'Soft Ambition' Keeps Your Dreams Alive Without Taking Over Your Life

Remember the absolute hailstorm Kim Kardashian launched when she proclaimed to CNN, "It seems nobody wants to work these days?" Kardashian, who is arguably the most ambitious and business-savvy member of the famous Kardashian/Jenner family, faced an absolute backlash after telling women they need to get off their butts and get back to work. However, according to the data, she's not exactly wrong. Maybe women don't really want to work anymore — and for good reason. A McKinsey study found that 2.3 million women left their careers in 2020 during the pandemic, and another study from 2022 estimates that 42% of women who are still working are burned out. The data then, predictably, revealed that 50 million people in total quit their jobs in 2022.

What if you financially can't quit but you're burned out? We've all heard about the Great Resignation and also the phenomenon of "quiet quitting," where you stop giving your job your all. You never stay late and you don't take on tasks that aren't outlined in your job description — you just show up, do the work, and go home. You don't outshine your colleagues. You don't strive to climb the corporate ladder or get a promotion. And maybe — hear us out — that's a good thing. Should we give up hustle culture and work to live, rather than live to work? This ethos is being called "soft ambition," and it's worth exploring.

The pandemic forced us to discover our real ambitions

So, you've lost that driving ambition to succeed at your corporate job? Post-pandemic, you're not alone. "We've been told and conditioned through capitalism to fall into this trap that individual achievements are the antidote to systemic failure," author Rainesford Stauffer tells Marie Claire. "But during the pandemic, people were still expected to go to work, people were still expected to perform, and structural crises compounded on top of personal ones. And people realized that these systems they poured themselves into had failed them."

Natasha Crosby of Crosby Counseling & Services agrees, telling Time, "The pandemic forced people to slow down and actually evaluate their lives and how they were spending their time." Think about it: On your deathbed, you probably won't look back on your life and wish you spent more time at the office. You'll probably regret time not spent with family, friends, and loved ones and time not spent chasing your passions, whether that be traveling more or pursuing an artistic endeavor.

Enter soft ambition: It's a notion whereby we can still be ambitious, but not towards things that necessarily drive capitalism. University of Minnesota professor John Kammeyer-Mueller also tells Time, "People are still motivated to achieve things; they just don't want to do it at work as much anymore." It turns out that steering your career ambition toward soft ambition — a.k.a. the things that truly matter to you — is easy.

Ambition without burnout

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 29% of those who had recently resigned from their jobs cited "better work-life balance" as the main reason. So, if you're someone who gave up on their dreams when your job offered you a greater salary with benefits, now might be the time to double down on your dreams and chase that soft ambition. Rachel Simmons, executive coach and author, tells Marie Claire that this doesn't have to consist of potential income-generating activities. "Starting a family is ambitious, as is trying to build a healthy romantic relationship for the first time. So is getting sober," Simmons tells the outlet, also listing helping out in the community or even within your social circle is ambitious.

"It's fascinating because those things aren't normally clocked as ambitious," author Rainesford Stauffer tells the outlet. "But they take just as much care and drive as anything else." Stauffer suggests separating the idea of self-worth and productivity, as your worth as a human goes far beyond your ability to turn a profit. Soft ambition can truly fulfill your dreams without dominating your life and causing extreme burnout, which is important to recognize and prevent.

University of Quebec, Montreal, professor Jacques Forest tells Time that people renouncing mainstream ambition and following their dreams is a positive thing. "If people are dropping out of [capitalist ambition], that's good news."

Let this be your sign to give soft ambition a shot!