One of the biggest surprises in my life is to find myself as ambitious as I have ever been while I am approaching my eighth decade. I credit Jung’s individuation process for this reality and for helping me uncover the deeper potentials in my nature, in human nature and in life. Individuation is Jung’s term for our growing self-realization as we follow the inner journey and actively bring its results into our lives.
Many years ago, I simply thought of ambition as a desire for achievement, force and power. But with maturity, I realize this is too narrow a clarification for a part of human nature that can also be a profound source of energy. Now I think of ambition in its most basic sense as a desire for more life and a broader experience of life. When ambition comes from a deeper source within me, it can become a striving toward something higher than myself, toward wholeness.
As I look back on my life, I am no longer content with having worked hard and with having a successful career and family life. I certainly treasure these things. But I want my life to finish as a full expression of myself and my potentials. I want to have left my full and best game on the playing field when my game is over. Not only do I want to have fulfilled the best version of myself, I also want to be sure I have served something greater than myself during these years – whether I call it my true Self, higher power, God or whatever name you wish to use. I want to focus on leaving my part of this world better and kinder than I found it through using my best efforts to develop myself and to serve life and others.
As my individuation process has unfolded, my ambition has evolved. Ambition, as a desire for an enriched and complete life, needs to mature and evolve as we do. When I left college with a wife and a new child, my driving ambition was to get into adult life, be able to support my family, love them and bring an increasing standard of living to them. I was yearning for a self-confident entrance into adulthood and was full of hopes and dreams…yet, beneath it, was all desperation.
Like any of our major characteristics, ambition can be positive or negative. It takes on its darker aspects oriented towards unceasing achievement and power when it is driven by the black hole of fear left in our psyche. This happens when we didn’t get the love, acceptance, support and safety we needed early in our lives, or when achievement was the only way to earn approval, or when trauma struck us or our family – shaking our trust in life. I certainly had a share of some of these experiences. They drove me to success and left me unable to recognize my own authentic accomplishments and to integrate feelings of competence I had truly earned. Today, I am thankful that individuation has left me proud of what I have done during my life.
I started out trying to climb the rungs of the conventional ladder of adult life, which I did intensely until life knocked me off the ladder as I was approaching mid-life. When I fell…hit the ground…and began to wake up, I realized my life wasn’t what I thought it was. As I looked around dazed, it seemed as if I had been an actor in a play whose script had been written by society, family, church, traditions and even the media. My character had been shaped and driven by the struggles in my family and in my culture, and as a result they shaped many of the struggles within myself.
My new ambition became to discover and live the truth of my own life. At midlife, we face a turning point. And here is where our ambition must evolve even further. Will we shrink back into the safety of an old way of life or will we find the courage and ambition to begin to change the design that shapes who we are? Will we make our values, our purpose and our ability to feel love, joy and satisfaction more personal and more authentically our own?
Decades have taught me to overcome some of my fear of life’s moments that demand transformation. These are the moments that call for a new vision of life and new ambitions to engage me in my love of life. As we face the fourth quarter of our life today, we face another key turning point – a moment of change that we need to face with a courage that is supported by our love of life and energized by an inner quest for self-awareness and consciousness.
Our ambition during this time – during the fourth quarter of our life – can become a desire to know ourselves more completely and to seek to fulfill the unique meaning of our lives. It is also a time for our lives to come into full bloom…and for our fruits to nourish the world around us. However, the key is that we have to be aware of the presence and significance of this essential turning point in order to face it.
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