On Finally Having Arrived: The End of Ambition
Carol Osborn discusses the feeling of "having arrived."
BY: Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., Fierce with Age
Carol Orsborn, Ph.D. is Founder of
, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. Dr. Orsborn, who earned her doctorate in religion from Vanderbilt University, is
the best-selling author of 21 books including her newest book: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn.
I have had a glimpse of something towards which I’ve quested all my life: the experience of “having arrived.” This preview of culmination coincides with the publication of my 21st book, Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. Despite appearances, however, the sense of having finally arrived seems entirely coincidental.
In point of fact, I always assumed that the publication of one book—let alone over 20—should have delivered to me the sense that I have achieved all that I came here to earth to do long ago. I love my books. I’m proud of them. But this sense of having arrived because of them has not proven to be the case.
As in all of our careers, there are high moments, of course, but the practical reality of one’s everyday life can turn the most glamorous-sounding occasions into opportunities for struggle. Why did the national TV show appearance have to come on the same day as my daughter’s birthday? Why are that author’s numbers higher than mine? What bad mood moved the critic to say that? And so on.
On the other side of the struggle we refer to as everyday life, however, there is the promise of culmination: the experience of having at last arrived. I envision a place of joy and peace, of fulfillment and satisfaction. I have prayed for this, meditated on it and contemplated the possibility. I always knew there would be obstacles along the way, but I did not know how hard I would need to struggle, nor how many years, for delivery on the promise of what it means to have really, truly arrived.
The struggle has been acute recently. For the past six months, I have been equally consumed by preparations for the publication of my book, and simultaneously, the ramifications of my husband’s and my decision to move from Los Angeles to Nashville. I wanted to find “our last house”--a place that would represent the fulfillment of who I have become. Not an interim house we’ll trade-up or down-size later. Rather, the place where I will be happy to spend the rest of my life.
As it turns out, the place that held the promise of fulfillment turned out to be an 80-year stone house fixer-upper on the river. We’re only partway through even the remedial parts of the rehab—the parts that will ensure that the house will not tumble into the Cumberland River below, but continue to stay serene and secure on its high banks. I can tell you already: I don’t need any more moves, changes, or transitions to find the situation of our dreams. We’re finally home.
But even sitting here, looking out at the river I have already grown to love, I find that not only is it not the publication of my 21st book, but neither is it inhabiting what turned out to be the house of my dreams that represents having finally arrived. Rather, it’s the end of my ambition. For in this moment, I want nothing more than to read a great book, sit with my grandson on the riverbank watching cranes dipping for fish and stroking my little dog Lucky’s fur in the direction it’s going. What else matters?
Don’t get me wrong. There’s still plenty to do. I’ve committed to a book tour. I’m thrilled to be working as a new columnist with Beliefnet. I aspire to be healthy in body, mind and spirit, which of course, entails not only sitting on river banks but exercising. But still, I have had an experience of what it means to have arrived, and this knowledge—no matter how briefly glimpsed—has already sunk deep into my bones.
I am reminded here of an apocryphal story from the Hindu tradition about Alexander the Great. As the story goes, Alexander was leading his troops through India when he spotted a saint sitting serenely on the banks of the river. “I wish I could just be sitting there as you are, enjoying the sun,” Alexander said. “Where are you going?” the saint asked him to which Alexander replied: “I’m going to fight one more battle and then I will return to sit beside you.” The saint looked deeply into Alexander’s eyes and replied: “If what you really want in the end is to sit here with me by the river, why don’t you just do it now?”
This is what having arrived means to me. Not the world’s affirmation nor even the attainment of a home on a river. But rather, having finally come to a place of wholeness where the veil between everyday life and the divine has become thin, indeed. Ironically, as the saint suggests, this entails more of a stripping away than an adding on. In the wake of ambition, we leave an space—at last—large enough for God.
I leave you here with a quote from Evelyn Underhill in her classic book The Mystic Way. “The wistful eyes of life are set towards a vision that is also a Home—a Home from which news can reach us now and again …It is a Becoming, yet a Being, a Growth yet a Consummation: the very substance of Eternity...” So close, I can almost touch it. And for this moment, at least, I have not only arrived, I am here.