The importance of harnessing your ambition

 The desire to achieve something great is not selfish but the driver of progress in individuals, society, and the global economy, argues author and journalist Rachel Bridge.

Author, journalist and comedian Rachel Bridge believes ambition is what will change the world for the better.

Bridge is the best-selling author of six books, a journalist, and a public speaker specialising in personal development, smart thinking and entrepreneurship. The former enterprise editor of The Sunday Times, Bridge now writes for The Times and The Telegraph. She also holds an MA in economics from Cambridge University.

In 2010, she took her one-woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival, and will be taking another show there in August 2016, based on her latest book, entitled Ambition. Bridge believes anyone who wants to gain that promotion, achieve a life-changing goal, start their own business, receive acclaim, or make a positive difference to the world, is already fuelled by sufficient ambition to attain it.

AMBITION (that is this very magazine – not Bridge’s latest book of the same name – in case you’re not keeping up) caught up with her to find out more…

What inspired you to write this book?

I had already written five books for, and about, entrepreneurs and I find them fascinating, but with this book I wanted to explore what we can learn from successful people in all walks of life. I think that, in too many cases, ‘ambition’ is viewed as a dirty word and it’s seen as bad for people to be open about what they want from life. It evokes too many connotations of 1980s shoulder pads and a ‘greed is good’ mentality.

But ‘ambition’ is not about being selfish. It’s about having the desire to achieve something great – not just a car, or a big house – but something good for society and the world. This is what inspired me to write this book.

You talk about ‘buried ambition’ in the book – why do aspirational people self-limit?

There are so many things people would love to do, but they’re almost too embarrassed to try to do them. There is a false belief that in order to achieve great things, you have to trample other people along the way There is also a fear among people that if they try to do something, they will fail or will be viewed by others in a bad light. A wealth of research shows that if you have the guts to tell yourself and others what your goals are, there is much more chance you will achieve them.

Rachel Bridges top 10 tips for fulfilling ambition?

  1. Tell someone your goal, so you’ve said it out loud.
  2. Look at the things that have been stopping you so far. Once you’re aware of them, they’ll be less likely to hold you back.
  3. Set a deadline.
  4. Move the TV to the coldest room in the house and make the place where you work a warm, comfortable, nice place to be.
  5. Research your idea thoroughly.
  6. Identify under-used pockets of time in your day and use them better.
  7. Have the right support team around you.
  8. Stop worrying about what others think.
  9. Don’t fear failure.
  10. Get on with it!

Is there a fine line between being ambitious and over-ambitious?

I don’t like the term ‘over-ambitious’ but when people set themselves ambitions, they have to be realistic and back them up with talent, skill and hard graft. If someone wants a bigger salary or a promotion, they have to know how they can achieve it – there are no shortcuts here.

I use a case study in the book about a woman who was in a low-level job in a company and couldn’t get the promotion she wanted because her bosses thought she was too good at the job she did to move from it. So she left the company and ‘zig-zagged’ between other employers, learning skills, until she was able to return to her original employer in a much more senior and powerful role than she left. People who want to fulfil their ambitions plan a strategy and understand that it won’t be a linear process to get there, but they might have to tweak their plans from time to time.

In terms of disappointment, I think this is useful stuff – if you fail to get a job you apply for, you might get a better job or realise you need to adapt your strategy and rethink. This is not something to be feared.

How do specific goals differ from unrealistic dreams?

When you set your goals and ambitions, you need to understand there will be some things you cannot do. For instance, I love jazz singing; I know I’m never going to be a recording artist and sell records, but I can hone my repertoire, contact some bars and jazz clubs to have small gigs there, put some videos on YouTube and work from there. Don’t sell your house and give up your job to follow a dream – think about achieving your ambitions in small practical steps.

Do you think self-sabotage is an issue in people failing to fulfil their potential?

Absolutely. There are too many people who say ‘I don’t think I’ll bother’ when it comes to fulfilling their ambitions. It’s like a novelist who writes books and then puts the manuscript in a drawer because they’re scared publishers will reject it. If it’s not even sent, it’ll never be published. My advice to aspiring leaders is to research thoroughly where you want to be. The best leaders in the world don’t know it all; they give the illusion of brilliance – and at some stage in their careers they just went for it.


 Rachel Bridge is a best-selling author, journalist and public speaker specialising in personal development, smart thinking and entrepreneurship. The former Enterprise Editor of The Sunday Times, Rachel now writes for The Times and The Telegraph. She took a one-woman show to the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival, and will be taking another show there in 2016 which will be based on her book Ambition. She also holds an MA degree in Economics from Cambridge University.

To order Ambition, click here