This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. What should be my goal in life? Should it be to have a tranquil life, one that is stress-free and enjoyable? Or is that potentially a recipe for disaster, looking back on life to see that I didn’t really live or reach my potential because I lacked ambition?
My strategy has been to oscillate between the two modes of living, and each time I’m in one mode, I want to be in the other. However, as I’ve gotten older, I do prefer a more tranquil path. The issue with ambition is that it’s boundless. I am currently living a dream compared to the ambitions I had in my early to mid-20s, and yet that is still not enough for me right now because I get used to what I have, and then I want more. I often ask myself how many people on earth would want to switch lives with me. It’s not a small number; it’s quite literally in the billions. This was made even clearer during my visit to Afghanistan.
But the question still stands in my mind: does one float or swim against the current? Do you fill your every waking hour with productive time, or does one take long walks and let your thoughts wander on nothing in particular? Perhaps ambition gives good results in the end, such as building a great company or having a great career, but the actual day-to-day experience of being ambitious is not that great unless you happen to work in something that you truly love. This is the problem for people who work purely for money because they end up doing a lot of things they don’t want to do just for the sake of money.
On the other hand, seeking a tranquil life is perhaps more about immediate gratification at the expense of achieving anything meaningful in the long term. You can enjoy walking around museums, hiking, sitting in a coffee shop, and spending the afternoon reading a book, and you will have no immediate consequences. But what about looking back on one’s life — should we optimize for that? Or should we be far more present and enjoy the current moment?
Is it possible that ambition and tranquillity are not mutually exclusive but complementary aspects of a fulfilling life? I would like the answer to be yes, but my experience so far hints at no. When I first started my company, I worked extremely hard, often in the office by 7 am and leaving at 10 pm or later. Looking back, I sacrificed my tranquillity to turbocharge my ambition and my results. It was perhaps a decent exchange because I learned a lot, and it also set me up nicely for where I am now. But could I have done the same without sacrificing my tranquillity? That’s the real question, and it’s not an easy one.