-care

Self-care can be integral to balancing ambition and well-being, and there are many ways to practice self-care. Self-care can include getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, eating well-balanced meals, and taking time for activities that bring you joy. Restorative activities like yoga, massage, or a few minutes of meditation can help you recharge and refocus. 

Create healthy boundaries

Creating healthy boundaries can limit the stress associated with unbridled ambition. These boundaries can include setting limits on your work hours and taking regular breaks throughout the day. Learning to say no to unreasonable demands can be an empowering experience, including saying no to your own unrealistic expectations for yourself. 

Practice time management and prioritization

Ambitious people often find themselves facing a myriad of tasks. Managing time effectively, therefore, can become critical for tackling those tasks while still tending to other areas of life. Several time management tools and techniques exist, and you may consider experimenting to find what works well for you. For instance, the Eisenhower Matrix, which categorizes tasks based on urgency and importance, can be a helpful tool for prioritizing tasks. You can couple tools like this matrix with time-management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in 25-minute intervals. 

Build your support network

Building and nurturing relationships can provide social fulfillment and a support network in challenging times. Having strong social connections is often vital for one’s overall well-being, and research has shown that social connections with others can improve your ability to recover from stress, anxiety, and depression.  

Pay attention to your emotions

The ability to recognize, understand, and respond appropriately to emotions can be a powerful tool to balance ambition and well-being. By paying attention to your emotions, you can monitor how your work affects your well-being and adjust as needed. 

Implementing a personalized plan

With these strategies in mind, you can create your own personalized plan for achieving balance. Consider taking time to reflect on the tips above and select a few that you believe will significantly impact your journey toward success.

Once you've identified them, you can write some actionable steps that you can take to implement them, avoiding self-criticism and judgment. These steps could include setting up phone reminders or creating bullet journals to track your progress. Having a plan of action may make it easier for you to stay focused and motivated on the path toward achieving balance. Taking small steps consistently can help you create meaningful change without overwhelming yourself, giving you unlimited access to ambition in small doses. You don’t necessarily need a certain salary to start.  

Maintain well-being while striving for success

Support options 

Online therapy may be a beneficial resource if you would like additional support as you work to make changes in your life. For an ambitious person, busy schedules filled with many commitments can make it challenging to make time for therapy. With an online platform like BetterHelp, you can meet with your therapist anywhere you have the internet, making it easier to slot into hectic schedules. Whether it's coping strategies for managing stress, developing healthy habits, or creating actionable goals aligned with your values, an online therapist can be a convenient and cost-effective source of support. 

Recent research has also demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for reducing stress. For instance, one study found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) was effective in reducing stress-related symptoms for individuals with chronic stress. CBT techniques can help you manage difficult emotions, develop healthy coping strategies, and achieve long-term changes that improve overall well-being. 


Ambition and well-being don't have to be mutually exclusive. With the right combination of tools and guidance, you may take proactive steps to achieve balance between the two. Success and your health can go hand in hand when both are prioritized. 

Ambition can be a powerful driving force to propel individuals toward their goals and aspirations. It can be rewarding, but ensuring you don't lose balance in the process may be crucial. Maintaining a healthy way to ensure a relationship between ambition and well-being can help you achieve your goals without sacrificing your health.

As you set goals and seek success, try to take the time to prioritize self-care and develop sustainable habits. Setting realistic expectations and taking small steps consistently can help you maintain balance in your journey toward achieving your goals. Online therapy can also be a valuable source of support for those who want additional guidance and assistance in this process.

Explore your drive and ambition in therapy
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