“I have no goals or ambitions in life” – Here’s why you feel this way

Ever feel like you don’t have goals or ambitions in life, but everyone else has figured it out?

You see it all around! #motivationmonday, everyone baking bread during quarantine, even your friends landing that next promotion while you’re still, just trying to figure out what you even want to do.

And you’re unhappy, right? You’re unhappy because it feels like what you want to do is not what the world wants you to do.

And it makes you feel empty. Unhappy. Disappointed in yourself.

It makes you feel sick.

I get it. I’ve been there.

And I’m here to tell you:

What you’re feeling is normal.

Normal? You mean to tell me it’s normal to feel so angry? It’s normal to feel that moving forward is pointless? 

It’s normal to hate the grind?

Yes.

Because here’s the thing: you’re butting up against the confines of a system that’s too small to hold you.

You’re bursting at the borders of what society expects of you.

It’s not that you don’t have dreams. You have goals, ambitions, desires!

These desires just aren’t the same as everyone else’s. That promotion? You don’t care about it. Why? Because you don’t care about the job.

You want something more, something different, something fulfilling. You know if you could just figure out what that “something” was, then you would finally put all that anxiety and disappointment behind.

You’re looking for self-actualization. 

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a natural-born leader. Maybe you don’t have that amazing, infectious charisma of CEOs, tech moguls, and politicians that we see all the time on tv.

Maybe you’re thinking “yeah, I know I am different, but I’m afraid I’m not good enough to strike out on my own.”

“I’m afraid I’m not talented enough to escape the grind.”

Again, those fears are normal. 

What’s happening here is you’re realizing that you want a different life than what society wants for you.

You don’t want to just nail that next account, get that next raise, buy that mega house.

You want to strike out on your own.

But, the fear of failure, or of society not approving, or of not measuring up to your dreams — those are the things that are holding you back.

I’m here to tell you that those things are bullshit. 

It’s not that those fears aren’t real. They’re real.

But they’re illusions. They’re irrational fears. They’re fears that have been cooked up by the same thing that’s making you unhappy in the first place.

What’s that?

Society’s expectations of you. 

I’m sure you’ve heard something like this a billion times: “If only you applied yourself, you’d have everything you’d ever want.”

Sound familiar?

And sure, that’s fine advice, but we all know what “apply yourself” and “have everything you want” actually mean.

They mean: put your nose to the grind. Embrace the rat race. Conform.

And get money and status.

That’s not what you want.

And because that’s not what you want, you’re not going to play their game. And as a result, it feels like you’re missing out. It feels like life is passing you by.

It’s not. Instead, it’s society’s demands of you that are passing you by.

Listen: in this world, if you’re financially solvent, if you can pay your bills, pay your rent, buy food for the fridge, and have some left over; you’re doing great. 

That right there is amazing. And so many of the “people who have it all together” don’t have anything like that down. They may have the big job with the big bucks, but they may be loaded down with debt.

They’re so busy chasing that next money high that they’re missing the very thing they’re trying to conquer: life.

To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

What’s going on when it looks like you’re staying static is that you’re looking at life.

You’re taking in life.

You’re appreciating all that life has to offer, and you’re formulating a game plan.

You’re figuring out how to make the best of what life has to offer.

You’re figuring out how to achieve your dreams to live your best life.

And in the process, you’re struggling. Struggling to figure out how to push out of the expectations that society has put on you.

It’s this push-pull between your dreams and society’s expectations that can cause you to feel stuck.

You’re not stuck, you’re just being attacked.

And you need to learn how to break free.

So how do you break free? 

You need to reorient your thinking.

You need to stop thinking about what other people want you to be, and figure out what you want to do. What you want to achieve. What you want to be.

You need to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

Ultimately, the decision to change, to grow, to thrive, has to come from within. It’s not something that I can give you. I can’t will the ambition and courage into you. Instead, you have to ask yourself “what am I doing with my life? What do I want to do?”

And then you have to find the courage to make that dream into a reality.

But maybe those questions are hard. 

And maybe it’s hard to figure out how to answer “what do I want to do with my life?”

Maybe it’s too hard to be motivated. So you need to ask yourself “why do I lack motivation?”

And there are a few reasons why.

Why you lack motivation:

1. You’re dwelling on the past

Past failures can be a powerful deterrent to motivation. But the truth is that our past exists as a tool to teach us. We need to use the lessons from the past, not be haunted by them.

2. You fear rejection

Rejection sucks, plain and simple. But the fact is, by not trying, you’re self-rejecting. You’re rejecting yourself! You have to give yourself a fighting chance.

3. You’re overwhelmed

Making a huge shift is scary as hell. All of the things required to achieve self-actualization are daunting. This is natural. The best way to beat this is by breaking up your dream into smaller parts — smaller goals that you can achieve one by one!

Motivation is tricky. Often we don’t lack motivation as much as we’re terrified of failure or scared of change. In this case, we need to reorient our minds away from fear and to desire.

We need to motivate ourselves with an enticing future.

So, the best thing to do is to start smaller: “what do you enjoy?”

“What brings you happiness?”

Start there. Figure out what brings you joy. Once you can answer that, you can figure out what you need to fill your life with.

And once you figure out what you want to fill your life with, you can begin the process of reorienting your life around that.

You’ll figure out your ambition. 

And in this case, your ambition will be natural. It’ll be organic. It won’t be “I want to get that promotion, because society wants me to.”

Instead, it’ll be the ambition to build yourself a life full of joy.

It’ll be the ambition to fill the world with what brings you happiness — to share your happiness with humanity.

To show society that there is a different way — a newfound perspective that makes life more fulfilling.

Because you’re not a slacker. You are a carer. You care deeply. You care about your own happiness and others’ happiness. And once you figure out how to fulfill your own happiness, you’ll want to share it with the world.

That is true ambition.

True ambition is to change the world to be a better place than when you found it.

You, let’s be honest, want to change the world.

And that is groundbreaking.

But that’s just the first step. 

You have to figure out how to turn this ambition into results.

How do you take your dreams and make them a reality?

For that, you need to create a plan of action.

You need to have goals. 

Goals are concrete, achievable steps that you can take to make your ambition into reality. 

Every project, from the monumental to the miniscule, has goals. And these goals, no matter what the haters say, are achievable.

Is it that you want to open a bakery? Afraid that it’ll fail because most restaurants close within a few years? Then you start with some goals.

  • Create a solid business plan where you have realistic metrics
  • Craft a consistent, easy to maintain, good profit-margin menu
  • Apply for financing from a bank

This is just a sample, but it’s indicative of the truth: any dream can be broken down into concrete goals. Society can scream at you that “your bakery will fail,” but you can take real, actionable steps to prove them wrong.

Don’t let the winds of society’s disappointment get you down. Listen to your heart. And then put your heart into action.

Give your dream a fighting chance!

But what if I trip up? 

Listen: not every goal will be achieved. You will trip up along the way. You’ll fall off the balance beam. You’ll be thrown from the horse.

You’ll hit major bumps along the road.

This is normal. This doesn’t define you. 

Instead, it’s your next decision that will define you?

Do you quit? Or do you try again?

Do you get back up on the horse?

Or do you let your doubts cloud your ambition?

I get it. Doubts are powerful. I have doubts all the time. I quit my job working in corporate to pursue a life as a writer. It’s hard as hell. I’m doubting my decision daily. I worry that I won’t make it, that I’ll have lost a lot of money, and have nothing to show for it.

But does it stop me?

I’m writing right now. Does that answer your question?

I’m not giving up — even in the face of doubts. And I know that you won’t either. Because we, us dreamers, are stronger than the doubts.

We know that our dreams and ambitions are worth pursuing. Because we have a vision for a life filled with joy. And we know, deep down, that we can achieve that life filled with joy — for us and for others.

As long as we just keep on trying. As long as we get back up on that horse.

As long as we dare to dream.

To quote from “The Man of La Mancha,”

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe

To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

This is our quest: to reach the unreachable star. To dream the impossible dream.

And the world will be better for this. The world will be better for us daring to dream the impossible dream.

Because the reality is: it’s not impossible. It’s only impossible in the eyes of those who are too afraid to dream.

But we dare to dream. And we dare to achieve.

There’s a dream inside of you. A dream to change the world. To remake the world in a way that brings joy and vibrancy to yourself and to the ones you love.

And you can achieve that dream! You can! You have it within you to break free of the expectations and fears that society has set. You can reach within yourself to find that hidden ambition.

And you can transform that hidden ambition into a plan of action.

And you can achieve those goals, one by one, in order to make that dream a reality.

And I know that it’ll be hard. I know that you’ll be thrown from the horse on the way.

But you can’t give up. You have to dare to fight back.

You have to dare to reach the impossible star.

And you’ll find it’s not so impossible after all.

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis is a Manhattan based playwright and poet of Floridian extraction. A graduate of NYU Tisch Department of Dramatic Writing, he served as a Rita and Burton Goldberg Fellow, and was awarded Outstanding Writing for the Stage in Spring of 2015. His most recent play, Lord of Florida, was workshopped by PrismHouse Theatre Company in the Fall of 2017.

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