Ambitious Women: 7 Habits They Have In Common

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

Motivated women are everywhere. Their drive to achieve isn’t merely a product of happenstance or good fortune. 

Ambitious people often define success on their own terms. In many cases, they have traits like passion, empathy, and flexibility, as well as habits like avoiding procrastination and setting goals. If you’d like professional insight and guidance as you unlock your ambition and move toward your goals, consider working with a licensed therapist in person or online.

Note: Although this article refers to women, the information here can apply to people of any gender.

Defining success

Getty / D3sign
You know your potential, and you’re ready to reach it

Merriam-Webster defines ambition as “an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power” and success as “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” While these definitions may resonate with some people, many are constantly redefining what it means to be truly motivated and successful, as they tend to define these terms based on their personal values, beliefs, and circumstances.

Author Sally Helgesen writes that women can be reluctant to base their success on income, position, or winning. “Women define success based on what matters to them as individuals, rather than what their organizations assume women will most value,” she explains.

Helgesen may be referring to the observation that men and women can work in the same environment, yet define success in completely different terms. In her 2010 book, The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work, Helgesen highlighted findings from a survey in which 818 male and female managers described what factors contributed to their level of satisfaction at work. The male managers tended to respond that achieving top positions and earning high salaries were most important, while the women frequently valued a pleasant working experience above salary and status.

As these women show, it may be impossible to encompass the full meaning of ambition and success in standard dictionary definitions.

Common characteristics successful people share

Rather than measuring ourselves by our own versions of success, we often judge ourselves based on the accomplishments of others. We may envy some people who seem to be innately driven, possessing what appears to be the perfect blend of perpetual motivation and the ability to achieve great things on very little sleep.

However, we may all have inherent qualities that, when nurtured, can pave the way to our individual definitions of success. As the saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It may be much easier to enjoy and appreciate our own successes when we’re not consumed by the fear of not living up to other people’s standards.

Below is a list of characteristics many successful women (and successful people in general) have in common. You’ll likely notice that you possess some of these traits with little effort, while others may seem just out of reach. Simply becoming aware of these qualities and striving to cultivate them may help you as you pursue your goals. 


When you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it tends to be much easier to find the drive and determination to carry on. While skills and experience may look great on a resume, they aren’t necessarily likely to push you into new endeavors. Passion can serve as an inner compass that points us toward what truly matters to us.  


Tapping into your inner assertiveness can help you build confidence and set boundaries so that you can better focus on your own priorities. A great place to start may be learning to say “no” and becoming aware of how often you say, “I’m sorry.” Many people tend to ask for forgiveness even when an apology isn’t necessary.


Empathy, the ability to understand others’ emotions and beliefs from their perspective, can be one of our strongest innate strengths as social beings. Empathetic people are often highly intuitive, which can be a wonderful trait in any situation where interpersonal interaction is required.

The ability to embrace imperfections

Dwelling on bad decisions and past mistakes can zap energy that could be better used elsewhere. No one may get it right all the time, and expecting perfection can often lead to disappointment and perceived failure.


Learning to believe in yourself can be one of the most powerful factors in achieving success on your terms. Having a strong sense of self need not equate to being egotistical; in fact, it can serve to balance your sense of empathy. Basing your sense of worth on your positive traits often serves as a deeper source of self-confidence than basing your self-worth on your achievements.


Inflexibility in the face of change is often why companies fold or leaders lose their relevance. Learning to adapt may be one key to maintaining a lifelong career despite changing personal circumstances, technology, and culture. 


It can be difficult to achieve success without putting ourselves out there. Being brave often requires stepping outside our comfort zones and taking risks.


What do our successes mean if we don’t pause to appreciate them and the drive it took to achieve them? Gratitude can make us more appreciative of the mentors and coworkers who help us reach our goals, potentially resulting in a more pleasant work environment and positive attitude.

Habits successful people have in common


While the aforementioned qualities may play a role in your ability to achieve success, your daily routine can be equally important. Seven common habits of successful people are outlined below. If you’re not currently implementing these practices, try starting with one or two that resonate with you.

They set goals

Regularly establishing and working toward goals can be vital for personal and professional development. When we don’t know what we’re working for, we tend to get stuck in a rut, spending our days feeling adrift and uninspired.

Set reasonable goals for yourself, then map out a plan outlining the steps it will take to reach them. Remember to be flexible, as some restructuring will likely be necessary along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need support or accountability in reaching these goals. 

They don’t procrastinate

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Reaching our goals usually requires hard work and dedication, even on days when we would prefer to procrastinate. 

They surround themselves with other motivated people

Success is almost never a solo endeavor. It’s usually much more attainable and enjoyable with a cohort of like-minded people. Try to surround yourself with others who have your best interests at heart and who will lift you up when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This network of friends or colleagues may even yield fruitful collaborations.

They invest in themselves

Successful individuals tend to value themselves and are often willing to spend their time and money on resources, products, and experiences that make them feel their best and enable them to develop new skills. 

If you’ve been itching to take a photography course, or you’d love to trade in your dated clothes for a fun, fresh wardrobe that reflects your style and personality, go for it! Money or time invested in yourself, with intention, is rarely wasted.

They love their lives outside of work

We can derive a lot of satisfaction from our work, but how we spend our downtime can be equally important. Successful people usually lead full lives outside of work. They may prioritize their time with family and friends, enjoy creative endeavors and hobbies, and care for their physical health through exercise, time outdoors, and nutritious eating habits.  

They celebrate their achievements

It can be difficult to maintain drive and determination if we never take the time to revel in our successes. Successful individuals frequently celebrate their achievements. They can be motivated by their triumphs, and they may not let failures determine their self-worth.

They know self-care can be important

Highly successful people usually don’t neglect their need for self-care. They may know that time for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation can be imperative to their success. While reading a book or taking a nap may be one person's idea of self-care, someone else may choose to spend the weekends hiking or start each morning by meditating, practicing yoga, or writing a daily gratitude list. A holistic self-care practice normally includes resting and refreshing our bodies and minds so that we can show up as our best in our relationships and work. 

Finding your ambition equilibrium

You know your potential, and you’re ready to reach it

While many may face societal pressure to question and express their ambitions, too much ambition may have a negative effect. Someone who is overly ambitious may relentlessly look for the next goal to conquer. This can lead them to constantly compare themselves with others, prioritize their goals over relationships, or forget to appreciate victories.

Finding and maintaining balance as we pursue our ambitions can be one key to contentment and success. A therapist can be a helpful resource if you need more support in developing positive habits or finding an equilibrium between work and personal life. Therapy can be a personal experience in which you may set your own goals for personal growth. 

Benefits of online therapy

Those who are juggling their careers, child-raising, and other endeavors may find it difficult to make time to attend in-person therapy sessions. Online therapy may be a helpful alternative, as you can attend sessions from anywhere you have an internet connection and a smart device, such as your home. The online therapy platform BetterHelp typically matches most new clients to a licensed therapist within 48 hours of taking a simple intake questionnaire. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

One study of people receiving online therapy found that individuals who collaborated with their therapist to set goals were usually more likely to achieve them than patients who tried to progress independently. 

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Ambitious women tend to define their own version of success, which often includes balancing their career with a rich personal life. They tend to cultivate their assertiveness, self-worth, and courage, as well as employ habits like goal setting and celebrating their achievements. Successful women push themselves to persevere without risking their overall health or well-being. If you are seeking support as you work towards your goals, whether professional or personal, you may consider enlisting the help of a therapist.
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