Does ambition decline with age?

Nov 22, 2011 by

Where would you rather be?

The other day my friend told me she had just been offered a new job. After congratulating her she said ‘You know I’m not sure if I wouldn’t rather just be a Gran’. This got me thinking – do we grow less ambitious as we grow older or is this just a commonly held perception?

A recent study* stated that “Although eight in ten Gen Y’s aspire to become executives, less than three-quarters of Gen X’ers and a little more than half of Baby Boomers feel the same desire to climb the corporate ladder.”

When we are starting out in life we are often very ambitious and keen to gain promotion at work and climb the corporate ‘ladder’. Studies of aging suggest that sometime in the later forties or early fifties we change our values and mellow out. Maybe we decide that there is more to life than work and that we only have one life and should use it to nurture what we really enjoy. Maybe we realise that the time we spent at the office instead of with our family is time lost forever. Or maybe we realise that some of our dreams will remain just that, dreams. The corporate high life can be stressful and rewarding but at the end of the day we all know a large corporate will lay you off without a backward glance when necessary. Experience over the years teaches us to look after ourselves and our family as they are still there when the important job with the flash car is not.

So we shift our ambitions from climbing the corporate ladder over to our family or perhaps a small business of our own or a hobby or sport. It is amazing how many older people in their fifties take up the challenge of running a marathon or completing an iron man. Alternatively our corporate experience and ambition is turned towards mentoring the younger up and coming staff . We gain wisdom with experience which enable us to work smarter and not harder. Or maybe when we were young we never had the chance to fulfil our educational potential and now we find we have time on our hands and we can pursue a tertiary education just for the fun of learning? So we are just as ambitious but in a different direction.

Whatever the reason for this perceived lack of ambition, true or not, I like to remember that in some jobs age is an advantage. You have to be at least 35 to run for US president, the average age for the Pope is 64, and Judge Wesley E Brown is still serving as a US District court judge at 103 years of age.

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just getting along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

Source: Pooh’s Little Instruction Book. By A.A. Milne

Do you think we become less ambitious as we grow older or that we just change the focus of our ambition?

Generation X, generally includes people born from 1965 through to 1982
Generation Y’ describes the demographic group following Generation X.
A baby boomer is a person who was born during the Post-World War II baby boom between 1946 and 1964. Source: Wikipedia.

*Study carried out by Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group

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