Losing My Ambition

As I approach my personal half-century mark, I find myself in strange territory. Having successfully climbed a few career ladders in my life, I am currently, apparently, without ambition. It doesn’t feel like a bad thing.

I’ve lived in big cities and charming towns and traveled the world from Alaska to Zimbabwe. I’ve interviewed celebrities, been interviewed on TV, hosted radio shows, co-written books and hung out with politicos and hip hop pioneers in New York, New York. I’ve sung to crowds at Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Hatch Shell. I even swayed and clapped with fellow gospel singers behind Mariah Carey as she belted out “Make it Happen” to thousands of fans at the huge TD Garden. (That was awesome.)

I’m not trying to brag here so much as note the highlights of a life lived pretty fully so far. I’m sure I’ll be up to more adventures eventually, but right now I’m satisfied with the ones I’ve had.

The evidence of my contentment, if that’s the word for it, is mounting:

A few weeks ago, as I sat in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership, I scanned the table full of gossip rags. I realized I had absolutely no interest in anything that any celebrity was up to that week. This, from someone who used to devour People magazine from cover-to-cover, watch Entertainment Tonight religiously, and fantasize about being a big somebody some day.

Always a fan of comfort clothes, I now find myself primarily dressing in a style that can best be described as casual bordering on frumpy. Most days you’ll find me in sensible footwear, yoga pants, and no-iron tops. I cannot recall the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose or high heels.

I recently ran into a former yoga student of mine as she prepared to give a talk on European flower shows. When I asked her if horticulture was her business she said, “I do it for fun. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of a ‘kept woman.’” To tell you the truth, that sounded pretty good to me.

What happened to the teenager who wanted to be the next Barbara Walters, the public radio reporter who planned to host her own show, and the yoga teacher who thought she’d sit across from Oprah one day, gabbing about her spiritual awakening and helping millions to achieve their own? She’s the same person who walked away from a career in broadcast news at age 35 because her soul beckoned her elsewhere. She’s the passionate creativity teacher who recently said, “Yeah, I wanna be a ‘local somebody’ too!” upon hearing the clever phrase from a student. The current me delights in coaching others to live fully expressed lives, writing articles for a local healthy living magazine, selling the occasional personal essay and blogging for beloved readers.

When it comes to amassing a fortune, well, I always worked in non-profit but now I seem even less concerned with profiting. I pay the bills, enjoy a simple life, and follow a work schedule that leaves me with adequate free time. If time is indeed money, then I’m rich. So is a former student who echoes my sentiments as she writes, “Sometimes I feel I should be doing more and leading the kind of busy-productive life I admire in others, but my unscheduled time is so precious and essential to my peace of mind. I’m grateful to have it, because I know not everyone does.”

Author Daniel Pink recently said that this age of abundance and prosperity has liberated but not fulfilled us, leaving more people searching for meaning instead of megabucks. Last year I heard a news story about MBAs who were becoming farmers to live more sustainable lives, and last month I learned about the Junky Car Club, in which people drive old cars in order to have more money for charitable contributions.

Like these folks, my highest ambition is to be a better human being. I also want to spend more time with my family and friends while we’re all still around, keep using my skills to help people, and savor my blessings.

Crowding 50, I have no advanced degrees, no property in my name, and no record of civic involvement apart from some volunteer work and the local garden club. Still, I’m happy with the person I’ve become and I love my life. The other day I read a little message on my tea bag that said, “You can run after satisfaction, but satisfaction must come from within.”

I think I’ve stopped running.

Back in high school I thought I was too cool when I wrote my yearbook quote in French. Today, it’s the sentiment that impresses me. “What is success?” I wrote, in the English translation. “It’s being happy with what, who and where we are in life.”

More than thirty years later, I find that to be true.

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p.s. Okay, now I AM bragging – this essay made the front page/Editor’s Picks this week on Open Salon, a forum for writers. You can see it by clicking here.

18 thoughts on “Losing My Ambition

  1. Funny, I’ve been feeling a little antsy as I approach 50 — like there is something I want to do, just don’t know what it is. I’ll let you know when I figure it out! Love ya.

    1. To Maria Elena…from Marie-Elena…who is less than 6 months from the big
      5-0 herself. I hear you, ME – something is brewing, a wind of change is swirling overhead… can’t wait to see what happens next for me too! Kim, thanks for helping to re-light my fire.

  2. I know I know! You want to help me organize a “Chicas turning 50” weekend in 2013, rrrright? Somewhere warm, with cocktails and a spa…? Love ya back…

  3. This post is great, and love your blog. Same take on ambition as the one Osho preaches, which makes so much sense. Why live in the future? Live truthfully in the present and you will get to where you need to (and without so much suffering)!

  4. Funny, Kim that as I move toward 50 that I feel the same way. My definition of success has changed; my definition of a “good day” is different. I’m learning to take time for me and enjoying and appreciating those tiny moments of joy.

  5. As always Kim…well said! Thank you for sharing your inner thoughts and gentle reminders of what’s important…I’m so grateful to have you and your thoughtful insight as the backbone of our local editorial.

    Thank you again for reaching out. I had no idea how meaningful and instrumental that first call you made almost two years ago would be! Hard to believe that call was almost two years ago…what a ride!!! In heartfelt gratitude…peace ;o)

  6. Hi, Kim. I always seem to find something in your monthly blog that inspires or uplifts. When I read the paragraph about having no property and no master’s degree but still being happy with who you’ve become, I thought “yes, I can still have a fulfilling life”.

  7. I went through something similar in my mid 50’s soon after I moved to Rhode Island. I even gave some thought to retiring. You’re right it was time of reflection, appreciation and contentment that for me at any least, has lead to a deepening sense of purpose.

    Now just past 60 I am feeling more committed and focused on doing work that really makes a difference in people’s lives. Part of that has been returning to hospice work after a 20 year hiatus and a deeper commitment to providing grief education and support.

    That phase of contentment in my mid 50’s set the stage for what really feels like massive renewal now. I am no longer thinking about retirement 🙂

  8. Oh Kim, I just love your blog. It’s so honest and insightful and never fails to make me laugh out loud at least once. I so appreciate how content you are with where you’re at in your life, and how your sharing of that gives the rest of us (me) permission to feel the same way – and to practice gratitude 🙂 Love to you.

    (P.S. Can I come on the “Chicas turning 50” trip even with a few years left to go?)

  9. The calm confidence and self love you’ve expressed here are truly affirming and an example for me. And Susan, I look forward to re-embracing my passion from under the ashes of 50+ burn-out. Thank you both for a welcome dose of hopeful optimism.

  10. Kim,
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us! I too will turn 50 this year and was expressing to a friend the internal shift of wanting a big house, nice car, the BIG life of having arrived! has changed. I want to enjoy the journey and to enjoy time with those I love. Challenging ourselves to grow is important , but peace and appreciation for what we have in the present is vital to us being fulfilled and happy people along the way.
    Thank you as always for inspiring us to explore our thoughts more deeply and to seek your own truths!
    Julie

  11. Hi friend. 50. Fifty. I was 10 years into a tenure track teaching position at 50. That was in 1990. What lovely justice it was to have finally reached a goal or two, on my way to full professor status (most ambitious academics would have arrive at this phase of their careers 15-20 years sooner) and owner of my personal living space. I can say, now a fully retired artist/teacher, that I am still engaged in the mentoring of younger generations of learners, by teaching online and because I remain in touch with art majors working at my university, some 100o miles away. What could be better than that? You have so much more juice left in your fridge.

  12. Kim
    I loved your blog! You know when I turned 50 I could not imagine not working. I always had great jobs and when I suddenly was unable to work anymore at age 53 I thought my world had come to an end. But surprisingly I began to see things differently and started to appreciate so many other things. I even like rainy days!
    Things got even better when I turned 60. I don’t care as much about what people might think of me and just feel very comfortable with my life. I wish the best for you as you enter your next decade!

  13. Beautufully written and well said…definitely food for thought.
    Thanks Kim for your inspiration and insight to what really
    Matters most!

  14. Hi Kim
    Lovely, truly lovely. I second many of your personal developments (I am also older than you). Spaciousness approaching 50! I think you are ahead of the crowd. These times are so full of acceleration that can sweep us off our course and off our values with distractions and diversions.
    There is a wonderful verse of scripture from the book of Phillipians i.e. New testament…
    “I have learned the secret of being content in any and in all situations; whether in plenty or in lack.” That is Christian but also very Buddhist! don’t you think?
    Contentment and spaciousness are prizes of maturity and faith.
    blessings
    Leslie

  15. Sensei Kim! Another awesome entry! The title is what brought me here. I had visions of Michael Stipes of REM turning round and round…..Losing his ambition. But I digress!

    Singing with Mariah Carey…..Wow. Girl, I can’t tell you how moved and captivated I was when I first heard “Vision of Love” as a high school student. I took singing lessons so I could sound like HER. I wanted to be beautiful just like HER. My high school did a musical that year, and it sort of paid off….I say sort of because it is not my gift, but I enjoy listening to others share their singing talent! Your whole piece resonated deeply with me….The dreams of youth…..Yes, I wanted to be like Oprah too…..I had my taped television interview with Barbara Walters on Oscar night all planned out! And then there’s those skits when I guest hosted Saturday Night Live…. And, there’s the Oscar acceptance speech…..I still sometimes watch Oscar acceptance speeches on Youtube like sports fans watching a championship tourney! But….once I started college, reality moved in: I stopped watching TV/movies, watching music videos, watching award shows…..I saw too much longing…..being mined and then
    misunderstood…….exploited…..Entertainment, enlightenment, and connection (superficial?) at such a deep cost…..The longing was a reflection of what was within, and though it got me very far, I eventually realized I had no inner peace….But the journey to get off the race track, and create my own path, as you know, has been challenging. I want an outlet to be creative, to share and listen and engage with others—and thankfully, it doesn’t have to be on a stage, but….. at the bus stop or at the post office…I occasionally revisit those childhood dreams but now only with wonder and appreciation for my ability to think big. I also want to be forgiven and to forgive more easily….. So, I applaud your revelations and journey and for sharing. Its so difficult when society seems to conspire against this heartfelt way of seeing life and love. I love, love what you said about “running to satisfaction.” I am impressed by the sage wisdom in your high school quote, and how you end your piece. Oooh la la! I love that you said your “highest ambition is to be a better human being.” Yes! Yes!

    Thanks for your courage, and have a fantastic and fabulous birthday!

  16. Kim! I love reading your essays. Thank you for making the time in your life to practice being a local someone and helping others live life to the fullest– you certainly are both!

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