As I approach my personal half-century mark, I find myself in strange territory. Having successfully climbed a few career ladders in my life, I am currently, apparently, without ambition. It doesn’t feel like a bad thing.
I’ve lived in big cities and charming towns and traveled the world from Alaska to Zimbabwe. I’ve interviewed celebrities, been interviewed on TV, hosted radio shows, co-written books and hung out with politicos and hip hop pioneers in New York, New York. I’ve sung to crowds at Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Hatch Shell. I even swayed and clapped with fellow gospel singers behind Mariah Carey as she belted out “Make it Happen” to thousands of fans at the huge TD Garden. (That was awesome.)
I’m not trying to brag here so much as note the highlights of a life lived pretty fully so far. I’m sure I’ll be up to more adventures eventually, but right now I’m satisfied with the ones I’ve had.
The evidence of my contentment, if that’s the word for it, is mounting:
A few weeks ago, as I sat in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership, I scanned the table full of gossip rags. I realized I had absolutely no interest in anything that any celebrity was up to that week. This, from someone who used to devour People magazine from cover-to-cover, watch Entertainment Tonight religiously, and fantasize about being a big somebody some day.
Always a fan of comfort clothes, I now find myself primarily dressing in a style that can best be described as casual bordering on frumpy. Most days you’ll find me in sensible footwear, yoga pants, and no-iron tops. I cannot recall the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose or high heels.
I recently ran into a former yoga student of mine as she prepared to give a talk on European flower shows. When I asked her if horticulture was her business she said, “I do it for fun. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of a ‘kept woman.’” To tell you the truth, that sounded pretty good to me.
What happened to the teenager who wanted to be the next Barbara Walters, the public radio reporter who planned to host her own show, and the yoga teacher who thought she’d sit across from Oprah one day, gabbing about her spiritual awakening and helping millions to achieve their own? She’s the same person who walked away from a career in broadcast news at age 35 because her soul beckoned her elsewhere. She’s the passionate creativity teacher who recently said, “Yeah, I wanna be a ‘local somebody’ too!” upon hearing the clever phrase from a student. The current me delights in coaching others to live fully expressed lives, writing articles for a local healthy living magazine, selling the occasional personal essay and blogging for beloved readers.
When it comes to amassing a fortune, well, I always worked in non-profit but now I seem even less concerned with profiting. I pay the bills, enjoy a simple life, and follow a work schedule that leaves me with adequate free time. If time is indeed money, then I’m rich. So is a former student who echoes my sentiments as she writes, “Sometimes I feel I should be doing more and leading the kind of busy-productive life I admire in others, but my unscheduled time is so precious and essential to my peace of mind. I'm grateful to have it, because I know not everyone does.”
Author Daniel Pink recently said that this age of abundance and prosperity has liberated but not fulfilled us, leaving more people searching for meaning instead of megabucks. Last year I heard an NPR story about MBAs who were becoming farmers to live more sustainable lives, and last month I learned about the Junky Car Club, in which people drive old cars in order to have more money for charitable contributions.
Like these folks, my highest ambition is to be a better human being. I also want to spend more time with my family and friends while we’re all still around, keep using my skills to help people, and savor my blessings.
Crowding 50, I have no advanced degrees, no property in my name, and no record of civic involvement apart from some volunteer work and the local garden club. Still, I’m happy with the person I’ve become and I love my life. There was a message on my tea bag the other day that said, “You can run after satisfaction, but satisfaction must come from within.” I think I’ve stopped running.
Back in high school I thought I was too cool when I wrote my yearbook quote in French. Today, it’s the sentiment that impresses me. “What is success?” I wrote, in the English translation. “It’s being happy with what, who and where we are in life.”
More than thirty years later, I find that to be true.