“Forget about long-term dreams. Let us get passionately dedicated to the pursuit of short-term goals. Become micro-ambitious. Work with passion and pride on what is in front of us.”
Jake Bailey, 2015
Unexpected words from a young man at his high school prize giving (graduation). Four years ago, a young man named Jake Bailey who was getting ready for his graduation was told he had cancer and three weeks to live if immediate treatment was not undertaken. He made it to his grad (and survived the cancer). The video I have included is his speech. It is 18 minutes long but those are 18 minutes well used if you view it.
The first half is personal to Jake. The second half is thoughts on living well. Cancer was a zoom lens to the young man, suddenly facing his future—for which he had worked hard and earned Senior Monitor in his school—possibly snatched away. It is, certainly, a life changer at any age. But the value of micro-ambition is valuable to consider for mid-lifers, as an antidote to the decades of big picture indoctrination.
As noted last week, we are planners and workers. One must be to live well. However, this well-honed skill can sometimes work against us if we allow it to dominate our perspective and approach to living. As a project manager for my entire professional career to date (with many different titles and different hats to wear), I know the trap it can be.
I recently counselled a young lady faced with career choices to not try to live life in a day. The natural desire for guarantees and making the right choices can actually paralyze our thinking, making us feel that if we don’t get it completely right the first time, all is lost.
Good advice in middle age, too. With a new horizon of decades of living ahead to be embraced, lived well and—let’s be honest—paid for, many of us find ourselves feeling the old familiar pressures of youth. And this time, we do not have the course correction option via the extra years nor the greater choices based on the youthful vigor we could count on back then. On the plus side, the intervening years have given us the wisdom of experience.
Last week, when my random thinking on the train brought small ideas to the surface, I thought of Jake and remembered his counsel to become “micro-ambitious.” I watched this video again and was impressed anew at the young man’s response to his challenge and the moment at his school.
I also realized the freedom of micro-ambition. And I wanted to be free again from the chess-game strategy of sorting out this next phase of my life.
So I have become micro-ambitious. I am diving into many mini projects, setting aside timelines for bigger ones, and passionately dedicating myself to revisited and renewed short-term goals. What were once stages and steps to long-term goals have now become my new micro ambitions. Life is loose, light, and full of new opportunities again (for which, Jake, I am indeed grateful).
And micro-ambition is not only another tool for living well in the present. With the “passion and pride” we bring with it, our goals and dreams bloom and resonate, causing a ripple effect in all directions, not just toward a long-term goal. Life expands accordingly.
The future is coming regardless, and I will be ready for it. I will try to be gallant, great and gracious as I go. And with micro-ambition, I will string together my many mini victories like the pearls they will be.
Because like the man says, none of us gets out of life alive.
Talk next week,