Summers were always a time to work hard and make some extra money.
When I was in middle school and high school, that meant working on my grandfather’s or uncle’s farm, and later, working at a local sawmill.
It also meant helping out on my family’s horse ranch.
Then at night, I’d often meet up with friends and drive up and down main street looking to stretch those long summer days.
At one end of town there was a 24 flavor ice cream shop.
But there was a problem. The ice cream shop would close for part of the summer.
Can you imagine? An ICE CREAM shop closing for part of SUMMER!
Where was the Ambition?
I was incredulous.
To close an ice cream shop – during the PEAK of summer?
As a striving teenager committed to working hard during the summer, all I could think was:
Who would close up shop in the middle of summer? Where on earth was their Ambition?
After all, I had built myself up to be a heat-seeking missile of steadiness, reliability, discipline, and respectability.
I was committed to rising early, putting in a full day of hard work, and doing it all over again.
And here was an ice cream shop turning away “free money.”
Why do we vilify Leisure?
The owners were not prioritizing productivity. Instead, they were prioritizing leisure.
To my younger self, that was blasphemous.
But today – deeply entrenched in midlife – I find myself wondering: is there a sinister side of Ambition?
One that breeds anxiety, fills you with guilt, induces scarcity, and emotionally separates you from the people you love most.
Ambition has always been my “secret weapon.”
As a young kid, I drew pictures and sold them to my classmates.
I mowed lawns, weeded gardens, and trained horses.
I got a scholarship for college.
I worked for demanding Silicon Valley startups.
And then replaced my sales executive income by becoming a coach.
I proudly place these achievements on the pedestal of Ambition.
What are the hidden costs of Ambition?
The burnout of constantly and relentlessly pushing myself to do more. (And never being satisfied.)
The toll on my physical health. Stress-induced insomnia. Overweight. Mindless and unhealthy eating. Deteriorating relationships from non-stop work travel. Blurry vision. Grinding my teeth. (The list goes on.)
And the constant pursuit of feeding the ‘more monster.’ More money. More stuff. More status.
Could it be that my single-minded focus on work came at a devastatingly steep cost?
And would the owners of the ice cream shop be appalled if they were to see my super-striver lifestyle?
(early morning flights → Silicon Valley startup hustle → work on nights and weekends → all while listening to podcasts at 1.5x speed.)
How’s your Work-Life Harmony
I’ve come to believe that the ice cream store owners (and some lifestyle focused entrepreneurs) have mastered a different virtue: Work-Life Harmony.
Work-Life Harmony takes the deferred life plan and flips it on its head.
Instead of waiting until retirement to travel, you prioritize more time off today.
Instead of eating lunch at your desk, you take a full lunch break and leisurely enjoy meals with those you care about.
Instead of hiding out at work, you create intimacy with your partner, friends, and community.
And you might even take a yoga class during “work hours.” (I mean, some people nearly lost their minds when they found out employees were exercising in the middle of the day during the pandemic.)
Can Ambition and Work-Life Harmony Coexist?
Now there’s an inherent paradox between Work-Life Harmony and Ambition.
Ambition is about doing. It’s about WHAT we do and WHAT we accomplish.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Work-Life Harmony is about being. How we interact with leisure, loved ones, and nature.
I love that people are rethinking what they want out of work AND life.
The idea that we’re defined primarily by our work, and everything else (i.e. life) must fit into the increasingly small space that is left, shows how backwards our collective thinking about work-life has become.
Yes, ambition is important. It can be an engine for amplifying purpose and meaning.
It’s an essential part of a thriving life. But it shouldn’t take the place of our harmony with life.
The truth is that ambition and life can be on the same side, so they don’t need to compete.
They can rise together – increasing your life’s overall well-being while allowing you to be more effective at work.
Work-Life Harmony is based on the idea that when we bring our whole selves to work, we don’t have to choose between success in our work and success in other parts of our lives.
Our work and our lives can be integrated.
And acknowledging that truth will make it far easier for us to create and sustain it.
So how will you design a life where Ambition and Work-Life Harmony coexist?