How To Balance Ambitious Goals While Still Being Realistic

Disclaimer: I’m off in hypothetical land, but I wanted to think through this

The Question

How do we balance ambition with being realistic?

First off, why is this even a question?

Because ambition is risky and doesn’t always work out the way we want it to.

And because being too realistic means we won’t innovate and push the limits.


Setting unrealistic goals and shooting high means you won’t always reach them. BUT, sometimes striving for an unrealistic goal means you might land higher than if you set a more realistic goal.

I believe we are capable of more than we think. You don’t have to look very far to find evidence of this (see David Goggins). If we choose to value the idea of “reaching our full potential,” then I see no other way to get there than ambition.

The best personal anecdote I have for this is my career journey. I got an internship as a software engineer my summer after sophomore year of college. It was a great experience and I started envisioning life at that company full time. But, the following summer I got an internship with Microsoft (something I held highly). That was an even better experience.

If I hadn’t been ambitious, I may have never realized that working at Microsoft was something I could have achieved.

But, what’s too unrealistic? And on the flippity flip, what’s too realistic and not ambitious enough? It seems as though the only way we can find out is to test these limits.

Then there’s the other side.


I saw an Instagram post that sparked this whole post. It went something like

The average millionaire becomes a millionaire by age 49. Stop thinking that you need to get there by 29.

It’s a reminder to think long term, to focus on being consistent, showing up, and putting things in perspective.

Alex Hormozi (who owns a portfolio of businesses that do $100m+/year) has a quote along these lines that goes like

Think about what would make it unreasonable for you to not become wealthy in 10 years.

Or put another way,

Do things that would make it inevitable that you became wealthy in 5-10 years.

Again, it’s a reminder to be consistent and think longer term.


So, do we shoot high, strive for unrealistic goals, and land higher than we expected? Or do we put our heads down, show up consistently, and lift our head up only after 10 years to look at what we’ve accomplished?

This feels to me like a macro/micro or a push/pull situation.

Macro ambition, micro consistency.

Push with ambition, then pull yourself back to reality with consistency.

Dream with ambition, ground yourself with consistency.

The issue I see with ambition is if things don’t go our way and what our mindset and thoughts should be if that occurs. Beating ourselves up about not achieving our (unrealistic) goal doesn’t seem helpful.

The issue I see with consistency is if we get complacent and use “consistency” as a cop-out to putting in the work or pushing the limits. Coasting doesn’t seem like a good use of this 1 in 400 trillion opportunity we all get called “life.”


So to come back to the original question

How do we balance ambition with being realistic?

My hypothesis is:

Use ambition at a macro scale (multi-year, decade, lifespan) to drive goals and visions. Dream big and set lofty goals. Then, in the micro (day, week, month), focus on consistency and showing up. Leverage time to your advantage.

Remind yourself that an ambitious perspective isn’t appropriate in the micro because of the tendency to beat yourself up. If you have a down day, pull yourself back to reality by reminding yourself that you showed up and that counts.

Remind yourself that “being realistic” isn’t appropriate in the macro because of the tendency to not aim high enough. If you set a goal, push yourself with a higher one, because chances are, you can probably achieve that as well.


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