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  • Brian Tohana

The Shift from Ambition to Meaning




In the movie The Shift – Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning, Wayne Dyer explains the change in priorities men and women make in life when they shift from ambition to meaning.


The findings are based on a 2010 survey of a group of men and women who were studied over a lifetime and surveyed about their personal values. Witnessing and supporting coaching clients as they make this shift, I noticed how gracefully we transition depends largely upon our self-awareness, willingness to be honest with ourselves, our humility to let go of our old way of being and our courage to embody a new way of being.


Here is the list he presents in the movie, combined with what I’ve witnessed in my work with coaching clients:

WOMEN’s Priorities BEFORE the Shift


  1. Family (taking care of everyone) - Raised to be a good mother or daughter, to support one’s family by doing what’s needed and expected; putting others first.

  2. Independence - Driven to be self-reliant, to prove oneself.

  3. Career - Driven to be equal and independent.

  4. Fitting In - Driven to be liked by everybody else, to do what you’re supposed to do.

  5. Attractiveness - Driven to appear a certain way.


Before The Shift, women's significance and value comes largely from their role as mother, caregiver, or nurturer role. Putting other's need before their own is a cultural norm. Traditionally, there is pressure to be a good mom, husband, sister, lover, cook, cleaner; to do it all. There is tremendous guilt associated with putting her needs before others.

Women’s Priorities AFTER the Shift


  1. Personal Growth - Desire to connect with a personal sense of meaning and purpose. Before I cater to others, what do I need? What inspires me? What do I really want?

  2. Self-Esteem – Desire to feel capable, empowered and to embody your worth. What is my worth/value? How do I feel about myself? How do I see myself?

  3. Spirituality - Desire for a sense of connectedness, closeness and belonging. This is the dance of honouring and balancing one's own needs with the needs of others.

  4. Happiness – Desire to do what’s best for your happiness even if it involves disappointing others.

  5. Forgiveness – Resolving resentment from giving your power away; forgiving self and others.


The Shift often happens for women after their children have reached a certain level of independence and maturity where her responsibility in the role of mom is need much less. It's been a while since she's considered her needs, so she enters into a process of self-discovery, "What do I want? What makes me happy?" It's natural for resentment to arise as she begins to become aware of how much she's put the needs of others before her own. Therefore, forgiveness of herself and others is important as she meets her need for significance and self-esteem outside of her role as mom.

MEN’s Priorities BEFORE the Shift


  1. Wealth - Driven to make and accumulate money to support your family; to be the protector/provider.

  2. Sense of Adventure - Driven to be manly and strong to conquer the world.

  3. Achievement - Driven by accomplishment to get ahead. You are what you do. Raised to believe your worth is what you accomplish; seeking external validation.

  4. Pleasure - Going out with the guys and having as much fun as you can.

  5. Respect - Driven to be liked and valued.


Before The Shift, men are conditioned to derive their sense of significance, social status and value from their role as protector and provider: I am what I own. I am what I achieve. Their focus tends to be on instant gratification and pushing their agenda sometimes at the expense of others. A confident exterior often covers up a vulnerable core. Although he is successful, he is often stressed out and reacts easily. He isn't alone but often feels alone; like something's missing.

MEN’s Priorities AFTER the Shift


  1. Spirituality - Desire for a sense of connectedness, closeness and belonging. This is the dance of honouring and balancing one's own needs with the needs of others.

  2. Personal Peace - Desire for less anxiety and stress.

  3. Family - Raised awareness of the gift of love and relationships. What really matters?

  4. Life's Will - Desire for a real sense of purpose and meaning in one’s actions. Recognition that something "bigger" than one’s ego is directing life. What do I want vs. What does Life want for me?

  5. Honesty - Desire to be honest with oneself and others, to live in integrity with one's essence.


"I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion--and where it isn't, that's where my work lies.”- Ram Dass

After The Shift, men shift from ego-driven force and control which was rooted in insecurity to essence-fueled power rooted in inner peace. He begins asking himself, "What is this all for?" We see this shift in celebrity culture where the "ultra-successful" have it all, but no amount of sex, drugs, possessions, achievement or experiences can fill the void of the ego. The ego is the false persona he has mistaken as himself, the Psychological Self that he begins to peel back layer by layer to reveal his essence. He engages in self-inquiry to find inner peace, using relationships as his mirror for self-development and shifts focus from the science of achievement to the art fulfillment.


“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."- Rumi

For men, the shift seems to be dominantly facilitated by humility. For women, it’s dominantly facilitated by forgiveness. I’ve seen men struggle more than women to make this shift because we seem to be more stubborn and more attached to being right and have a fear of being perceived as weak, lesser than or vulnerable.


"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves... All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. humility gives it its power. if you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. if you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them." Lao Tzu

My hypothesis is that if we fail to hear/see the signs that Life offers us nudging us to make this shift, a rude awakening, often in the form of physical or mental illness manifests. The evolution of our consciousness individually and collectively requires us to continually transform, letting go of the familiar and moving into the unknown to become that which we cannot yet see or imagine. Therefore, continued evolution at any level of "success" requires courage.

What got you here, won't get your there. Everything that's made you successful today is now exactly what's holding you back from your next level of success.

Giving ourselves the specific permissions we need can be very helpful to make this transition as smooth as possible. Permission brings intentionality and acceptance to the new way of being that is emerging. Permission is a way of consciously making right what was once made bad or wrong.


For example, for men accustomed to achieving, it can be beneficial to give themselves Permission to Slow Down and Permission to Ask for Help when they wouldn’t normally. For women accustomed to putting others’ needs first before their own, it can be beneficial to give themselves Permission to Do What’s Best for You and Disappoint Others. You can look for the areas in your life where you encounter resistance within yourself and apply the necessary permission accordingly.

Many people start working with me when they sense they are making this kind of shift in their life. They know they can’t continue to operate in the same way they have been, or they could, but it would be more stressful or unhealthy than moving into a new unfamiliar way of being. They need to make a change to end old patterns but aren’t sure how.

Pause for Reflection

  • What signs is Life giving you that indicate you are being asked to shift?

  • What are you shifting from and to?

  • How can you best support yourself during this transition?

  • What permissions could you use to make this transition in your life as easeful and graceful as possible?

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