Are You Weighing Opportunity and Risk? By Marshall Goldsmith To...
But Aspiration, because it is all about learning “to care about something new,” directs you to something more lasting than ambition, more worthy of developing and protecting. In her book, Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming, University of Chicago philosopher Agnes Callard cites an example of Aspiring to become more knowledgeable about classical music. So let’s try that on.
You decide that acquiring a taste for classical music is a worthwhile project. Your reasons may be noble: It’s regarded as a high art form, and you’re curious to learn whether its greatest practitioners—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi—are all they’re cracked up to be.
Your reasons may be practical: You may want to check off another status marker of being well educated. Or they may be self-serving: You want to keep pace with your more erudite friends. Or maybe you heard a famous classical piece in a movie—Pachelbel’s “Canon” or Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”— and yearn for more.
The point is, you’re curious and willing to make the effort, with no idea of how it will play out. You cannot predict whether you’ll be fascinated or bored, or whether this new value you’ve decided to acquire will actually feel valuable. So you read books, listen to recordings, go to concerts, meet a new community of friends who share your interest—and over several years, you build up an enviable base of knowledge that was unimaginable to you a few years earlier.
This is the gift of Aspiring: Even when you’ve moved on to another self-cultivation project—say, becoming skilled at cabinetmaking—you will always have that acquired base of knowledge about classical music, as if it’s a skill or a moral value that has become part of your identity.
Such a base doesn’t fade away like the momentary happiness of achieving an Ambitious goal. It is something you can build on for the rest of your life.
Understanding Aspiration is a huge (but not wholly appreciated) difference maker in our ability to create our own life. Countless times I have heard people, especially young people, balk at taking a risky career move because they need certainty that the outcome will be positive, that the risk will pay off with a reward.
They do not see that a choice that comes with a guaranteed result is, by definition, not a risk.
Nor do they appreciate that Aspiring to something—for example, becoming a lawyer—is an incremental process that gradually reveals its own value and, if we’re lucky, continues to enhance its value for the rest of our lives.