There are only two types of people in the world: people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it, and people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.
I am the first type. I do what I say I am going to do. Unless, of course, I’m stuck. I hate getting stuck.
All of us, despite best intentions or track records of follow through, often find we’re lost, confused, undecided, doubtful and ambiguous. We’re frozen in place in the larger context of life, even as we manage to look busy and ooze a pretend-kind of happy.
When it comes to inventing life – a new or continued career, different view out the window, ways to make money, different people to hang with, better focused choices, more engaged productivity – the whole darn thing is daunting.
We think about how we might change. We think how life could be even better. We thinkwe should start thinking about our last third of life.
Getting stuck in a life transition isn’t fun. Even smack in the middle of a lull when we feel something’s bound to come along to move us forward (we’re not sure what) is enough to make us think we missed a step we should have known about.
The situation prompts us to ask, “How did this happen to me?”
In the last two months I met three people baffled at their current lot in life who did want to talk (quietly) about being lost and stumped. They also disclosed how surprised they are to find themselves stupefied by the future.
With long and successful careers, each established firm future financial footing and chose traditional retirement in January of this year. If you think they were euphoric leaving the rat race behind to fill their Google calendars with what they wanted to do, you’d be right.
They were excited and exhilarated. But it didn’t last long. Their forays into freedom and wellbeing had a shelf life less than those onions you keep in a bin in your garage.
As a district manager of sales at Sears for over twenty years, Sara, 60, left in January when new management was at odds with her values. “It was time to go,” she said. By mid-March she’d done everything she ever wanted with a block of free time – clean out the garage, swim off Maui, paint the guest room, and visit old friends. “Now what am I supposed to do?” she asked. Friends tell her it’s time to volunteer but that doesn’t excite her at all. “I’m way off course, no idea what’s next and to be honest, a little dazed.”
John, 57, ended his 22 years as a school principal with a celebration. “I’m very pleased with my decision to retire,” he told me. “My heart just wasn’t in it anymore.” John said he was very restless after six months of not working and is concerned that his time ahead isn’t filled with more meaning. “I guess I’m shocked that I’d still like to work at something.” John also thinks about moving from Florida to Arizona. “I always dreamed of living in the desert.”
Penny, 59, left her position a small accounting firm in January then found the bliss of not working wore off in a mere 60 days. Her husband has no plans to retire. “He comes home from work full of things to talk about,” she said. Penny does yoga, goes to the cleaners and unloads the dishwasher. “It all makes a life that’s mighty uninteresting,” she whispered.
These spontaneous conversations with each individual at different social gatherings were clandestine in nature. Why? Because who wants to shout out, “Hey, come on over and hear me discuss how adrift, bewildered and stumped I am about what to do with my life.” Continue reading →
What awaits all of us is loss. This is a grown-up truth.
Loss sneaks up on you. Suddenly it becomes harder to breathe.
Loss is large, small, often unexpected and unwanted. We all know individuals who face destroyed or derailed careers, tumultuous terminations of marriages, the negative biopsy report, cruel aftermaths of an unfortunate financial move or the plight of frail parents as they nosedive toward an end.
Loss can defeat us. Loss will bring you to your knees.
One day you think: Oh, here is the rest of my life. It’s finally arrived.
The map of how you got here may be in front of you, but what to do now? No map for that.
Still we do figure it out.
Not all of us do it well. At least, not every time.
I solved life after college graduation rather fine. But post-divorce invoked a shaky time that curled my toes and wreaked havoc on providing for my daughter in a fitting way. (My mom sent money.)
What followed was a long stretch of eight years as a single working mother who layered up a strong sense of self and confidence. I carried that forward.
The first year of my second marriage created an interesting juxtaposition. How much could (or would) I compromise but still be in charge of me and my life?
My eleven-year-old daughter and I decorated her bedroom with Marimekko sheets and matching wallpaper. But I kept a suitcase with a stash of cash for a quick get-away for us inside my new closet.
Symbolic of questioning marriage survival, yes, but also a sign of my wobbly sureness. ‘Could I somehow have misjudged this man who seemed so solid in promise-keeping and honesty?’ I hadn’t.
But it was an uncertain year.
A pre-planned midlife crisis resulted in professional choices to season my skills and buoy my finances to a higher level than I dreamed possible. But when the economy stumbled, so did I.
Time to reinvent? Oh please. I ran away.
Sailing away for six months was a grand and valuable adventure. I only came back because I ran out of money. And because my husband hadn’t signed up for a marriage where he pinpointed his wife’s whereabouts by latitude and longitude.
In my late fifties, I wandered too long in and out of ideas that hovered over the transition into a third life.
No one should have to do that.
The conclusion was that I care deeply that I do a good job in all endeavors – especially this one of living the last third of life. I made a map.
Slipping into new shoes, I feel steady and rock-solid on this path.
Just like other times.
I may not have known that the spots of figuring out what’s-next-for-my-life would be so prevalent, but I know it now.
Your story has different twists and turns.
And as much as each of us tries to swerve and miss the place of no map, we still end up here.
My best professor in graduate school at the University of Georgia was an alcoholic. He rarely showed up for class; office hours became a joke.
But when he did turn up, disheveled and bleary eyed, it was ‘game on’ for me and my fellow doctoral candidates.
We were going to get another blistering. He would raise his voice and degrade us. We’d cower. He’d tell us again and again how we were breaking his heart with our respectful, compliant lives.
We couldn’t wait.
Other profs in the department of Counseling and Human Behavior offered rigorous coursework in counseling methods and techniques, challenging practicums and thesis advisement.
This guy cared less about all that. His concern was about us living our unimaginative, tedious lives. It irked him to no end.
“How in the hell can you help others live their best lives
when you’re miserably failing at your own?”
“Don’t tell me you’re living a great life or even trying. . . because you are not.
In fact, you are the most boring, pathetic group of students I’ve seen in a long time.”
We loved him. Partly because no one else in the department seemed to care how we were crafting our lives. But most of all, because his plea to “give life more” was so easily overlooked in our busy, well-constructed, high-achieving lives. Continue reading →
On a recent visit my best friend for fifty-one years placed three envelopes beside my morning coffee.
“I kept these for you,” Janice said.
Years ago phone calls were expensive for the volume of talking we wanted. We corresponded with letters – “notes to ourselves about our lives and ourselves.”
In retrospect the hours I carved out to write Janice – to reflect and contemplate decisions on the threshold of passages, challenging times, disappointments and joys – were the bread and butter of my self-development.
The letters in front of me were ones I wrote during the month following of my daughter’s birth, April 12, 1970. I was twenty-five, married for five years, had lived in five places in three years (following the career of my husband) and was an easily employed, happy teacher wherever we unloaded the U-Haul.
I looked at the letters written over 40 years ago and hesitated. I mean this is a damn long time ago and I recall an early adulthood route overloaded with societal markers and expectations I was beginning to question.
I read them.
The hour-by-hour description of labor and birth was in the first letter. The next two (both eight pages double-sided) described sleep-deprived days full of the wonder and practicalities of motherhood.
Then, there it was. Right there after making the choice between Pampers and a diaper service, were my most personal struggles. Concerns about the mother I would become, the good wife I was struggling to be and the blank space of my ‘self’ leaning in on me.
Looking back from a long distance I seemed like a young tree looking for sunlight. I was pretty soft and bendy in the identity department. I was trying to please a lot of people.
“This is me?” queried my today self.
Well, yes I wrote the letters, but the writer did not resemble much of who I am now except she did seem nice. I am nice.
In the end I did claim that woman writing at her kitchen table wearing bell-bottoms in the fetching house in the monied part of Akron, Ohio with the poodle, the entrepreneurial husband putting in his 10,000 hours headed to success and the beautiful baby girl.
I claim her not as ‘me,’ but as one of many selves I’ve been in life.
Five years later I would trade this self in for a new, improved one. (And, a less financially secure one.)
The purpose of a Post50 odyssey is to discover what the next stage of our life will hold – to find out what’s ahead. The journey is a series of experiences that gives us knowledge and understanding.
At the threshold of finding ‘future work’ for the last third of life, expect to feel dizzy.
Should I continue my current profession? (Career success or ‘loving our work’ often makes this seem a good idea when it’s not.)
Should I begin to learn skills for a different industry?
Do I have time to build a new career?
Why not be content with past career success and become a volunteer?
With longevity available, most of us are set to do some kind of ‘work’ through our 70s and 80s.
Spike Lee said, “As an artist you have to want longevity because longevity allows you to do your work.”
To label myself an ‘artist’ always seemed inappropriate and far-fetched. Maybe you’ve felt this way.
I don’t paint or sculpt. I don’t ballet or write songs. Actually I require professional help just choosing fabric for throw pillows.
But as I ended my transition, I changed my mind. I am an artist.
No higher artistic expression exists than creating a life.
I own my first fifty years and dare myself to crave more and more from my time left. I marvel at my stops and starts, successes and failures, good fortune and bad luck. I am an illustrator and designer who collects stories of my past merging them into a collage of pictures of a future – my future.
I create a life – mine.
It’s the same for all of us. The craft and design of your Post50 life – where a new working identity is vital – is your ‘art.’
Marvelous and a bit heady, isn’t it, to be an artist? We could do wild things with our lives.
Let’s temper that for now.
A carefree focus on ‘art’ can impoverish future wellbeing. And in my mind, the phrase ‘starving artist’ has no charm. Continue reading →
Want a second-best life? Neither do I. As a highly caffeinated, insistent and ardent purveyor of solid research and insights, I'll add my wisdom throughout this blog to help us transition from midlife onward.
As an author, speaker and advisor (okay, coach for those of are stuck on that god-like word), I've helped over 3,500 executives achieve higher performance and become better leaders.
Now, it's you and me, readers. Time to take the hours of your future into the wheelhouse and craft a plan. Let's get going.
(Type A's there's a full bio of credentials and experience. Have at it.)
Life is a story with a beginning and an end. An inventive life post50 begins with your truth about what you want. Best friends forever often