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Return on Ambition

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Return on Ambition

A Radical Approach to Your Achievement, Growth, and Well-Being

Fast Company Press,

15 min read
9 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

A successful career can, and should, go hand in hand with personal growth and fulfillment.

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  • Applicable
  • Concrete Examples
  • Inspiring


People often associate ambition with the sacrifice of their social or personal lives. According to current and former McKinsey & Company consultants Nicolai Chen Nielsen and Nicolai Tillisch, however, the key to success lies in integrating your career ambitions with enhancing your personal growth and well-being. Nielsen and Tillisch aim to help ambitious people better understand the motivations underlying their drive for success. They offer readers the capacity to manage their ambitions more effectively as they achieve their professional and personal goals.


Ambition can drive you to do great things, but not all efforts to achieve your goals offer a good return on investment.

Ambitious people focus on the future. They believe that with will and effort, they can realize their goals. However, people with a great drive to achieve often remain unaware of the best ways to channel their ambitions. Just as people use money responsibly or irresponsibly, people can act on their ambitions in ways that may or may not generate a good return on their investment of time and resources.

Without a clear understanding of how to manage your ambition, you may find that, even if you achieve great things and appear successful, you exist in a near constant state of burnout, frustration or dissatisfaction.

To manage your ambitions, understand their premises.

To succeed personally and professionally, you need a clear picture of the return you want from your ambition and why the goals you strive for matter. You can avoid pitfalls by determining a clear direction for your life, the scope of your goals, your timeline for achievement and how much...

About the Authors

Associate partner at McKinsey & Company Nicolai Chen Nielsen advises clients on leadership development, culture change and agile transformations. Executive coach Nicolai Tillisch is the co-founder of Deliberate Development and a former McKinsey consultant.

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