Do you believe aspirations are essential to life and work? Early in our career, we would likely answer “yes” to this question. A Get Schooled survey of high school students found that 78% of our youth have specific career aspirations. Within their career aspirations, they select them because:
- They have a personal passion (95%)
- They have talents (85%)
- A desire for money (51%)
- A desire to be famous (16%)
Aspirations: Focus and Attitude
How our aspirations develop depend on many things, like family, economics, and social demographics. Our aspirations will vary. We could have aspirations for:
- A career climb
- Entrepreneurial success
- And the list continues
Each aspiration results in certain actions and attitudes. If we achieve an aspiration, there is always a danger of becoming too self-centered or pompous in our outlook and interactions. The aspiration isn’t wrong. What we do with a realized aspiration could be wrong.
In a similar fashion, attitudes can develop when we don’t realize our aspirations in a timely way. In these cases, we become disgruntled, grumpy, or even try to hold others back.
Maintaining positive, humble attitudes is a must, so we need to protect our good attitudes no matter what happens to our aspirations. When we are teens, our view is fresh and exciting. We need to preserve some our youthfulness in our aspirations.
Age and Aspiration
In doing some quick research, I could not find a study on how aspirations change as we age. The closest I could find was about career aspirations. In this Bain study, a women’s aspirational confidence drops mid-career while a man’s continue to rise. There are many factors here that deserve attention (and the report is an important read), but this isn’t my direction right now. Also, this study just focused on career aspirations and getting to top management positions. Many other aspirations are possible.
So, how do age and aspirations mix?
Aspirations are tough to keep going and fresh. Life is never neat. Quite the opposite. What begins to unfold are roadblocks, potholes, detours, and much more. The cause of these challenges will be circumstantial while others will be people driven. Although most people are good and supportive, some are not. We meet a mix.
Good things happen too. We gain a wind at our back to move us further ahead than we originally expected. We get unexpected support or windfalls. Just as with the messiness of life, some good things will be circumstantial and others will be people driven.
Although we try to gain our tempo between the good and bad, we find out we cannot control as much as we would like in the pursuit of our aspirations.
What we find are motivating and conflicting forces. We have certain people and circumstances that keep us upbeat. We also have certain people and circumstances that drag us down. These forces can happen at any time as we age. More than this, the forces are not just external.
Each of us contain a spark inside. We have our own motiving force. We also have a conflicting force, which is often self-inflicted. A bad choice or associating with the wrong people can throw us off our aspirational path.
What seems to happen is our motivating forces are more powerful earlier in our careers than the conflicting ones. Youth and energy may have something to do with this experience, but so does the fact we have fewer responsibilities. Starting a family, buying a home, and other “normal” activities create an environment in which we begin to pause our aspirations.
I am not saying we should avoid starting a family or buying a home. What I am saying is they create an added dimension, and this dimension can stretch the realization of our aspirations. As we grow older, we gain more responsibilities. What may get lost are our aspirations. We begin to do what is necessary to survive and provide, and our aspirations get placed in the back seat for a while.
The other thing that can happen is our aspirations shift.
Responsibilities and other forces can hit us earlier than we thought. We survive and may even thrive in other important elements, like raising a family or doing good in our communities. At some point, we awake again and realize our aspirations have changed. Instead of having an aspiration of fame and money, we have ones of preventing a fatherless generation or being the best father/grandfather we can be for our own children/grandchildren.
There are still conflicting and motivating forces in our new aspirations. Our aspirations have just shifted.
So, what do we do with our aspirations? Questions ramble through our thoughts:
- Do we hang on to our original ones no matter what?
- Do we shift our aspirations to something new that inspires us now?
- Are we just lowering our aspirations, or are we really just changing the horizon we are aiming for?
From these questions, we may begin to realize there are stages to our aspirations.
Stages of Aspirations
Although there may be stages to our aspirations, we realize that we can achieve them in any stage. However, when we do not, we also realize we still have time.
Let’s explore each stage.
Unfettered Optimism. This stage has one significant advantage – youth. Some may say we don’t know any better, and that is okay. There is some truth in this response when it comes to aspirations. When we don’t know any better, our fear is lessened, and we pursue.
Within this mix, a key point to always remember is know what you don’t know. In other words, identify your weak areas of knowledge and skills and begin to bolster yourself in these areas. Create awareness and growth. By doing this, you increase your chance for aspirational success in this stage.
As we increase in age, we begin to lose some of this unbound optimism as our responsibilities and commitments increase.
Responsibility Reality. With age, responsibility seems to increase in direct proportion. The older we get, the more responsibility we have. A responsibility change happens. Some younger individuals may shoulder too much responsibility too early. When this happens, the Unfettered Optimism stage is shortened, and youth may enter the Responsibility Reality stage early.
Responsibility is not a bad thing; it is a life thing. At any age, we have certain responsibilities to do no harm, do our part, and try to be the best person we can be. As we get older, more responsibilities pile on. We need to pay our way. We need to budget. We buy or rent. The parental safety net begins to disappear, and we need to create our own.
Aspirations don’t die in this stage. They just get weighed down, and the dreaded work-life balance realities take hold.
Renewed Grounding. At some point in our age, we feel our load lighten a little, and we begin to yearn for that aspirational impact again. Some may call this a mid-life crisis. I believe it is a mid-life shift. We realize our time is short and, if we want to gain traction on our aspirations, we need to begin soon.
Some may become distracted in this stage and just buy a new sports car. Others may get a divorce or do other mistaken things. What needs to happen is a renewed look at what our real aspirations are at this point in time. We need to re-focus and refresh our outlook. We need to align our actions to our renewed aspirations.
In this stage, we gain our firm footing again. We realize it isn’t the stuff we really want. We want to do something more, something that matters beyond what we have already accomplished. We begin our pursuit anew.
Buoyant Pursuit. When we successfully navigate the Renewed Grounding stage, the bounce in our step returns, and we find that evasive fountain of youthful spirit again. The reason why is we are once again aligned to our intended aspiration, and we are in full pursuit. Our pursuit is more than a dream; it is a dream we begin to work toward and gain momentum in our efforts.
In this stage, we feel unstoppable. In many ways, we are. The fearlessness of our youth reappears. It makes sense that fearlessness bookends our life and pursuits.
Vital Points on Aspiration
The vitality of our spirit depends on having aspirations. Each stage should not be discouraging. Instead, we just need to realize the stage we are in and determine how to keep our spirited intentions alive.
These stages are not based on scientific facts, just observations, conversations, and experiences. Grab a cup of coffee and join in with your perspective, no matter your age. We can learn so much from each other as we work toward our aspirations for the ages.
As we continue the conversation, remember these key points:
- Always have a higher aspiration and pursue it with all you can and all you have.
- Have faith in yourself and your community when aspirations don’t happen as fast as you want. Keep doing the work, keep building the relationships.
- Realize there are stages to your aspirations. Stages are not an excuse; they are just a stage. Keep your focus. Tend to your soul sparks.
- If you belong to a younger generation, keep your pace.
- If you belong to an older generation, consider a stride.
- Always define your aspirations. Write them down. At any stage, know what higher purpose you want to pursue and attain.
What are my aspirations? Keep asking yourself this question. Keep living your answers in what you do.
Join the Conversation
What Are Your Aspirations?
Jon, thank you for your well articulated and organized article Unlike many, my aspirations, since starting my second career 30+ years ago, have changed, in the sense they have become more focused and ‘heightened’ .
I have learned the importance of having a ‘servant’s heart’ and the joy and satisfaction of successfully helping my professional colleagues attain their professional goals for their respective firms.
I have been blessed and fortunate to have achieved all of my professional goals, except for one, which has alluded me for 20+ years. It is something that would ‘raise-the-bar’ in my profession, and I am incapable of doing it alone. I need others with skills and talent I do not possess. I need these individuals to be committed to my vision and to collaborate with me in bringing my vision and goal to fruition, before my time to go arrives.
Thank you for the opportunity to help me put my aspirations into perspective with your suggestions, much appreciated.
Thank you for adding your experience. It seems that you have lived a thoughtful, intentional life, which is a good thing. Keeping your work focused on an aspirational goal will encourage others to join in with you. Collaboration makes everyone stronger and creates a better outcome.
Thank you for sharing, and wishing you the best as you continue to pursue.
Jon, I read this article first thing this morning. SO thought provoking. I really enjoyed this article and will be sharing it with my community. VERY well written! Thank you! ~Cynthia
Thanks so much, Cynthia. Grateful for your feedback and support. Thanks! Jon
Jon, This is really fantastic! I have surely seen my aspirations shift as I’ve matured (read that aged ;-), but not the intensity. In fact, I’ve bookmarked the Bain study to dig into more deeply. I love your graphs. Are you working toward a book on this topic?
Thanks so much for the feedback, Karin! This idea of aspirations and stages is a topic I want to explore some more. Who knows, this could be my next book 🙂 Thanks for your perspective and thoughts! Jon
Thought provoking! Yes, the aspirations I had as a teen have shifted but I don’t think it’s because I gave up or let them go and chose the responsible path in the game of life. My aspirations in many ways have become more self-less. Less about me and what I want or will accomplish and about how my aspirations create essential links to others in a meaningful way. As a teen I may have been compassionate and wanted to make a big difference in the world. Now I see that one way I aspire to change the world is touching one person at a time… I can be the first domino and let go of the tsunami.
Look forward to sharing this through my network and hearing the thoughts of others too.
Thank you, Alli! You have a great point on how many of our aspirations become more self-less as we age. I know mine shifted this way over time. Keeping that spirit of wanting to change the world is important. Our scope may change but the desire is still present, no matter our age. Thank you for your add perspective and thoughts. This one will be rattling around in my mind for awhile…. Thanks! Jon