It's great to be smart, talented, capable, competent, or hard working, but none of these qualities is enough to change the world. What's needed is a specific goal, a clear plan, and the drive to make it happen.
New Year's Day brings with it plenty of goals. This makes sense: a new year is a blank slate. Many of us seize the opportunity to set goals, then fail and feel like shit about it. This isn't productive.
The problem isn't that we're failures, but that we do such a bad job defining success that failure is unavoidable. We need to set better goals.
If you remember, they tried to teach us how to do this back in school (though I'm not sure how many of us paid attention). As they kept saying, a good goal is a SMART goal. It sounds silly but fight the urge to roll your eyes, this is useful.
A goal is SMART if it's:
Specific: What exactly is the goal?
Measurable: How will you know you've succeeded?
Actionable: Do clear steps exist to make it happen?
Realistic: Is this something that you can really do?
Timely: When do you want to finish?
Setting aside the hokey acronym, the idea behind SMART goals is powerful: how can we define our goals clearly and realistically so that we'll know exactly when we have succeeded?
Goals like "I want to be in better shape" or "I want to read more" lead to failure because we can't measure whether or not we've accomplished them. Compare these to goals like "I want my body fat under 15% by June 1st," or "I want to read at least one book a month."
The difference is huge and important.
It's great to do this for 2013, but it's also important to do it for life. Where do you want to be in five, ten, or twenty years? How will you know when you're there? What do you need to do to make it happen? These are important questions that need to be asked, answered, and acted upon, otherwise you'll never get up off the couch.
Ambition is working towards success, not fantasizing about it. Any plan is better than no plan. Pick a goal, define it clearly, make it happen.