A young woman lamented her lack of ambition to me, comparing her current state to my condition at her age when I said I was ambitious and always looking for new work. It struck me that the issue for her is more likely that she doesn’t know clearly what she is ambitious to achieve.

I find this young woman to be incredibly ambitious – she idolizes Vera Wang and wants to have a similar impact on the world of fashion and design. However, she hasn’t yet settled in her mind where exactly she wants to have that impact – is it interior design? fashion design? product design? something else? In some way, she hasn’t yet identified the object of her ambition, the first big step on her journey to realizing her ambition.

It’s impossible to know exactly what kind of impact one will have on the world by the end of one’s life, nor is it possible to dream fully of the potential impact one can have. We’re simply limited by our current reality, by the examples that surround us, by our belief in our own capabilities, by those who surround us, by the risk tolerance we have, and by our willingness to face down our fears.

It is possible, however, to envision the first big impact we want to have. That dream may feel risky but it will feel achievable.

So step one of embracing one’s ambition is to identify the goal of our ambition. What do I aspire to be, achieve, think, do?

Step two is to discover what it takes to realize that ambition, to reach that goal. What do I need to learn, know, do?

Step three is to become willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that ambition. Am I willing to take an action every day? Am I willing to confront and then walk past my fears? Am I willing to ignore criticism and self-doubt? What sacrifices of time, money, relationships, immediate gratification am I willing to make in order to achieve my goal?

Step four is to actually do what it takes to reach my goals, realize my dream, achieve my ambition. Am I taking daily action? Am I tracking my actions, ensuring they are taking me closer to my goal instead of further from it? Are my actions and intentions aligned?

The first step involves self-reflection, self-assessment, and courage. The second step requires research – on-line and in person with people in similar positions, industries, stages of life, dream states. In the third, it’s essential to dig deep inside and be honest. This is where time frames can be adjusted – maybe it will take me longer to achieve my dreams because I have other obligations or needs I can’t ignore or sacrifices I am not free to make. The final step is critical, for without action, the previous steps will lead to naught but disappointment.