2010-07-01-201522If this woman were holding a sign, it would say “FORMERLY AMBITIOUS.” And if she were not afraid of what her future employers might think, she’d show her face. Suffice to say she’s a friend of mine who has done spectacular things in her career, mostly in public service, and always helping others.

Now, at 40, she’s pregnant for a second time, has a toddler who likes to dive face first in her sleep out of her crib and has my friend up every few hours to make sure she’s safe and still pretty. Add to that a belly the size of a weather balloon which makes it impossible to find a comfortable position and the concept of sleep will not be a reality for at least a year to come. Still, my friend is a thinker, and so is contemplating her identity as a working woman, as well as a mom and all the rest of it. She just doesn’t have the brain for it right now, and described herself as Formerly Ambitious.

She was falling asleep in her soup last night when we had dinner, and other friends were there so we couldn’t really get into it, but she’s going through a variation of what many Formerlies do: Our work lives, for some of us, are just not feeling as important and as much of a driving force.

I know that’s what happened to me, in a way. I quit a high octane magazine job a few years back to be a part time human, and built a piecemeal living of writing and blogging and parenting. I no longer dressed for work and skated into my desk with a cup of coffee and a folder of copy, tired but pumped for some problem-solving and alliterative headline writing. I sat in my sports bra and worked until the kids came home and found my rewards  from different kinds of successes. (I couldn’t control myself with Formerly/Finally Friday. I need to alliterate every so often or I worry the muscle will go slack.) I lost the lust to strive for higher on the magazine masthead. I felt I lost a bit of ambition during those years.

I say this to my husband and he rolls his eyes because he knows how hard I worked to write my book, as well as everything else I do. That’s hardly demonstrative of a lack of ambition, he says. And he’s right, kind of. I still work hard.

But the tenor of the ambition doesn’t feel the same as it did when I was younger. My old ambition was more voracious, driven by energy and caffeine and a bit of compulsion and driven (in a not so happy way way) by a desire to please and prove something to people who really weren’t paying much attention, or who already thought I was great the way I was.

Nowadays, my ambitions are more vague (happiness and feeling competent and peace, rather than a new title or more money) and more malleable. So addicted am I to feeling good about what I do that if it’s clear something isn’t going to work out, I adjust my ambitions to accommodate what can, and declare it a success. And who’s to say it’s not?

I think my husband is right, that it’s not a lack of ambition so much as an ambition for different things.

What do you all think of ambition at this age? Do you have more of it than when you were younger? Or less? Or is it more focused? What are you ambitious for? Please comment, if you feel moved.