I've always had clear ambitions.
When I was 4, I wanted to be a doctor.
When I was 8, I wanted to be a teacher.
When I was 12, I wanted to be a marine biologist.
When I was 15, I wanted to be first clarinet in a philharmonic orchestra.
When I was 21, I wanted to be an actress on Broadway.
When I was 30, I wanted to start a school.
Funny how ambitions change, isn't it? For the first forty-ish years, I focused my ambition on what role I would take on. I wanted to do something big. Something to be remembered by and honored for.
I can remember being 13 and going to the library to research orcas. I saw no reason why I couldn't get started on my work as a marine biologist right away. I spent countless hours combing through the stacks, requesting new books, and photo-copying page after page of information on orcas. I filed the copies away in binders, highlighted religiously and tried to keep straight which markings went with which sub-species. In my mind, the trajectory was clear. High school, bachelor's degree in marine biology, a master's degree, then living on Puget Sound, researching and writing my doctoral dissertation.
But then I didn't get to go to the school with the fancy marine biology program. And high-school started, and I had new friends and new priorities and that particular ambition faded. I was still interested in whales, but the crystal-clear picture of what my life on the forefront of marine conservation would look like got cloudier and cloudier until it changed altogether.
And this happened again and again. Life happened and plans changed and where I am now is nowhere near where I thought I'd be.
40 years old. Married for 15 years (in just a few days – woot woot!), two couldn't-ask-for-better kids, in a job that doesn't fit, starting my own business, and managing a slowly progressing set of autoimmune diseases. And happy - for the most part.
But that "best life" that everyone talks about? Not quite there yet.
A study, published in 2012, found that highly ambitious people may attain more - more prestige, more money, etc. - but they actually live shorter lives. I'm not kidding. Being ambitious in the traditional sense actually shortens your life.
I'm ready to shift my perspective on ambition. Change my goals.
Now that I'm 40? I want to spend more time with my kids, provide for my family, serve others, breath freely, and thoroughly love my life. Not by filling some lofty role. But by doing the most that I can to have the life that I envision, day by day.
So here's my challenge – to you and me. Live your ambitions day by day. The question is not what do you want to be.
Who do you want to be?
I want to be present.
I want to be kind.
I want to make decisions that point toward health.
I want to look at any adversity I face and take a moment to take at least one full breath before I react.
I can do that today.
Do I also have some lofty ambitions? Yes!
Financial independence. More travel. Better health. Some day actually seeing an orca! Some things that are in my control and honestly, some that aren't. But if I don't reach anything on the lofty list today?
I'll be just fine.
And so will you.