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Is Ambition a Good or Bad Thing After 60?

By Ann Richardson December 28, 2023 Mindset

Something made me think about ambition recently. Did I feel it was a good or bad thing in people, especially my friends? The answer is complicated.

The Pros

On initial thinking, I tended to feel that ambition, when not taken to extremes, is a good thing.

It doesn’t matter whether a person’s aim is to be the best composer of the age or to reach the top job of his or her company (or the country, for that matter).

It makes us work harder at what we do and put real thought into how to do It better.

Indeed, although I lack appropriate evidence, ambition of one kind or another is probably responsible for most forms of human progress.

We seek to get there, so we seek new solutions. We often find new problems as we do so and seek solutions for them. And so forth and so on.

Progress gets made.

The Cons

But there are also unintended consequences of ambition. It drives us on, but it also drives us to neglect other aspects of our lives. Not in every case, but often.

Hence, the large number of unhappy wives – or, I hasten to add, husbands – and neglected children. Not to mention the good friends never made.

It is all well known. You have heard it all before.

Ambition also tends to drive us to want to be seen as successful.

Of course, there are people everywhere who quietly succeed in their endeavours without any need to blow their own trumpet. But that is not the most common pattern.

And this makes for a heightened emotional atmosphere much of the time.

It is not simply a quiet barbecue among friends – it is a chance for each successful person to let the others know about the triumphs in their lives. The same goes on at dinner parties or down at the pub. It is human nature to let others know.

Again, you have heard it all before.

As Ambition Comes to a Natural End

But what happens when ambition dries up or simply comes to a natural end?

You composed that amazing symphony or made it to the top of the greasy pole. Perhaps there is another symphony to be written or another pole to climb.

But eventually, whether satisfied or not, you reach the point where you slow down or stop altogether. You look around and start to think about other things and other people.

And, alongside such changes, you probably become nicer.

Being Nice

It was my mother who noticed it first, years ago. She and my father had moved into a new retirement home and, after a suitable interval, I asked what the other people were like.

She said old people tended to be very nice, especially men, because they no longer had so much ambition. I can’t remember whether she elaborated hugely on the comment, but it made me think.

Niceness is an under-rated virtue. The very word somehow implies something innocuous and uninteresting. We value it in our friends, of course, but it is rarely on the top of the attributes we commend in people.

We tend to note their talents or their achievements and niceness is seen as an add-on, something that comes along with other attributes.

But the older I get, the more I see the importance of this quality – it represents thoughtfulness, kindness and a willingness to go the extra mile.

It does not bring any kudos, but it makes the world a so much more agreeable place.

My parents’ retirement home was full of professional people. There were said to be 17 former doctors, including three or four brain surgeons.

There were former journalists, former teachers and, surprisingly, quite a few moderately successful artists. But the emphasis was on the word ‘former’.

Yes, some of the writers were still writing and some of the artists were still painting, but on the whole, they had moved on.

And in the course of doing so, they had become just ‘people’.

Once ambition is removed from a person’s thinking, the landscape changes. Other people are not some form of competition, but just someone with whom to complain about the terrible weather.

You share a beer or a glass of wine and talk about football or the book you are reading. Even when you talk about more contentious issues, such as politics, it is other people’s success or failure you are talking about.

It is a big change!

The Joys of Growing Older

So, one of the real joys of growing older is the diminishing ambition of everyone you meet.

Yes, people still complain. Yes, people still talk about themselves, whether their own latest health crisis or their excitement over a new grandchild.

But it is so restful when the matter of status has been removed.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you feel about ambition? Have your views changed over the years? Do you think you are still ambitious?

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Jennifer L. Jessup

I admire women who are ambitious. I live in Montreal Quebec and over the past several years, I have studied famous women and love to learn about their lives.


This lessening of ambition (or maybe a better word is competition)was very obvious (and refreshing) to me during a recent high school reunion. The cliques and the competition seemed to have melted away, and there we all were (those lucky enough to be around for the 50th anniversary)…just people with who shared “roots” in a small New England town, had gone on to live diverse and interesting lives, and now came back together to meet each other on another level. Time has a way of leveling the playing field!

Cathrine Book

I think being nice to others and being ambitious are both equally good at any age . I am still ambitious, but nice to others at 72 years old. I try to use what I’ve learned in my job to help others not hinder them. It still makes me feel helpful and kind! This is a great article!


What a great article! I find I am still ambitious at 61 but hold it lightly
That means I am aware that other people don’t give a f”%k, and that reaching goals is fine but not the be all and end all. Getting awards/reaching goals/getting external recognition won’ t lead to happiness and people won’t suddenly view me differently. It won’t lead my friends and family to love me any more or any less. So this is a very nice place to be in! Because I can be both ambitious but also not give a rats arse. I definitely can enjoy this space and have no need to advertise my success.

Ann Richardson

Good on you. That’s a great place to be.

The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

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