Ambition vs. Anxiety: What’s Really Driving You?

Jenn Fredette LPC, NCC, MA, M.Div., Clinical Coordinator.

Ambition vs. Anxiety

Anxiety is clever, it masquerades as all sorts of important sounding qualities: thoughtful people-pleaser; detail-oriented planner; and, one of my very favorites, ambitious go-getter.

I can’t even begin to name how many people I’ve encountered who keep their anxiety hidden and wrapped up tight in the mask of ambition. They often work too much, drink or eat too much, and don’t sleep nearly enough.

When these ambitious go-getters are my clients, they often come because they recognize that anxiety is getting in their way, but they get really scared that if they really work on reducing their anxiety, they’re also going to reduce their ambition and become total slackers.

And dude, I totally get that.

I’ve been there. I used to believe that my anxiety was the only thing that made my ambition work, the only thing that was really going to move me forward, in large part because I thought anxiety was my only true gift and strength, and that underneath that, I wasn’t worth much at all.

Incidentally, that’s total BS.

Anxiety is a master con artist, in it for the long haul, ready to subtly take the credit for all your successes (where would you have been if you hadn’t worried about what everyone thought about you? you would have never gotten that done without me nagging you about it) and pin all your failures on you (if you had only done it just a little differently, or listened to so-and-so, than you would have succeeded).

If you’re going to reclaim your self-worth and recognize your own value and strengths, you have to recognize the differences between anxiety and ambition.

anxiety is…

unease that permeates every pore, worry over details that no one else seems to give a fuck about, and desire for peace in the midst of constant apprehension.

ambition is…

excitement to achieve meaningful goals, drive to make your dreams into reality, and determined commitment to take amazing care of yourself while you kick ass and achieve your objectives.

anxiety says…

“you’re going to fail if you don’t absolutely kill yourself to achieve perfection, so get moving, sleep is for losers.”

“they all know that you’re faking it, I can’t believe you said/did/thought that, you really need to prove to them you know what you’re doing, suit up that smile and start selling.”

“why would anyone ever believe in you? you never know what to do, what to say, who to be.”

ambition says…

“failure is part of the formula of success, just keep experimenting, you’ll figure out what other ingredients you need.”

“be yourself, nobody knows 100% what they’re doing, the successful people are the ones who try anyway and learn as they go. you got this!”

“I believe in me. I can and will do this, and have fun while I do!”

anxiety feels like…

heart-racing, tornado of tumbling thoughts, sweaty palms, tingles of dread, and a thousand pound weight churning in your stomach.

ambition feels like…

refreshing excitement that moves you past the feelings of being overwhelmed, and butterflies doing the tango (which is both pleasant and unnerving, amirite?)

anxiety urges you…

  1. to think about every possible outcome that could occur from a single action, including what other people will think and feel, and then choose the least offensive one.
  2. but don’t think too long! because time is of the essence, you have to do something, anything, right now, or you’re pretty sure the apocalypse will be arriving post haste.
  3. ruminate endlessly on the action you took, how it likely affected all the people around you, how they feel about you and the action, and how likely on a scale of 1 to 10 it is that everyone now hates you.
  4. feel totally overwhelmed and take a nap.

ambition urges you…

  1. consider your options and choose the one that makes the most sense to you in the here and now
  2. create a plan to achieve that goal, splitting it up into smaller objectives
  3. invest in the resources that will help you achieve that goal (actual resources, not just three new fancy notebooks from Target that you will only ever use the first five pages on and then put in a box wondering why you can’t make bullet journaling work for you—or maybe that’s just me.).
  4. celebrate your successes, reflect on how you want to move forward.

Ambition vs. Anxiety No More!

Wanting to explore in more depth how anxiety and ambition show up separately in your life and consider how you can navigate that thin line between them? Why not set up a free consultation call with one of our fabulous pastoral counselors?


Request an Appointment

Invidiual, Couples, Pre-Marital Family,

Children's Counseling and Clergy Assessemnt

Was It Helpful To You?

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)