Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fulfillment & The De-evolution of Ambition

I've been feeling very introspective lately. The other day, I was driving home from a post-work run and as I was pulling into my driveway an interesting thought hit me. (Running is when I do my best thinking. I love to hit the road and let my mind wander freely. It's my best therapy.) It suddenly hit me that this is perhaps the first time in my life that I haven't been waiting for the next thing to happen. There are no unchecked boxes on my great big "to-do" list of life. There are no "next-step" goals looming on the horizon. By age 31 (ok, ALMOST 32), I've done all that I'd set out for myself to do.

  • Undergrad- check
  • Law school- check
  • Married- check
  • Established in my profession- check
  • Steady job/income- check
  • House- check
  • Kids- check
Perhaps I'm too simple. Or, perhaps I'm simply not creative enough to set my sights higher. I mean, my list of accomplished goals isn't really anything special or ambitious. You don't see "find a cure for cancer" on there, or "travel to outer-space" or "become elected to a public office."  My goals were pretty cookie cutter.

My high school self would be appalled to see this list. In high school, I wanted to travel to a third world country, establish my own nonprofit, and save starving and homeless children. In high school, I wanted to Make A Difference. I wanted to save the world. Now.... I just want to save enough for retirement and watch my kids grow into adult hood. But you know what? I'm ok with that. I'm totally fine living on deflated ambition. And you know what else? I'm happy. Really, really happy.

When I was younger, I thought I would need to do great things to feel fulfilled. I thought happiness was complicated and only triggered by a long list of impressive accomplishments. I thought purpose had to be grandiose and large-scale. And then I had kids. And gazing into their little eyes was all it took to make me feel whole. My profession also does this to some extent. Having a career I love gives me a daily sense of purpose of accomplishment that my children don't necessarily provide. However, nothing has made me feel whole and satisfied on the much deeper, "meaning of life" level than being Everything to three little boys.

Nothing can compete with watching your preschooler's gaze skip over a room full of people to sing a Mother's Day song directly to you (and only you) from stage. (#25, singing RIGHT TO ME).

On a day to day basis, nothing fancy or elaborate or grandiose happens as a parent. But there's no other circumstance in your life where just your presence evokes exuberance and elation. The other week I showed up for Run A Mile Day at Jacob's school. His eyes lit up when he saw me and he even interrupted a preciously rare game of recess soccer to hang out with me. 

Happiness is as simple as sharing a one-on-one coffee date with one of your littles. Even when he steals your pastries.

Or a Mother's Day breakfast followed by a family trip to Home Depot to play with window blinds:

 Or the frantically hilarious freak-out that comes with remembering that it is "Dress Like a Bug" day at preschool five minutes before you are supposed to leave the house and all you have is tinfoil and an empty, greasy pizza box.

Or sharing in life's little pleasures....for example, a giant box of cheese puffs.

Watching your child succeed at something they enjoy after hours and hours of practice and determination.

And yes, even the random public meltdowns are precious. Because they're kind of hilarious. And you secretly wish you could get away with throwing yourself on the floor when the grocery store is out of your favorite candy (cough, COWTALES, cough).

Home Depot tantrum

Walgreens Tantrum

Dentist parking lot tantrum

While I really did enjoy my twenties, I spent a great deal of time focusing on doing all the stuff that I needed to do to get me to a state of Responsible Adulthood. After the whole saving the world thing didn't work out, I realized that what I truly wanted out of life was all the traditional things- education, husband, kids, house, career. Each time a new goal was accomplished, my sights narrowed in on the next one. And eventually, all that got me here: an almost 32 year old with three kids, a job that I enjoy in a profession that I love, a happy marriage to my best friend, and a house comfortable enough to fit all of us.

I get to do life with my best friend!

For the first time ever, there isn't The Next Thing. I'm settled and satisfied. Which should be the end of story right? But of course, it's not. Now comes the introspection and self doubt. Now comes the "That can't be it, right?" and the "Am I supposed to want more?" and "Well, what would that even be?" and "But is it OK if there IS nothing else?" and "Am I OK with nothing else?" Part of me feels a deep relief. I've accomplished the things that I thought I needed in my life. I can relax now. It's all downhill from here. The rat race is over! And I am truly, truly happy. Really!
But. There's also a nagging little tickle that pops into my head every now and then as if to feel me out and pose a very ambiguous but poignant, "So????" And I don't know how to respond. Heck, I don't even know what the question is. "So what?!" my internal dialogue shouts back. "I have three sleeping children, a warm couch, and a bag of M&Ms. What more could I possibly want?"
For now......absolutely nothing!


  1. Good for you :) I think this is a good example of why a lot of folks love their 30s.

  2. That is an excellent tin-foil bug. Also, yay for contentment!