When does ambition fade?



By Caitlin Kelly

I recently had lunch with a friend my age — a former executive at National Public Radio — who now travels the country with his very cool project, getting people into working for public radio, called NextGenRadio. I love his ambition and passion, at an age when many are thinking about retirement.

One of my spin teachers, in her early 40s, is doing the work for pre-med, and is 18 months away from taking the MCAT, the med school admission test. Another friend, a former New York Times editor, is now enrolled in a program to re-train doing yoga therapy in medical settings.

Here’s a very long piece about re-inventing your life after 50, from a new website I’m writing for, considerable.com.

I’m slowly working on two new ways to earn an income, with no expectation that either will fully sustain me financially, but each of which makes me happier than journalism does at this point. I started writing for a living at the age of 19, while also attending university full-time. I enjoyed it, but it was also really stressful. Now the industry is in such a mess — and with pay rates, literally, back to 1970s and ’80s lows, (then a very good rate!), I’m ready to flee.




The two things I hope to do a lot more of are coaching — both writing and PR strategy (details are on my website) and selling my images to interior designers. I’ve been coaching now for several years and really enjoy it; my students get instant ROI and lots of practical advice, not the generic “You go, girl!” bullshit I so often see being touted by “experts” on social media.

My husband is a professional photo editor, who worked for The New York Times for 31 years and helped them win a Pulitzer Prize for 9/11 images, so we’re also culling thousands of my images to select the initial few hundred and set up a website. I began my career as a photographer, selling three magazine cover images while still in high school and later, to Time, The Washington Post, Toronto Star, The New York Times and others.

I do, still, hope to publish a few more books.


What ambitions do you still hold?


Do you have a timeline for achieving them?

34 thoughts on “When does ambition fade?

  1. I’m lucky enough that I’m in the process of achieving my ambitions and dreams. I’ve had a novel accepted by a publishing press, and we’ll hopefully have it out sometime in the first half of 2019. I also completed another novel this year, as well as several shorter works. And one or two of my short stories are getting published in anthologies.
    Right now though, my ambition is to keep the momentum going and achieve a wider audience. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll be able to write full-time someday. But that’s still a ways off.

  2. I’m fortunate enough to be near the top of my profession now. I’m working for about another four years and then I’ll see. I don’t have any plans to re-train although I would like to do some photography. I’m aiming for a comfortable retirement where I can do some leisurely travel.

  3. Jan Jasper

    I’m sure you’re thought of this, but might it be an option to move back to Canada to save on the health insurance cost?

    1. We’ve discussed it many times.

      It’s not that simple. Yes, it would save us $20K a year. But the Canadian market for our skills is much smaller, pays much less, real estate in Ontario is $$$$$$ and taxes are higher. Plus, we love our town.

      So…we’ll just have to keep working hard(er.) I chose to leave Canada and happily return to visit but suddenly moving back for only one reason doesn’t make sense to us.

  4. No lack of projects and ambitions for me, and no intention to give them up. My eternal bugbear is time. I find it impossible to move forward effectively on several fronts despite having read just about every book on the topic.

      1. You sound a lot more organized than I am! Professionally, I would love to transition to other income streams as I approach retirement. One project is to set up a home recording studio so as to do freelance voicework such as audio books. (I used to work as a voiceover…). Another is a translation of a French novel that has been published to some critical acclaim in Switzerland but needs to be pitched to publishers in the UK or US. On a personal writing level, I have a novel in the works and a memoir that I need to prioritize. Then there are longer term purely fun things like joining a choir and learning collage techniques…

      2. Not really…But I am so weary of slinging words for pay that I have to keep trying to find some alternatives. A friend of mine, Adam Barr, is now doing audiobooks, if you can find him on LinkedIn. (former lawyer.)

        I keep threatening to write a memoir but can’t while my father is still alive. I’d love to join a choir (can’t read music!) My two fun goals are to take film classes (not production but analysis of editing, cinematography, etc) and floral design, two of my enduring passions.

        Do you think you’ll stay forever in Europe?

      3. Europe, yes. France, not necessarily. Switzerland looks increasingly attractive these days…if more expensive, a much better balance in terms of society. But we have family in France we can’t just ‘abandon’…so time will tell! I would certainly have a hard time moving back to North America after over 25 years away.

      4. I wonder this about returning to Canada as well…Much as I loathe American politics and income inequality, I always found Canada too slow and dull. I am not sure that POV would change just because I am not working anymore. So, who knows?

  5. Margaret

    Hello there
    I really loved this post as I’m also nearing retirement (nearly 63) and feel as though people expect me to put all of my hopes and dreams into a box and shove them into the wardrobe. But I still feel as though I have more things to do and learn, especially in relation to learning the craft of writing. I don’t want to give up on my dreams, as they have sustained me for many years and kept me from despairing when I’ve been struggling at my day job. There’s always been the hope that one day I’ll get my act together. I hope it’s not too late.
    I’m fortunate to live in Australia where we have a national health care system. It’s not free as it gets taken out of my tax, but its a wonderful system introduced in 1975 when we had a vaguely socialist government. I don’t think people realise how very lucky we are to live in this beautiful place.

    1. The only people worth listening to are those who support your dreams — unless they would plunge you into poverty and reckless behavior, which sounds unlikely. Do what makes you happy!

  6. choosing things you both enjoy and are good at, are the way to go. sounds like you are on the right track for the next phase of your working life. i am next interested in working on a human aid project of some sort, though i’m not sure what it will look like at this point. it may be something i do as a volunteer at a later date, and i feel like i will know when the opportunity fits. not sure of a timeline as of yet.

    1. I enjoy and am good at a range of things — but I lack sufficient skills for some, or there’s too much existing competition or the pay is just too poor. Which is why I keep writing. I don’t hate it but decades of doing the same thing is deadening.

      The coaching, when it shows up, is very satisfying for me and my clients; it tends to always be a one-off, not an ongoing revenue stream.

      If I can ever start seriously marketing my images, I’m hoping for a more passive income stream.

      My goal right now (and December is now a dead month for me) is to rest. The six months of cancer treatment has really tired me out emotionally and physically.

    1. Thanks. I have no wish to keep working at all —- so am trying to find some other ways to bring in income that are less stressful and pay better. I charge $400/hour for corporate PR strategy, and people pay it — while editors now think 50 cents a word for a 1,000 word story is “competitive pay.”

  7. You’re amazing and continue to be a wonderful inspiration. I turned 60 just a few weeks ago and I’m working on that thing they call “Act 3″…the funny thing is, I find myself returning to those things that made me happy when I was younger – opportunities to celebrate my creative spark. I wonder how many women our age come full circle back to those things that made their heart sing as girls?

    1. Thanks!

      Me, too…Really loving getting back into photography (which I began at 17.) Instagram is giving me so many ideas and inspiration.

      I think that circle is inevitable…happiness matters!

  8. At 41,I find I don’t have a lot of easily defined ambitions. I’m mostly doing what I want to do. I want to do those things better, but that’s an unending process. So while I’m not ambitious by the usual measure of the thing, I do have a lot of drive and motivation. it’s just not especially goal orientated, more about how I do things on a day to day basis to be the best that I can be.

    1. Exactly! I’ve punched most of my professional tickets so now it’s more exploring passions and interests for me…The things I’d like to be better at probably won’t earn me income but I’d still like to improve some skills.

  9. I’m going to read more books, specifically, more fiction. When I’m not doing that, I’m going to try to get into a band. Nothing serious, just for fun and maybe open for Southern Culture on the Skids. That would be awesome as well as achievable. Asheville has a great music scene and SCOTS always has a local band opening for them. I’m also looking into the Asheville darkroom, but I can’t see much, it’s dark in there.

  10. CRGardenJoe

    I have always been a writer but my career has all been short articles…when I “retire” in a few years I would like to find a longer nonfiction project. Also, although photography has always been part of my work, it has been a sideline that lately I have focused more on. I think one perk of the 60-something life is that “ambition” has a lot more to do with whatever pleases me!

  11. Margaret

    Reblogged this on Not really that creative and commented:
    I love this piece by Caitlin Kelly on not giving up your dreams just because you might be a little bit older. There seems to be a lot of pressure to fade quietly in the background once you reach a certain age but I’m not really prepared to give up my dreams just yet. Getting to retirement age just seems to make things a bit more urgent. I should start doing all of those things on my list before it’s too late.
    I’ve been working on sorting out some very minor health issues, but I really need a plan for the next ten years. Time to get my act together I think…

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