I used to be a very ambitious person. As a child, I dreamed of being famous (an actress) and felt sure that I was destined for a golden life of magnificent fortune. I pursued this goal with some tenacity (and varying degrees of success) through my 20s and early 30s. Now I find myself (at 35) questioning the nature and value of the “entertainment industry” and struggling to find the motivation or inspiration to continue in this field.
I lead a lucky life in many ways. I have fallen into the voice-over industry, which is highly lucrative and affords me the great luxury of time. I have a wonderful (new) marriage and our first baby is on the way. I live in Sydney, Australia, to many considered the land of milk and honey. The sun shines, a sparkling ocean is on my doorstep and my days are filled with many moments of ease and relaxation.
The other path that I have been on is one of self-discovery, mainly through yoga and meditation, which have been a daily part of my life for over a decade now. What these practices have afforded me is an appreciation of “the moment” and an increasing ability to escape the tyranny of the mind. It’s quite easy for me now to drift away into a state of bliss, to allow my body and mind to unwind and to fall into the peaceful abyss that lies beyond the intellectual mind. But this practice has also meant a gradual shriveling of my ambitious self. The passion that I once felt for storytelling (acting, writing, filmmaking — all a part of my working life) seems to have dissipated. I would rather lie on the floor than sit down at my computer and work on my screenplay.
What is the point? I seem to say. We are all nothing, we all return to nothing, why spend time and energy pursuing and achieving when we are here simply to exist and to experience? Pursuit and ambition have a lot to answer for. And the cult of individual success is, I believe, the source of much unhappiness in our society. And yet I understand that our pursuits and achievements are an important part of our existence and I fear that my ability to be “in the moment” is actually preventing me from being all that I can be in this lifetime.
I am so much happier now than when I was full of ambitious determination, and yet I long for my previous motivation. How do I take the lessons that I have learned from my spiritual practice and put them to good use? Me sitting blissfully in my lounge room is not going to help the world. But it’s such a lovely place to be, I am finding it difficult to leave.
Dear One-Time Wannabe,
Perhaps you are waiting for the ambition to return. Perhaps you are forming a new idea.
It wouldn’t be the first time. Nor would it be the first time a woman got pregnant and found her priorities shifting.
I had a really great therapist who got pregnant. I had to move over and let the baby come in. She still sounds a little bewildered about the change; well, not bewildered; I don’t imagine a therapist that brilliant is every completely bewildered; let’s just say that totality of motherhood took her by surprise, as the totality of love or illness can take us by surprise. We think our plans are what it’s all about. Then we allow ourselves to fall in love, or get pregnant, or form a business, or write a novel, and the thing we thought was our project takes over. We become its project.
Then we’re all like, hey, what’s this? Who’s in charge?
You have allowed life to take charge. So when will you be back in charge? Just as soon as … the stroller years are over, or … she’s finally a teenager or … she graduates from college or … she’s finally married off to a swell guy at Pixar? Who knows?
Here’s the other part. You do still have plans. You’re still a creative artist. You’re still ambitious. Your plans may not be clear. They may seem on hold. But there will be a next step.
Wait for that next step to appear. Don’t worry right now about not having a plan. You don’t need a plan until you have a clear goal. Resist the temptation to have a plan, any plan; resist the danger of wasting time in meaningless activity, a fruitless simulacrum of purpose. If you have no purpose then rest. That’s fine. Rest and wait for the baby.
This will give you the time to fully envision that next step. It could take a while. So prepare the bed for it. Wait for it.
Maybe your purpose will be hidden at first.
Then you may find yourself driving to an orphanage or a sick bay or clinic. You may find yourself drawn to the sea to rescue turtles. You may find you want nothing more than to go up in the mountains. Wait for the signal. It might not look like one. That’s the interesting part: The signal to reengage may not look like a signal to reengage. It may come in the form of coincidence or comic mishap. More darkly, it may arrive as an accident or misfortune, an opportunity to help.
Wait for it. It will come. When it comes, meditate first. You’ll know what to do. And soon, when the baby comes, you won’t have to think about what to do next. There will be too much to do and not enough time to do it and you, for once, will have no choice and will be sort of glad not to have a choice. I suspect it will be a kind of surrender that your meditation has prepared you for — that your current strange, listless waiting is also preparing for.
So wait for it. It will come. Be ready.