Are ambitious parents bad parents?

My 7 year old wrote me a love letter yesterday.


It was 8 pm. Teeth were brushed. We had finished reading Judy Moody.

She was in one of her question asking modes.

“What’s the difference between a country and a continent?”

“Do continents have presidents?”

Meanwhile, I was on my phone.

Here’s the embarrassing part. My phone is the No Fun League.

There’s no email.

No social media.

Slack is buried in a folder way off the home screen.

And all news sites are blocked. Using parental controls. (Yup, that feature to prevent you from viewing naughty websites.)

So WTF was I doing?

I was on Reddit conducting research. Specifically, “How do you repurpose blog content to boost SEO?”

I know, what a lame trade. Precious daddy-daughter time for Search Engine Optimization?

(For the uninitiated, that’s tweaking web pages so they show up on the front page of a Google search.)

Why, Khe? WHY?

I feel fine about our finances. The biz is in great shape. I’ve got plenty of time to surf, meditate and take care of myself. Heck, Lisa and I have had a weekly date night since 2019.

Then WHY on earth was I reading about SEO?!?!!?

It’s simple. I had tipped into Egoic ambition mode:

This got me wondering. Would I be a better parent if I worked less? (Yes.)

But would I be a better parent if I was less ambitious?

Ooh. Now that’s prickly. Here’s what I’ve observed about myself.

Phase #1: Basic Needs

In this phase, I’m trying to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

I could stretch the phase a bit and add some more college savings and a few yearly vacations.

Thankfully, we’re well beyond that Phase 1 courtesy of some good parenting (i.e. my folks), a Wall Street career and some sound investment decisions.

Phase #2: Aligned Ambition

My 15 year Wall Street career provided a very secure and good life. But it didn’t come without a cost. I felt numb inside. Every day felt like groundhog day. The scarcity mindset cast a dark cloud over relationships, behaviors and the daily work culture.

During these years, I was not in alignment. I counted the days down until vacation (only to spend all of said vacation on my laptop). My hair started to fall out (both male pattern baldness and alopecia). Five years later, I’d learn that this phase contributed to other current health ailments I’m dealing with today.

I had lost my zest for life.

Ejecting out of the Corporate Treadmill gave me my first taste of what it felt like to live in alignment.

I no longer pined for vacation. I slept more. I was more available for my family.

(Was I more present? Debatable.)

There are many words phrases used to describe this phase. I felt like I was in my Zone of Genius. I had discovered Ikigai. I operated from a flow state. And I smiled a lot

But was I happy? Not exactly. I wanted more.

Phase 3: Egoic Ambition

Now for some real talk.

I like doing things I’m good at. I like winning. I like recognition. I like making money.

These are all byproducts of having a very human trait – a hefty ego.

There are long stretches of my day which feel joyous and light. They often involve writing, teaching or building alongside my incredible colleagues.

But usually I’m dancing precariously close to the razor’s edge of ego-based decisions. I quickly will pop out of my alignment phase and start playing in various games, including:

Grow the biggest audience.

Make the most money.

Get recognized by a prestigious publication.

And when I tip into that phase, I get swallowed by “winning the game.” Then I forget everything around me… Including my precious 7 year old.

What is lacking?

I recently hosted a talk on the Scarcity Mindset with my coach and teacher Andrew Taggart. In this talk, he revealed why I might drop into Zone 3.

He begins by asking:

Are you trying to be “a somebody?”

In my case, that could be a “successful solopreneur,” a “good father,” or a “reliable friend.”

According to Andrew, what must follow (and I agree) is that “If I am trying to be somebody, that presupposes that one-step upstream, there’s a lack.”

Which puts the ball back into my court with:

Where do I feel a sense of lack?

(Or asked differently, in what ways am I not enough.)

So let’s recap.

I tilt into a work mode that is at odds with my values.

Researching SEO at 9 pm on a Thursday.

I ask myself, are you trying to be “a somebody?”

Yes, a successful solopreneur.

Do you want to be a successful entrepreneur, out of a sense of lack?


Well what is it you lack?

I fear irrelevance.

Yikes. One of life’s central questions (“What happens after we die?”) fuels an unhealthy ambition which shows up as SEO research – when all my daughter wants to do is talk about continents.

Clearly I don’t have the answer, since this is still a daily struggle.

Intellectually and in my head, I know that I am enough.

But in my heart – in my bones – I’m not convinced.

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