Should we always aim high?

October 13, 2015

Aim high.

This is the advice we’re used to living by. We’ve heard it since we were kids, when our parents encouraged us to get high grades, perform well in sports, get into a good college, find a great job. Nothing wrong with that, right? Being achievement-oriented is a great way to suceed. Nope. Nothing wrong with it.

But now, in my senior years, I am considering if the advice still applies.  What do you mean? you might be asking. Of course I am still aiming high. My life’s not over!

Well, not so fast. I think it’s a reasonable question, really, for those of us in the sunset years.  Our striving has taken us this far, it’s true, but at some point it’s a great relief to stop and reap the benefits of all those years of aiming high.

Look, I know some of us are still facing hard times. Maybe we made poor financial decisions that we’re still paying for. Maybe the striving hasn’t paid off in the way we’d hoped. Perhaps our circumstances require us to hit it harder than we’d like. We’d like to take it easier but can’t. I get that.

But I think it’s only logical to ask ourselves how much of the rest of our lives we want to spend striving. We can still ask the question, do some planning, set a date. Because there’s great joy in letting go of the pressure to achieve.  In setting more reasonable goals for this stage of our lives.

We make the best of our circumstances.

We can make the best of our circumstances.

Even in retirement it can be hard to let go of striving. A friend of mine comes to mind, one who was forced to retire a little early by circumstances beyond his control. A more rural lifestyle appealed to him, so he moved. Known for high achievements in his field, he took on a community task in which his expertise was badly needed. He aimed to make a difference and he could have, if his community hadn’t been so small-minded. Because it was his nature to aim high, he aimed higher than his community was ready for and was sorely disappointed in the results. I think, in the end, he would have rather gone fishing every day. And should have.

When we’ve spent a lifetime achieving, it’s hard to let go of that. It’s an almost knee-jerk reaction to everything we get involved in.  We don’t even think about it.

New opportunities

What I’m suggesting is that in our senior years, it’s time to think more about the quality of our life.  Some of us don’t want to think our contributing days are over, but the thing is, they aren’t. In our later years we’ve given the opportunity to contribute in a different way. To spend time with family and friends. To explore hobbies and creative interests. To read books. To watch sunsets.

I find myself thinking about the things I’d like to do. Sure, I’d like to finish a book. I’ll probably do that. But if I don’t, the quality of my life won’t suffer.

Back in our parents’ generation, menopause was called “the change of life.”

I love that phrase and think we should co-opt it for our senior years, because that’s when we’re given the opportunity to really change our lives. And, in my opinion, improve its quality.

Got some thoughts about this?


16 comments on “Should we always aim high?
  1. Evalyn says:

    C – loved this one! Spot on and wise…had the ring of the truth I’m living …..xx E

  2. Carla says:

    I love this. The other day I spied an image on Facebook which said: you did not wake up to be mediocre!
    And I thought: why not? Sure that might not be what I want my every single day of my life to be 🙂 but if today simply getting out of bed is a victory and my only one? And that’s mediocre? I’m OK with that!

  3. I completely agree with you Carol (as I usually do). I am a few years away from senior status, but even in my 50’s I’ve decided that doing what makes me happy and makes me feel good, vs. doing what I “think” I should be doing, is how I’m going to live my life.

  4. this is my mantra – I don’t want to spend these midlife years on the hamster wheel – I want to find a balance that gives me some freedom to enjoy my life after all those years of nose to the grindstone and parenting and being on a million committees. This is my time and I’m working out how much to hold onto and how much to let go. The letting go is getting easier! Great post Carol!

  5. Karen Austin says:

    Good food for thought. I have received a lot of gold stars on my forehead for being super driven. But I’m starting to see that focusing on BEING has a value, too. It’s not that I’d stop striving for KNOWING or DOING. It’s more a matter of focus. Do things and learn things in order to develop and demonstrate character. But that’s really new for me, and old habits die hard! Thanks for the “rather have gone fishing” story. That’s a great example.

  6. Tamara says:

    I love this. At 48, I’m wrestling with the conflicting demands of still striving and just being. Some days the striving wins. Other days I’m content to just be me, mom, wife, knitter, friend.

    I’m hoping that the two will mesh soon and perhaps my striving will be focused on less work/performance and more relationships/personal growth…

  7. Janice Wald says:

    I agree that quality of life matters more.

  8. Anna Palmer says:

    It can be crushing to be a perfectionist. It can be paralyzing to try to meet all of society’s expectations. It is always lovely to find a corner of the internet that reminds us that what we are is enough. Each day I try to do a little less and appreciate it a little more.

  9. Ruth Curran says:

    I love the emphasis on quality and looking not at doing or being more but making this moment and the next richer and so worth living. That takes on such different flavors as we age, doesn’t it? Today I want to enjoy a good glass of iced tea (still in the 90s), a good meal with exceptional conversation, and a good playoff game (a Cubs win would be a bonus). The quality of my day is fueled by the promise of the quality of the rest of my week and the promise of all the good that will come.

  10. I could not agree more. Life should slow down even before the golden years.

  11. Sue Ellam says:

    This is an interesting one because I think that things are changing in all generations regarding aiming high.

    Aiming high implies aiming for other people’s perceptions on how high that is. That is certainly true as applied to my own life when I was working within companies. It’s dancing to someone else’s tune.

    I think that when we aim high, we should do so as in ‘I am aiming higher, and doing better, than I did yesterday – according to my own standards and according to my own happiness.

    With the numbers of the younger generation electing to start their own businesses and live lives very different to the ones that were available to us at that age, I suspect that aiming high is becoming a very personal thing – rather than reliant on someone else’s yardstick. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.