I Never Knew I Was Ambitious

Published on 10/18/2020

You are ambitious. Let me get that one right out of the way.

Because if you’re here, taking the time to read this, then you are an ambitious person. You’re focused on growing and getting better, you have a curious mind, and you want confirmation of your ambition. That’s okay, that is important to acknowledge. So here is your confirmation. Now that you have it, we can take a look at why you didn’t realise you were ambitious, which I’ll approach through why I never did.

I was an overachieving student; I did well in all my classes, volunteered for school functions, and kept a busy social life. I also suffered heavily from high functioning depression which would later be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder. I have always gone above and beyond, whether that was for a class, for social events or casually writing and directing a musical. I’ve been writing since I was little and always known that my dream is to be published.

A few weeks ago, a friend turned to me and said “I just wish I was ambitious like you are.” and I was honestly shocked. Because I had never considered myself to be ambitious, and so my instinct was to deny this. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I’m actually extremely ambitious, my ambition drives me. How did I miss this? Since then everyone I have discussed it with confirms that initial sentiment, they’re all surprised that I didn’t label myself as such. How did everyone know this about me but myself? And why do I still struggle to label myself as ambitious?

The Age of the Hustler

We live in a time like no other, and being on Medium has only confirmed it for me. It’s a time when if you’re not doing a side hustle, you’re failing and missing out. From multi-level marketing to ebooks, life coaching to social media influencers, everyone is getting a slice on the side. If you’re not, it can be easy to feel like you’re the only one and failing for it. But ambition doesn’t have to be doing it all. Doing it all is exhausting and never sets you up for the long-term. Running yourself ragged by being in fantastic shape, earning alongside a 9 to 5 and decorating a Pinterest style home isn’t for everyone, or maybe even anyone. You need to stop looking at these hustlers as honest portrayals and something to look up to.

Everything is relative, and that includes what you take on. You don’t have to be earning from your ambition today for it to be called an ambition. Flowers take time to grow, and a big strong apple tree takes even longer. You can be ambitious by watering your apple tree and applying patience. That is also an acceptable way forward, as you’re still moving forward and focused.

Don’t consider how ambition is portrayed in others, but rather how it manifests in yourself. What in yourself can be regarded as ambition? Take a piece of paper and write down the following:

1. What is my ambition?

2. What shows my ambition?

3. Which traits stem from my ambition?

4. How can I work towards my ambition?

It is not a one size fits all. And thank goodness for that, as it would be incredibly dull if it were! You need to ignore the hustlers and quick money schemes and set yourself up for your long-term run. You are ambitious, even if it doesn’t fit their circle peg. Just because you sleep properly at night and look after your mental health by taking days off, doesn’t mean that you are less ambitious. I prioritise my sleep, and that’s exactly because I am ambitious.

Self-Doubt and the Imposter Syndrome

Maybe it’s just me, but being ambitious sounds like a great trait to possess. I hear the word ambition, and I think of someone driven, intelligent and focused. They know what they want, and nothing will stop them. Then I look down at myself in sweatpants, braless and far from a publishing deal. There seems to be a small discrepancy here…

We may not realise or acknowledge our ambition because we’re too busy putting ourselves down. We think that you have to have everything together to be ambitious. No, you don’t, not at all. Ambition doesn’t mean having your dream job; but rather knowing what it is or where you want to go. It is the drive to get you there. Ambition isn’t a perfect face of makeup and low ponytail that somehow doesn’t have you end up looking like a founding father. It’s internal; it’s the belief that you can go where you want to go, and you will.

You may have heard of the Imposter Syndrome, and even if not, it is likely you’ve experienced it yourself. An estimated 70% of people have experienced such imposter feelings at some point in their lives (International Journal of Behavioral Science). The Imposter Syndrome is the idea that you’ve only succeeded so far due to luck, not as a result of your qualifications or talents. Women were believed to be more heavily affected by the syndrome. Unsure if you’re suffering from the Imposter Syndrome? Take this test to find out.

Relating the Imposter Syndrome to ambition, it may be that we don’t think we deserve to be considered ambitious. We haven’t earned that label, despite our achievements or accomplishments, as those were simply luck. We don’t think ambition has got us so far, something else has. To put it simply: we’re not ambitious, we’re lucky.

But stop that, stop it right now. Stop giving your success away. I’ve done it for years; I always considered myself to be lucky in the things I got and earned, I was just good at passing off in interviews. I work on my novel early in the morning not because I’m driven or dedicated, but I happen to be a morning person. I keep sending off manuscripts not because I’m ambitious, but because I don’t know what else to do. We take our achievements away when we deserve the shiny sticker of them. Moreover, we deserve to be an ambitious person.

Writing is not an ambition

I have wanted to be a writer since about ten years old; it’s hard to pinpoint exactly as it is something that was simply always present. I was reading from a very young age, consistently begging my father to buy me more books. I was making stories as well, handing in short novels for simple tasks in English class. I had an active imagination; a part of it was trying to escape the cracks and fighting in my home. I don’t think I had imaginary friends per se, but rather a whole world that looked just like my own, but was far brighter and more attractive.

I completed my first novel at the age of seventeen. I won’t say it was great, but it was over 60,000 words. I have been writing alongside my schooling, university and several jobs. Yet somehow I never considered any of this to ambition or ambitious. Because writing couldn’t be an ambition, it is too fun, and I enjoy it too much for it to be something hard. Writing is too unrealistic, who lives off their writing nowadays? Writing is a dream job, right next to being a princess. Well, Meghan Markle managed that, so maybe I can manage to be a writer.

I think many of us who inhabit creative spaces are utterly oblivious to the stark nature of our ambition. We wake up early to fit in writing before a day job or spend our entire weekends hunched behind a laptop tirelessly working away. Yet we feel like we are less ambitious than our peers enjoying a 9 to 5 job and partying their weekend away. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but why should we consider them to be the ambitious ones?

It is time to realise that wanting to be a writer is an ambition in itself. It a goal, one rooted deep into your sense of self and deserves to be acknowledged as such. Furthermore, the work that goes into being a writer is ambitious. The time, blood, sweat and tears are real markers of ambition. So if you are working hard at your writing, posting articles on Medium, your own blog, or typing away at a manuscript in a Google Doc, guess what? You’re ambitious. Own it.

Ambition is for boys

As young girls, ambition is not fuelled in us, not in the same way it is for boys. They’re pushed towards business, economics and other hard-hitting areas, whilst we have to find our own way to those same pursuits. It’s even present in how our traits assumed. Boys are taught to save money and be good with it, whilst women don’t receive these same lessons, instead filled with jokes about shopping too much and surrounded by the same products but overpriced. We are not given the embers for ambition, but it goes a step further than that.

We are actively guided away from being ambitious or calling ourselves such. We are taught that ambition in men is drive, strength and assertiveness. Ambition in women? Bossy, demanding, selfish. An ambitious man is sexy; an ambitious woman is cold. We’re made to believe that we don’t want to be ambitious, that being ambitious is a pejorative term.

At what point was ambition labelled to be a gendered trait? As we (too) slowly move away from the concept that a woman’s greatest ambition and goal is raising children, we can begin to provide women with the space to be ambitious as well. The amount of focus on having children and getting married should be the same for women and men. Women can want a career, not just until marriage, not just until kids, but as long as they damn want. Ambition is a positive trait in everyone and should be treated as such.

We can all play a role in this. We can recognise the inner misogyny and stop viewing and labelling high powered women with unfavourable terms. Just ask yourself, would I feel the same way is she was a man? We can recognise our inner ambition and refuse to be ashamed for it, moreover, be proud of it and wear it with pride. I am an ambitious person, and I love that about myself. We can teach the next generation or even just our peers that ambition is not gender-specific.

If you take only one thing from this article, let it be the first line. Let it be the bravery to acknowledge that you are ambitious. You are ambitious, and that is a good thing. Your ambition does not need to manifest as others do; it doesn’t even need to be apparent to anyone else. As long as you recognise your ambitious nature, then the world is your oyster.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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