It’s normal to feel directionless sometimes. But when it happens to you, it can be jarring.
You might have spent years getting to where you are. You earned your dream job as the CEO of a not-for-profit, you bought a house to raise a family in, and you obtained your master’s degree while working full-time. But now, you don’t have the ambition to keep progressing. You’re unfocused, and you might be languishing.
There could be many reasons for this — but none of them mean you’re less of a person than before. You haven’t or lost your edge. You’ve merely reached a checkpoint on your climb up the mountain.
Take advantage of this opportunity to ask yourself: “Why am I losing my ambition?”
Everyone will have a different answer. Perhaps your dream job wasn’t what you expected, you have too much going on to properly chase your goals, or you’re content where you are and want to enjoy it for a while.
Whatever the case is, your answer will be the key to how to overcome lack of ambition. And once you do, you’ll regain a sense of purpose, improve your confidence, and feel better about your life situation.
Let’s take a closer look.
What does it mean to be ambitious?
The Cambridge English Dictionary offers a deceptively simple definition of the word “ambition”: “a strong wish to achieve something.”
At first, this might not seem all that useful. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that ambition requires two simple elements to exist at the same time: a goal, and a desire to achieve it. If either of them aren’t present, your ambition can disappear.
Let’s say you landed your dream job as a graphic designer at a marketing firm. You’ve been at it for a year, but the job isn’t as fun as you hoped. You’d like to continue doing art for a living, but you don’t want to do it here. But you don’t know where else to go.
In this case, you have the desire to achieve something. You just don’t know what that is — yet. You’ll need time to reflect on why this job isn’t a great fit, what you would want instead, and where you could find it.
Why do we lack ambition sometimes?
It’s normal for your ambitions to ebb and flow throughout life. Priorities change, and what seemed like important milestones before might not appear that way now.
Sometimes, this is intentional. Once you earn enough money to buy a house, you might choose to stop prioritizing your financial goals in favor of making time for your family.
In other instances, you might not have chosen to stop pursuing your goals. If you were fired from your dream job or lost someone important in your life, it’s normal for your values and priorities to shift. Certain mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression, can also affect your desire to pursue your goals.
Here are some common reasons you might not feel as ambitious before.
1. Your life stage
By the time you reach 35 years old, it makes sense not to have the same dreams as when you were 18. But these life changes can be distressing — the dreaded mid-life crisis.
But, as you grow and get to know yourself, you’ll discover new forms of happiness that might take you by surprise. For example, you may have never thought about having kids. But now you’re happier than ever as a stay-at-home parent.
And if you’re enjoying yourself, you don’t have to chase the next big thing if you don’t want to — sometimes it’s okay to just be. You can pick things up later when you have more time to pursue your career goals.
2. Lack of motivation
When you lack appropriate motivators in your career, you won’t feel particularly invested in the outcome of your actions. There are two main types of motivations in life:
- Intrinsic motivation (or internal motivation) come from within. This means you do something for its own sake because it aligns with your interests, beliefs, and personal values. These motivators hold a deep personal meaning because they are intrinsically tied to your sense of life purpose.
- Extrinsic motivation (or external motivation) are external factors that affect your desire to do something. Whether you fear negative consequences or want a reward, you act based on the potential outcomes of your actions.
Intrinsic motivators will give you more energy long-term, but they require a deep knowledge of your inner self. If you set goals that align with who you are as a person — that appeal to your intrinsic motivators — you’re more likely to feel ambitious about achieving them.
3. Low self-esteem
If you don’t believe you can accomplish your goals, why even try? This kind of low self-esteem and self-confidence can easily zap away your ambition and ruin a positive mindset. You doubt your abilities, so you don’t take the necessary risks to achieve your goals. Here are some signs of low-esteem:
- Sensitivity to criticism: you see any criticism, no matter how constructive, as a confirmation of your flaws.
- Hostility: You become defensive if you feel unfairly criticized.
- Social withdrawal: You’re more of an introvert than usual. You don’t want to talk about your problems with anyone because it will only reinforce the self-doubt you already feel.
- Negative self-talk. You mutter to yourself things like, “that could never happen to me” or “There’s no way I would be able to do that.”
Sometimes, life throws everything at you at once. When you have too many changes happening in your life, it’s normal to feel uncertain about the future. This situation can lead to procrastination and putting off more ambitious goals.
So if you’re completing a degree while raising a baby and paying the bills, be kind to yourself. Getting through the day is enough for now — you can figure the rest out later.
Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can affect motivation and ambition. Everyone experiences these conditions differently, but people with these conditions often lack the emotional energy to pursue their goals. Intrusive and negative thoughts dominate their attention, making it difficult to think about anything else.
It’s worth seeking professional help if you suffer from anxiety or major depressive disorder. They can offer a safe space to talk through your thoughts or prescribe medications to improve your well-being.
7 ways to overcome lack of ambition
It’s difficult to know what to do when you’re in a slump. If chasing your goals is essential to your happiness, here are some tips for finding your ambition again.
1. Find a mentor
Find people that inspire you and reach out to them. A cold connection on LinkedIn can lead to a long-term friend and mentor who can guide you through your career. They may even end up a coworker one day.
Even if you’re unsure about your dreams and aspirations, they’ve likely questioned their path at one point in their lives. They can help you find new directions for self-improvement.
2. Lean on your support system
Think of the people you’ve known the longest and who you know the best. Are they ambitious people? Have they taught you important lessons about yourself, the world, or hard work?
Right now, you might need more support from them than usual. And that’s okay! These are folks who care about you. They’ll remind you about what makes you great and what you’re good at. These affirmations can help revive your confidence and the inner spark of ambition.
3. Get to know yourself
Now is a good time to reflect on your past experiences, lessons learned, and what fills you with joy. Start a journal, learn to meditate, or talk with a therapist or coach. A hard look at the past can help you plan for the future.
4. Focus on your successes
If fear of failure is keeping you down, try to remember some of your proudest moments. What made them special? What were you doing? What skills did you use? Who were you working with? This can give you a clue as to what gives you energy, so you can set goals that return you to that feeling.
Also, try to focus on more than professional accomplishments — personal moments of satisfaction count. If you feel happiest when you’re with your kids, your goal might be to spend more time with them.
If you’re happiest when leading a project, your next goal might be to become a manager and lead a team. Focus on where your hard work feels like it pays off the most.
Connecting your goals with what makes you happy will help you find your ambition.
5. Step out of your comfort zone
Change is scary, and it might lead you to fear success. But trying new things can lead to surprising discoveries. Look for opportunities to step out of your comfort zone.
You might take on a new project at work, shadow someone in a different industry, or take a class you’ve always been curious about. You might develop new skills, interests, and passions — all of which can help you decide your next move.
6. Set SMART goals
You may already have goals. But, if they’re too big and daunting, you won’t feel you can reach them and decide not to even try.
Instead, break down your long-term goals into smaller milestones. Use the SMART method for each step of the way.
SMART stands for goals that are:
- Specific: You know what your end result will look like
- Measurable: You can easily quantify your results so you know when you’ve crossed the finish line
- Achievable: You can reach your goal with the skills and resources you currently have
- Relevant: Your goal serves your wider life ambitions
- Time-bound. You have a clear deadline for your goal
You can use this method for your personal, career, and short, medium, and long-term goals. Having a to-do list of daily goals will help you form the habit of regularly setting and achieving your goals.
The trick is to organize your targets, so they build on each other. Each win will motivate you to reach the next. Before you know it, you will have gained more confidence, improved your state of mind, and will be on track to reach your goals.
Knowledge is power. A key component of ambition is understanding what stands between you and your goal. Once you do, you’ll be better prepared for any challenges that lay ahead.
So before you run off to New York to become a big-time marketing executive, ask yourself:
- What educational requirements do you need for the job?
- How competitive is the industry?
- What kind of experience do the current industry leaders have that you don’t?
You can also listen to industry podcasts, read books, or meet people from the industry. Your research will help you be realistic about how to achieve your goals.
Dare to daydream
Learning how to overcome lack of ambition means learning more about yourself. You have to look inward to find out what’s important to you, then make a plan to turn your dreams into reality.
Whether it’s family time or a fancy sports car, you can set whatever goals you want. You don’t need to follow what you see on social media or on TV. Just make sure these goals align with your personal beliefs and values.
You may even choose not to set new goals yet. Simply sit back and enjoy the life you’ve built for yourself.