Hello everybody, welcome to episode 121 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. We are here today looking at another question from one of the young guns out there. A really good question today that sort of goes against the grain of what a lot of young 20 somethings are thinking. Or maybe it’s a question many of them are secretly wanting to ask? Hmm. Let’s take a look…
QUESTION: “Hi Greg! Is it important to have big dreams and ambition in life? I have a simple job, which might not offer me much professional growth, but I'm content with it. I'm 22.“
Big Dreams and Ambition: The Short Answer
I’d be so curious to send out a poll to all of you listeners and see what you all think about this. I also wonder if you guys know what I’m going to say before I even say it. I wonder how predictable I’m becoming.
Anyway, the short answer, my friend – my short answer – is that it is not important or necessary to have big dreams and ambition. This is not to say it’s cool to not care about things and not make efforts towards things, but big dreams are not necessary. And I sure wish more people would just get comfortable with this already.
Many of us to tend to suffer from what’s called survivorship bias, which I might’ve mentioned on the show once before. Survivorship bias is basically our tendency to focus far too much on those who have broken through nearly insurmountable odds to achieve what they’ve achieved.
Survivorship Bias Creates An Illusion
We focus on them so much that we develop an illusion that their ability to succeed is astronomically higher than it actually is.
This of course becomes a problem when we can’t see past this illusion in our pursuits of something and, more so in this case, it becomes a problem when we start to then undersell the achievements of anyone who is not in the top 0.01%.
It’s like saying you’re going to design computers because Steve Jobs did it and you want to be like him. There are countless people out there just like Steve Jobs whose names you’ll never know. Countless people just as intelligent that maybe lacked one resource that Steve Jobs had which set him apart. The same could be said of actors, singers, painters, whomever.
But because the 0.01% like Steve Jobs get 99.9% of the attention, they start to become normalized and the efforts of others, though many of them just as good, become invisible or are in some cases labelled as just not enough grit, a little too lazy, or something equally stupid.
So all of a sudden, becoming freakishly high achievers is normalized and everyone wants to do it, which of course, can never and will never happen for the 99.9% (you could probably even add more 9s in there).
Balancing Less Ambition with Progress
Meanwhile, if you look around you, you’ll find that people without ambition are absolutely everywhere (many of whom live below the poverty line, mind you), and a lot of them are happy because their lives are much more balanced.
These people never did anything riveting to the rest of the world, but they did make progress in their own small ways. They made progress in their relationships, or at sports they enjoy, or spiritual practices. They made just enough progress in the areas of life that they care about.
So while you don’t need to have big dreams, you’ll likely find over time that progress of some kind is necessary. You’ve already done it without realizing it.
Your Desires May Change
For example, I’m sure you’re more pleased having this job that doesn’t offer much professional growth than you would’ve been had you been out of a job all together.
Certainly you can recognize this in other ways from your past. A good conversation with a friend you were arguing with helped you make progress. Buying new clothes after outgrowing old ones helped you make progress. That kind of stuff will keep happening, but for the most part, you’ll fall into it naturally.
The only risk you may run, which I suggest being on the lookout for, is that your desires may change. While 22 is young, at all ages, we’re experiencing things that encourage us to tweak one thing or another. Sometimes it’s going from no job to a job with limited growth as you mentioned. Other times, it’s getting the urge to do something grandiose after all.
You may find that one day, you do develop huge ambition towards something. That will be ok, too.
The contentment you have will likely come and go in different areas of life and to different degrees, but should you get the desire to do something massive, I would just caution you to not be so averse to the idea of growth, so comfortable in not challenging yourself too much, that you run away from it.
Even many of the happiest people out there reflect and wish they’d gone after a dream they once had that came and went.
Healthy Ambition Isn't Bad
The goal really is to appreciate what we have as a constant baseline. But if we do get the urge to really stretch ourselves, and it’s built on passion, good values, and it makes sense for the most part, then I do think it’s important to entertain that.
What I’m saying is that while ambition is not necessary to have, if it does come up and it’s healthy ambition, it’s certainly not a bad thing. And a life without too much challenge prior to that moment can make the ambition scary, foreign, and we might not want to pursue it out of fear.
That’s what you want to prepare for in case that moment comes. You want to have on hand the willingness to dive in and chase something if it really possesses you. But in the meantime, such a thing can’t be manufactured anyway.
Even if my answer was flip flopped and I said ambition and big dreams were totally necessary, what would that even do? Change your interests? No.
Even if you were completely at my beck and call, you’d try to chase after something you didn’t care about all that much.
Big Dreams: Conclusion
For now, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
And be grateful to be one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have an inclination to demand too much out of life.
To the young man who sent this question in, thank you so much for doing so. Like I said in the intro., it’s almost hard to say if it’s exactly what many people your age want to ask amidst this hurricane of status, or if that hurricane has just become a big enough part of the culture that you’re now one of the few left to have some sensibility. Either way, I’m glad you asked this and I’m proud of where you’re at. Also, I recommend checking out episode 92 if you haven’t done so already. It’s in the same vain and might help you out. Everyone else, if you’ve got a question you’d like answered, then by golly, we’d like to answer it. Email your questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Advice@oldpodcast.com. Can’t wait to hear from you, we love having you all join our community. Thanks for being here today, can’t wait to be with you in the next one, and I’ll talk to you then. Bye everyone.