Ambition: Do You Have It? Do I?

AmbitionL Do You Have It? Do I?

Hi folks! Hope this post finds you well. If you’ve been following TGS for a while, you know I’ve been writing a lot about career lately. As a side note, I’ve noticed that with regard to many topics I talk about here. I’ll get going on investing topics for a while, then budgeting and frugality posts, then career, then talking about the small business, etc.

I write in bunches I guess…:)

But today is another post on career. Something has been gnawing at me for a little while. As I was in the process of information gathering and evaluating my potential job change, I was seeking advice and feedback from trusted and experienced co-workers.

One of those folks was my loan approver. I work as a corporate banker and he is about 25 years my senior. He has lots of banking experience from numerous different perspectives/positions throughout his long career. He has been around the block, so to say. His feedback would be highly valued and I was eager to discuss the opportunity with him.

I also knew going in that being from a different generation he may just not get me. There was also one important fact that I wasn’t comfortable sharing with him either, and that was my plan to only work another 6-7 years. An important consideration when the topic is ultimately about my career and where it is going.

Nonetheless, even if he didn’t have a full picture, his honest thoughts and feedback would be very helpful in framing up my decision to make the job change or not.


So what was gnawing at me so much? A lack of “ambition”.

That’s what I took it as at least. Numerous times throughout the conversation he mentioned ambition would be required if I continue along the same career path I was on previously. I inferred, no surprise, that the job change was less ambitious. I suppose one could view it that way…

While the new job will require a little more travel, a primary selling point of it is the improved work life balance. My former job was known for its peaks and valleys (although it seems like the peaks keep peaking and the valleys are fewer and farther between…) in terms of workload. When it rains, it pours so to speak.

The new gig will be a little more steady-state, more predictable, and therefore an improved work life balance.

Will it be any easier? Not necessarily.

Will it lack further career opportunity/flexibility? No, if anything it may actually offer greater flexibility.

Will it require long nights and weekends? Nope! But does that necessarily correlate to being less ambitious?

So what does he mean by “less ambition”?!? And what was I to say to that…?

Ambition Defined

A quick search of the Google dictionary provides an interesting definition of ambition…

“a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.”

Or also defined as:

“desire and determination to achieve success.”

Ambition is about priorities, and not just mine but Lucy’s as well. Lucy works outside the home just like myself, and she thoroughly enjoys her job. Not enough to work for the rest of her life, she is certainly intrigued about the prospect of early retirement just like myself. But that is one major difference between me and my loan supervisor and many of the other more “ambitious” colleagues of mine.

He, along with many of the other senior folks in my prior office, has a stay at home spouse which eases his burden on the home front. If he gets pulled away on a deal for the weekend, it is just another day for the spouse (not that it makes it any easier…).

In a sense the stay at home spouse sacrifices the outside the home career for the “ambitious” spouse who continues his/her outside the home career. It is basically a zero sum game.

Alternatively, Lucy and I are both making some sacrifice (to a degree or maybe not much at all) in order to maintain a work life balance and together manage the home front.

Who is Slighting Whom

Perhaps such a move I’m making was taken as a bit of a slight against his career and so he felt like pressing a few of my shame buttons. Or maybe he just truly didn’t understand. There is a generational divide and the modern family has evolved over the last decades. To him, home life was WW, or woman’s work.

Well that doesn’t hold true as much in this day and age. And I’m thankful for that as I’ve always looked forward to being a Dad.

It definitely is a life calling for me and I don’t want to have any sacrifices on the home front for the sake of career. For me, I think that would lead to living a life of regret.

That is where I thank my frugal lifestyle, my journey toward financial independence, and the goal to retire early. If it wasn’t for the flexibility my current financial condition provides me, the decision would have been more difficult.

So who am I going to choose to disappoint, my loan approver or my family? I think you already know :).

I know my loan approver meant well, but I’m pulling the ripcord on my career.

The Real Ambition

What my discussion with my loan approver has shed light on is that this job change may be perceived by others as a lack of ambition. Accepting that has been one of the biggest hurdles for me in accepting the position. Is that my ego getting the best of me? Maybe. A negative perception by others is hard to get over, but I can accept it.

That perception by others is subdued by my hidden reality, my investment accounts. It isn’t that I have a lack of ambition, but an ambition that nobody else is aware of or could see. That ambition is to retire early and spend more time with family.

In that sense, maybe my whole career is defined by being overly ambitious. After all, the plan is to work for roughly 15 years of my life (while maintaining some degree of life outside of work…) and then hanging it up for good. Try to explain that to someone and make it sound un-ambitious.

People don’t need to understand. I’m ok with that negative perception. That comes with the territory of seeking financial independence and early retirement. That comes with the territory of stealth wealth.

I don’t publicize my net worth or my retirement ambitions (besides with you fine internet folks on the veil of a secret identity 🙂 ). So of course my loan approver and co-workers won’t fully understand. Until they start piecing the puzzle together when they find out I’m retired and 100% done with the working world in just a few more years.

“He who laughs last, laughs best.”

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

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  1. I can relate to this post in such a strong way. I’m being positioned for a big role at my company. I’m constantly asking myself if I will like that role, or will I be ready to walk away from my career in the next 5/10 years. Right now, I like the idea to take a year or two off before my daughter starts kindergarten and explore the world. I think that would be such a neat experience!

    1. I think it is all about finding what your true ambition in life is and following it! My ambitions (and priorities) have certainly switched in recent years culminating with my recent job switch. The flexibility FI provides us is great!

      When you mention taking a year or two off, you’d then plan to re-enter the workforce? But the purpose being to take advantage of those pre-K years? I think that is great. I don’t know how easy it would be for me to re-enter the workforce myself (at the same position / pay), but it could be worth considering.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. I can relate to that. We’ve shared WW duties around the house since the kids have been around. Ive had supervisors that didn’t understand that, even when I point out, “Dude, she makes more than I do, and has similar work responsibilities. Why wouldn’t I also pull my weight around the house?” Probably a reason I worked for that guy less than a year.

    I totally understand the “lowing down” of your career for a better work life balance. Sometimes, it’s just not about the money or title, it’s about the freedom associated with a “less ambitious” career path. I hope it goes well with you guys. It’s worked out great for us. 🙂

    1. Wow, that supervisor could use a wake-up call!!

      So far it has been great! My stress levels have been significantly reduced and my nights and weekends (each and every one of them!) are much more enjoyable with the fam. Glad it has worked out so well for you folks too!

  3. It’s a weird part of our culture. Your job is what defines you, not your home life. I think it’s perfectly fine to be ambitious in other ways and want success for things that aren’t just your career.

  4. I’m not sure that’s age so much as person. It really depends on where work is on your priorities. Some people want to be an executive and work comes first. Some people work comes last. And some people it’s somewhere in the middle. It depends on you. I chose a diversion off the management track for better work life balance despite having a stay at home mom for a wife… Why? I’m incredibly driven at work but at the same time I don’t need to have the headches of a vice president so I don’t need to be so aggressive.

    1. You’re absolutely right about the priorities. Mine have certainly evolved as Lucy and my family has grown and it has taken me a bit to accept that change. But that is perfectly fine to re-org the priorities, even though that may not be what our peers at work choose or what our culture promotes. Glad you’ve found the right balance for your fam! Thanks for sharing!

  5. It’s hard sometimes… I’m very good at what I do (day job wise) and have routinely moved up the ladder but now find myself in a position where I want nothing more than to leave corporate America.

    I guess I am also less ambitious than my colleagues.

    Interesting thoughts – thanks for sharing!

    1. Haha we have some similarities on the work-front! I’m definitely anxious to leave the corporate world as well! Thanks to the pursuit of FI, we’ll have those opportunities sooner than most. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I see people my age or just a few years older than me in positions it would take me 10 years or more to get to, working hard at it. However I don’t want to devote that much energy to it. I want to spend time/ energy with friends and family etc. *shrug* I am not sure if that’s lack of ambition or realism because in theory if everyone at my level targets the c suite, we can’t all get it.

    1. I think that’s a realistic assessment and then ultimately a decision on how you value your time/energy. Even if you made it to the c suite… Would it be worth it? That’s a pretty stressful and demanding position!

      1. One of the bosses is typically there after I leave, and I don’t want that to be future me. The weight (responsibility) of decisions he makes is also not something I’m interested in for my future. We will see what happens next. 🙂

  7. I think it’s important to realize that a) your ambitions may not be the same as they used to be and b) your ambitions may not fit someone else’s expectations. I know those are realization I’ve had to make as circumstances changed for me and for Jon. We made some compromises to make the early semi-retired life work, and not everyone would make the same choices.

    So again, I don’t think you lack ambition, it’s just not the same ambitions that your loan approver expects you to have. If you didn’t have ambition, I don’t think you’d have the savings or the small business investment that you do.

    1. Well said Emily! Sometimes it’s hard to make and analyze decisions in a vacuum. Always good to hear someone else has been through it before and walked a similar path. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Really interesting article. Thank you for sharing.

    The question of ambition depends on what you want to achieve in your career and/or how you want to contribute to society. This is related but distinct from climbing the corporate ladder and from making more money (and achieving FIRE). I’m FI, but I try not to let that impact my career.

  9. Thank you for sharing. I am new to your blog and truly fascinated reading this as my first post.

    It is fascinating because I, too, am considering to take on a new position within my company. I work for a well known tech firm in silicon valley. Over the years, I have switched a good number of jobs over the years, each time aiming for higher pay and more responsibilities. But this time, I feel something different and that might have to do with more money in the bank or with two young kids in my family. I absolutely agree that everyone has their own priorities and choices in life; and if you are married, it is definitely a zero sum game – someone else has to pick up your slack. In my world, you can always find someone with bigger ambitions. I have worked with billionaires that absolutely have no reason to be ambitious for an extra minute, but there still are around. It just never ends… Have a goal for yourself and reach it, that’s ambition!

    1. Sounds like quite a coincidence in this post being your first you’ve read on my site…! As you can tell from some of my posts on the matter, I struggled with the decision. 3 months in the new job though and I can say it is quite a relief. There will be no second guessing the decision. Very similar situation as you find yourself, but there is no one solution for everyone. I hope you find your balance and new ambitions as priorities shift! Thanks for sharing, JC.

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