From Goal Setting To Achievement: Examples Of Ambition In Career Success

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depending on who you ask, the word “ambition” may conjure up vastly different images and impressions. For some, it may bring to mind monumental achievements and important discoveries, and they may see ambition as the fuel that pushes us to reach new heights and uncover new possibilities. For others, ambition may evoke images of burnout and constant stress for the sake of arbitrary achievements. 

Need help channeling or balancing your ambition?

If you've experienced coffee-fueled late nights, juggling roles, or poring over performance reports, it may be worth considering: what does ambition mean in the context of career success, and how does it relate to other aspects of our lives?

In this article, we’ll explore what ambition can mean and look like, how you can harness ambition to achieve your goals, and ways to find a balance between ambition and self-care—so that you can work toward your aspirations without sacrificing your well-being. 

What is ambition?

Ambition can be defined as a strong desire for some type of achievement. Some examples of ambition could be striving to become an expert in your field, attain a certain degree, master a certain skill, earn a particular distinction, or any number of other personal goals.

The idea of ambition can bring up both positive and negative connotations—for instance, ambition can energize someone to make a significant impact on their community or to create a positive change in their life, but it might also drive someone to chase power or money at the expense of their own mental well-being or the well-being of others. 

Research suggests that the key to channeling ambition for positive ends is to direct your ambition toward goals you care about that serve your well-being. In other words, rather than directing your ambition toward arbitrary external markers of success, it may be more beneficial to consider your own personal values, identify goals that align with those values, and then channel your ambition toward those aspirations. This could mean striving for things like personal growth, a sense of fulfillment, mastery of a new skill, or a positive impact in an area you care about.  

Harnessing ambition to achieve your goals

As a motivating force driving us toward our aspirations, ambition can also help us view our goals as achievable and attainable, and it can help us stay persistent in the face of new challenges. To do so, a key part of harnessing our ambition can be setting clear goals, as ambition without direction can leave us feeling aimless and spinning our wheels with nowhere to go. 

Setting SMART goals

The SMART framework can be a useful tool in goal setting, which involves setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. By breaking down our aspirations into smaller objectives that are actionable and achievable within a reasonable timeline, we can see our progress and help ourselves stay on track toward our ultimate goal. 


In career development, SMART goals can help us break down our aspirations into simpler, more actionable tasks that we can channel our ambition toward achieving. Focusing on each task may make it easier to stay dedicated to the goal without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.

Let's take a closer look at what it means to set SMART goals:

  • Specific: It can be helpful to start with a clear, concrete goal—this may make it easier to track progress and keep yourself accountable.
  • Measurable: When goals are quantified, it can help us track our performance over time and adjust our strategies if necessary. This can be done by identifying what metrics or evidence you will be able to look at to measure your progress.
  • Achievable: Setting realistic goals can be a crucial part of success. This can mean being honest with yourself about what you can reasonably do.
  • Relevant: Having goals that are relevant to our broader aspirations and values can help ensure we are on track toward what we actually want. It can be helpful to make sure that your goals are relevant to what you want to achieve. 
  • Time-bound: Setting a timeline for ourselves can help create a sense of urgency and encourage us to stay on top of our tasks.

Whether you want to start your own business, learn a new skill, or make a career change more aligned with your interests, setting and achieving goals can be a powerful way to drive success. By taking stock of our progress and reflecting on how we can make improvements, we can use ambition to achieve success and further empower us in our career development.

Cultivating ambition 

Setting SMART goals can be useful if you know what your broader aspirations are, but what if you don’t know what it is you want? How can you go about tapping into your desires and cultivating ambition? 

If you’re feeling unsure of what you want, consider trying some of the following steps to identify your aspirations and move forward: 

  • Take time for personal reflection: To identify your goals, you might take some time to reflect on your likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, values, and interests. In doing so, you may be able to better understand what motivates you and what you care about. Aligning your values and interests with career choices can also be important for finding the right fit.
  • Build a support system: Once you've identified what drives you, it can be helpful to create a network of people who can help guide and support you. You may consider trying to find mentors and role models in your industry who can describe their experiences and provide valuable advice. It can also be important to continue investing in your personal relationships.
  • Develop a growth mindset: Attitude can be key when cultivating ambition. To help you remain motivated and inspired, consider trying to encourage yourself to embrace challenges and take on new learning opportunities as you strive toward your goals. 
  • Create an action plan: Once you have identified your goals and committed to achieving them, you can create a detailed action plan outlining the steps needed to reach your destination. Utilizing the SMART goal framework detailed above can be a useful part of this. 

Ambition and mental health

While ambition can be a useful force, it can also be important to consider some of the potential pitfalls and challenges associated with ambition. When taken too far, excessive ambition may lead someone to sacrifice other areas of their life for the sake of their goals in ways that harm their physical and mental health. For instance, being excessively focused on certain goals may bring on chronic stress and even burnout. It may also prompt someone to neglect other important areas of their life, such as family, friends, personal interests, and self-care.  

Need help channeling or balancing your ambition?

Balancing ambition with your personal well-being can be challenging, but it can be crucial to achieving sustainable, lasting success. This balance may look different for different people, but it may be useful to try things like taking regular breaks, maintaining strong relationships with loved ones, spending time on hobbies and personal interests, exercising regularly, and trying relaxation and stress reduction strategies like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. In fact, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can improve psychological well-being, physical health, and cognitive performance.

If you would like support finding and maintaining this balance, therapy can help. A therapist can help you identify goals you care about, find ways to stay motivated, and learn how to work toward your goals without sacrificing your well-being. Therapy is available in person or online, and different people may have different preferences. For some people who are juggling their many goals and ambitions, it may feel difficult to make time for therapy. In these cases, online therapy can be a convenient option, as it allows you to have sessions wherever you have internet, which may make it easier to fit into busy schedules. 

Research has shown that online therapy can be effective for making progress toward goals. A 2020 research study found that the majority of young people who used an online counseling program made “significant movement towards their collaboratively agreed goals,” with researchers concluding that the online service helped young people “address areas of change that are important to them.”


Ambition refers to a strong desire to reach some sort of achievement, and examples of ambition can include striving to master a skill, advance to a certain position, or make a particular impact. Ambition can have both positive and negative connotations; it can be a useful motivating force that drives you toward your goals, but when taken too far, it may prompt you to focus on achievements at the expense of other important areas of your life. For help in understanding how to channel your ambition toward goals you care about and how to create a healthy balance, you can connect with a licensed therapist online.
Explore your drive and ambition in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started