I had an interesting question posed via e-mail not too long ago. That person had yet to start his satisfying retirement journey. He was still a few years away but had a solid financial game plan and a hobby that he was anxious to spend more time enjoying. His marriage was satisfying and his relationship with his adult children was good. Yet, something was bothering him enough to ask for my thoughts.
His concern was simply this: does having ambition end when work ends? Does the striving for some type of achievement or distinction and the willingness to work toward it stop with the last paycheck? I could tell from his question that his definition of ambition is a traditional one, rooted in the concept of power, or wealth, or recognition. He was really asking if striving toward more was soon to be over.
I assured him that wanting more, working toward more, and hoping for more didn't stop with retirement. In fact, the desire for more actually intensifies. What changes is the definition of ambition and the meaning of more.
During my radio consulting career my ambition was pretty fearsome. I wanted to be a major figure in my industry. I was willing to travel 100,000 miles a year, be away from home for almost half of each year, take on more business than I could comfortably handle, and strive for more. While my ambition was adequately fed for several years, eventually things started to fall apart. It took the closing of my business and a few painful years of readjustment to understand the type of ambition I was seeking was ultimately unsatisfying. It was based on the totally false assumption that there is never enough, in the bank, in the garage, in the size of the house, or in the influence over others.
Retirement allows for a completely different meaning of ambition. Being ambitious is about the quality of one's life, the fullness of relationships, and the satisfying feeling one gets when volunteering to help others. It is about the desire to live each moment as fully as possible. It is about the opportunity to discover a side of one's personality or talents that was always there, just waiting for the chance to burst forth. It is about more joy, more freedom, more acceptance.
I assured the fellow of all of this.... and received no response. Maybe my answer was so profound I erased all his mental doubts. Maybe he decided I had no ambition myself and was trying to sell him on the concept of becoming a sloth. Or, maybe, he is still thinking about the concept of being ambitious with a whole different range of experiences and payoff. Whatever his thoughts were, I am glad he asked the question. It gave me the chance to clarify my own thoughts and motivations.
It is Labor Day. This post is shorter than normal because you have more interesting things to do than read a long blog post, and I have family coming over for a cookout.
My ambition for today is simple: to not burn the burgers.