Someone recently asked me if I thought they should have more contentment in their life or more ambition.
Contentment VERSUS ambition?!
‘Why the false dichotomy?’, I asked myself.
I mean, really. Why must we choose to be either contented or ambitious?
I suppose the idea is that if we are truly contented, then we would not need to be quite so ambitious; ambition in this case carrying a connotation of not being satisfied or happy with one’s life.
But what if we looked at it differently.
What if we looked towards new connotations to the two words contentment and ambition?
We could make contentment trigger thoughts of having a foundation; of feeling settled and committed to a set of basic choices one has made in one’s life such as one’s spouse, children, community, profession, religious beliefs, service to others, etc.
And perhaps ambition might call forth a feeling of “activation” of the self; of passion and evolution. Ambition can be sexy. It can add a certain sexiness to our adults lives, including to the things we’ve committed to.
So let’s say that you’re a married person with children, a house, a job or career of some sort, a couple of hobbies or avocations, and some friends.
Let’s also say that you’ve still got dreams of what you’d like to be in the world or how you’d like to express your true self to the world through what makes you uniquely you.
My friends, I think that a very high quality way to live would involve taking both of these elements and maximizing them.
That is, maximizing our commitments to the things we’ve deliberately chosen to include in our lives, (e.g. spouse, children, job, friends, etc.), AND also maximizing our attempts to express our truest selves in the lives we’ve chosen to have.
So…you might be a husband and dad who’s an accountant by day, but a volunteer firefighter hero by night.
Or maybe you’re a wife and mom who runs the household-and-kid-company by day, but a rock star karaoke singer or disco dancer by night (do discos still exist?)
Or maybe you’re a salesperson and a spouse by day, but an expert green-thumb organic gardener by the weekend.
My point here is that, in order to live our fullest lives we need to be able to do two seemingly disparate things at the same time: be committed AND be passionate; take our vows seriously AND make some new ones that continue to provide new challenges.
I’m often asked why it is that people have affairs, or why they leave their kids and spouses to ‘start new lives’. Or, more recently, what the big thrill is to all the ‘sexting’ that’s apparently going on— from Federal government officials on down to local civil servants.
I think that part of the reason why people act out in these ways is that they haven’t yet got the above balance down; i.e. they haven’t yet mastered the skill of having Commitment PLUS Passion—Contentment and Ambition.
So let’s not fool ourselves, then.
We can’t live happy, fulfilling, and joyous lives with minimal guilt or regrets if we’re not committed to our lives.
But we also need to regularly challenge ourselves by exploring our hearts and listening to what’s in there.
The result will be a life with both a track record of following through with our promises and choices, as well as one in which we’ve continuously evolved both within and around those commitments.
The alternative is a life story filled with broken promises, half-filled dreams, and abandoned casualties strewn about everywhere—with regret full steam ahead.
All my best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)