There’s nothing I like better than good conversation at my dining table. Good conversation is rich, and rewarding. Good conversation means you learn something that makes your life better.
But while the grilled swordfish is the best ever, what’s said or not said around the dinner table can’t be predicted.
It’s a rarity. But once is a while, I pray for any talk to be exchanged.
We have relatives who eat an entire meal – a really good one cooked lovingly by me – in silence. They never look up from their plates even as my husband and I struggle to ignite the smallest of small talk.
Herb and I lock eyeballs from the ends of the table to signal, “Your turn.” Sometimes my husband declines his turn which prompts me to glare and mouth, “Don’t you dare.”
We survive. It’s exhausting.
With different people around the table, talk happens easily. Everyone participates.
But honestly chatter about your Budapest vacation ten years ago or your son’s newest job doesn’t make me a better person or help me navigate my life.
Am I the only one keen on deep, insightful conversation?
Not on your sweet purpose driven life, dear readers.
Gatherings over dinner to talk about death are part of an international movement called “Death Over Dinner.” The goal is to talk about important end-or life questions before it’s too late.
Since the Death Over Dinner project was founded two years ago, more than 70,000 people in over 20 countries have gathered to dine and discuss their views on a “good” death, and the issues that will matter to them in their senior years.
Death Over Dinner was originally designed in the U.S. by Michael Hebb and Angel Grant to encourage people to have conversations about end of life and End of Life Care at the kitchen table rather than in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), when it’s too late.
DOD is an interactive website that encourages conversation to start with family and friends while breaking bread with a range of tools, reading and support materials, as well as tips to get the conversation started.
Am I enthused to host an interactive dinner on the difficult conversation about death?
But I am inspired that people are transforming important issues into conversation of deep engagement and insight because we just don’t do a lot of that at dinner parties.
When was the last time you learned something that made your life better?
When was the last time someone’s experience inspired you to make a change?
When’s the last time an individual’s way of thinking caused you to think differently?
The Funeral Plan You Don’t Have and I Do
Interesting don’t you think? Being invited to a dinner party with a theme to engage us in topics we’d like to avoid or don’t often talk about openly.
Picture guests moving green beans around on their plate while an individual shares she has full instructions for her funeral tucked away in an electronic folder appropriately titled, “When I’m Gone.”
That would be my folder.
Wouldn’t you like to hear why I might choose Roy Orbison’s In Dreams to be sung at my funeral over The Old Rugged Cross?
Or how I made the list of who gets what and why I keep changing it? (Bet the kids will text me on this.)
Part of me is kidding here. Not about the funeral plan folder. I really do have this.
But no Death Over Dinner will happen at my house.
Instead you might find yourself at my table encouraged to participate in topics slightly less uncomfortable.
From the Arc of Life
With each passing day in midlife the past grows longer, our futures shorter. We’re all essentially just as interested in learning the meaning of life as say, the latest spoils of the upcoming November election. (Say this is true. Please.)
We could make our lives better if we talked about it. We can learn, discuss and engage with one another.
So what could we talk about?
What are you hoping from life ahead?
What part of your life has been neglected?
What saddens you about being the age you are?
What regrets have a chance to be fixed?
What has almost broken you in your lifetime so far and what did you learn?
What do you believe about your life ahead?
What’s a turning point or future challenge?
How have your children disappointed you and what are you doing about it?
What advice would you give your younger self?
What’s your take on aging?
Many of us have our rich and rewarding conversations with one other person. I love when I take away a nugget to clarify and navigate my own life better.
That’s happened to you. I know it has. I hope it has.
But a group conversation has a much different component and impact.
Imagine hearing from the journeys of six or seven people
who lay down their story lines
to allow you to soak in their experiences and wisdom?
Liam, my four-year-old grandson, is curious about the planets, overturns rocks to pick up any bugs that don’t move fast and chooses to release his highly prized lightening bug from the jar – “because he is lonely.”
Each afternoon on the playground when his name is called for pick up, Liam runs to his two best friends, Isaiah and Anna Noelle, to give each one a hug goodbye.
The child is curious, affectionate, loving and kind.
Liam is also selfish. Supremely so.
He is intent and purposefully fights like hell to get what he wants, when he wants it and how he wants it.
How glorious to watch an individual strive to arrange the world to meet his expectations and revel in happiness when it all goes his way!
After a five-day visit last week what’s obvious is that my drive and skills to live the life I want pale in comparison to Liam’s passion. This is a big surprise because I don’t shy away from identifying and acting on my needs and wants. (You can look forward to details on this.)
Liam will lose his lust and urges for putting himself first in the next few years. Teachers, parents, the system, culture – all will tell him bad things about selfishness. The stigma of putting himself front and center in his life will inhibit his zest for fighting for what he wants.
I wish people spent more time contemplating that blue distance and less time on Facebook.
There is so much more to life unseen by the eye. Brazen of me to say as Instagram revels in double-digit growth. Selfies are now one of the most popular activities in our culture. Don’t tell me you haven’t done this.
Obviously social media has proven we are obsessed with ourselves.
Good news for those of us with a long future to map out. As well as a look at our lives as it unfolds, perhaps we can start a conversation to discover dormant aspirations, wants, longings and requests for a life ahead.
To unlock an idea or two on how to make our lives more of what we want, I advocate you listen don’t look.
Where to start our listening?
Well, your book club probably has ideas about how you could live your life better. Your daughter, husband, partner, ex-husband, your mother, therapist, and even your BFF may enlighten you.
If you could eavesdrop last week in the kitchen of that couple cleaning up in their kitchen after you left the dinner party, their conversation might explain your better life to you.
These are all voices worthy of consideration – modest and minor perhaps – but, you get the point. Contributions on how your life could be better abound.
Being busy and all, let’s cut to the chase. There’s one person who knows us best.
You got it! And you talk to yourself about your life all the time.
But mostly that’s a voice from your head which is good, just not reliable enough for all the important decisions for all of life’s twists and turns.
Another voice that can guide you to even smarter options for your future life waits quietly to help you. This voice knows you just as well as your head voice, but in different ways.
It’s a small voice deep inside your gut that waits for years between invites.
Nevertheless, it’s always there.
If you expect me to jump right in with soupy quotes about how you should start journaling to unlock your deep heart desires or how listening to your heart will power up your authentic self, I anticipate disappointment because this isn’t going to happen. Check out Oprah for the soul approach.
First let’s get real and start with firm footing.
When it comes to creating a better life or making a transition, your rational mind and all that you’ve learned are invaluable.
Life lessons help us know how to create a better future path; improved decision making doesn’t hurt.
By middle age, you’ve weathered some serious setbacks. You’ve lost at love, not been chosen more than a couple of times, and experienced career frustrations, drawbacks and defeats.
Friend and sibling dis-enchantments stack right alongside children who were pains in the ass, proved to be disappointing and may still be on the payroll and/or live at home. Serious illness, parents gone.
When it felt like the end of the world, you kept going.
You survived. You are strong.
I started feeling strong in mid-life. I still feel it.
I lost a lot of my fragility when I was 25 in a Master’s Program intent on building my psychological core (lots of Esalen stuff). At 30 (divorce) came financial and parental responsibility (single-working mom -7.5 years), at 41 came entrepreneurial challenges (a career pivot), and in my mid-fifties I set sail with my daughter for a 6-month not-knowing-much-but-doing-it-anyway stint. At 60 I drew strength to carve out a new life using a work a little, play a little model.
So many people feel that strength is in their youth. That’s not really spot-on.
It takes time to get a notion of your strength. You don’t really know what you have inside until you are faced with drawing upon it. I’ve learned this is the great inspiration of life.
But even as I’m strong, at times I’m lost and I don’t know why.
On days when my future is unclear, I can get hesitant or doubtful. I can even be skeptical about putting forth the effort to be in charge of my life. (I’m turning it over to God. Whatever. I’ll figure this out later. Just let it happen.)
It may seem puzzling to feel strong alongside feelings with names like – uncertain, ambiguous, tentative and lost. All it really means is you need more information.
Input perhaps from … yes,that small voice inside … the voice of your heart to tell you first-hand ways to find your way.
Why is it that the voice from your heart is so important?
Because your heart is never lost.
The Heart Knows Your Reality
While being strong is about surviving, being strong is also about being as honest as possible about yourself with yourself.
Why listen to your heart now when you haven’t done so well doing it before?
Why listen to your heart when you doubt you can do what it asks of you?
Why listen as your health falters or future finances are gloomy?
Why listen now when you already listened a decade ago and made decisions about your life then?
Because listening to your heart creates awareness of your current reality and gives you perspective of your impending life.
The heart knows that things that matter in the time ahead will be different than what mattered in the past. Fore sure, we’ll take life lessons with us into the future. But life lesson are from the past and the past is another country.
You’re headed out of that country.
The heart is easy to talk to. You don’t have to fill the heart in on your past, prepare lists or even ask too many questions.
In mid-life the heart already knows your reality – that you are staring down the dwindling of time, busy as hell, don’t have all the time in the world and are not in the mood for reflective bullshit.
You need important truths. The heart will tell you those because the heart knows you are strong.
Best of all, the heart wants you to get your life right.
Listen to My Heart? Oh Please. So Woo.
When my heart talks to me, it says crazy things.
Some days my heart tells me I need pack up and move to San Miguel de Allende. Immediately, my head chimes in with a litany of responsibilities, roles and commitments that would make this very, very difficult. (I kept editing out that second ‘very’ but each time my head made me put it back.)
Some days my heart tells me to lock myself in a room and finish writing the damn book. My head wants to know who will water my flower pots, make morning tea for my husband, bike with Marny, laugh with friends, travel with Dee Dee, play chase with my grandson, sit on the beach and read, or watch my grown child grow – all priorities that compete with every second of my life.
The contest between heart and head is a battleground.
Some people listen to their heart and don’t do a damn thing differently. Other people listen to their hearts and change their lives.
While the simple act of listening is important and powerful, there is no sense asking anything of your heart if you will not accept what the heart will say.
Will you immediately dismiss an idea, become overwhelmed, slip into doubt or succumb to defeat?
In other words, will you allow your head to interrupt the message and sabotage the process? Smart people do this all the time.
We must be clear on this: why listen at all?
To listen to your heart is to build strength through the honest conversation about yourself with yourself.
I’ve said this already but this is truly important. What you gain from being honest with yourself is just as great as any changes, if any, you make.
You will be stronger just because you listened.
Mental Fitness Before Listening to One’s Heart
If you think you can pull up a chair and start talking to your heart, you are right. You can. But you’ll end up doing most of the talking since your heart voice can’t cut you off in the middle of a sentence or talk over you.
Ask your heart voice a question and you won’t get a lecture. You’ll get something more like a soundless tweet. You’ll have to listen hard.
The best conditions for listening to the voices in your heart are met when you seek and accept the gift and responsibility you are given – to live your one life as best you can.
Meet each of these 9 criteria before you ask anything of your heart.
Believe You Are Responsible – Give yourself permission to life the life you want.
Enhance the Perception of Control – You won’t control everything in your future. But you can control more than you think.
Believe What You Do Matters – It matters to live in the present. It also matters to create the future.
See Positive Challenge– Try, try, try…then generously give yourself to failure if that’s how it works out.
Enhance the Goal Value – Savor and Imagine your life at the end of an achievement…before you plan it.
Devalue Competing Goals – Re prioritize everything all the time. Make your future in the top 3.
Be Conscientious on One Thing – Forget lists. Be selective and accountable for one important thing.
Fight Difficulties – There is no age when life stays on easy street for a long time. Fight.
Regulate Your Emotions – Keep negative emotions – self-doubt, guilt, regret- at bay. Stuff them in an invisible suitcase. Do not pick that suit case up.
The ‘rider’s up’ call given at the Kentucky Derby signals the horses to head to the track for the final race. Everyone anticipating the race listens for that call.
In late mid-life, there’s a ‘listen up’ call that alerts the transition to take you to your future.
Anticipate it. Prepare for it. Don’t miss it.
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That’s what I said to the audience an hour into my presentation, The New New Rules of Retirement. They knew immediately this was make-believe because I don’t look 73.
At least I don’t think I look 73. Anyway I am not 73…yet.
“If I am 73, am I old?”
The crowd is reluctant to answer. They murmur. Finally a brave soul shouts, “Yes, you are old.”
The audience grumbles at his truth. The age label isn’t playing well. Frankly, some look sorry for me when they are not looking at the floor.
The room turns quiet. Finally and firmly, one late-fifties executive states, “Naw, she’s not old.”
“Then, what am I? Am I middle aged?” I asked.
An audience member raises her hand. She needs clarification.
“Are you asking if you are middle aged at 73?”
Clearly, I am messing with them but for a very good reason.
Life’s Morning, Afternoon and Night
In your late 50s, 60s and 70s, life requires a new identity – one that combines elements of the past with today’s realities. Self-concepts are perplexing enough without bamboozling age labels to confuse us.
And we are confused. What is old? What is middle aged? Am I old? And what about you there approaching the backside of 50? How long before you’re old?
The developmental stages we once relied on to gauge our passages through life are no longer reliable.
–Adolescence – Adulthood – Old
This defunct model is much too contained for life as we know it and utterly useless in forming a new identity.
Still somewhere in your life is the middle and within the middle, a mid-point. There is beauty in symmetry but when the midpoint is passed, the proportion of your time on earth lessens.
If you are mid-50s, 60s or 70s and don’t think this way, you should.
Just ahead is a big chunk of freedom, time and more than enough choices to create a life doing more what you want. It’s the last shot at getting it right which makes it different than other times in life.
This new life that heads straight for us but seems far away gets little of our bandwidth.
We make no firm plans. We prepare nothing in advance, put nothing in order nor concoct even one hair brain scheme to test the premise that the last third of life could be our very best.
We live our lives. We don’t make our lives. Isn’t that right?
Of course not. I know you know this.
We make the lives we live – step by step, plunge by plunge. We construct, formulate and compose a production using our energies and spirit along with whatever else is thrown our way.
Currently our life’s play is stimulating, wonderful, dissatisfying, miserable, boring or downright dull. Yours may be infused with drama, a mishmash of responsibilities and consequences, just plain messy or ho-hum.
Unable to put your finger on what you don’t like about the scene in progress is bad enough. But now here comes an unwelcome interruption from a backstage voice booming a line that makes me cringe:
“You made your bed, now go lie in it.”
This is a punitive way of saying that we create the conditions of our condition.
Perhaps. But I don’t buy you have to stay in that bed.
Let’s begin this valuable, well-researched and personal rant on friendship at the playground.
“Do you want to play with me,” asks the three-year-old.
What happens next can be heartwarming or heartbreaking.
Sometimes there’s no reply, simply a look between two kids before they begin to play together.
Just as often, a child says, “No,” turns and walks away. At other times, a stare is issued then he walks away.
But that’s okay. Liam, my grandson, will keep trying for that right person to be his friend for the next thirty minutes before he has to go home. He usually succeeds. I admire his patience and tenacity.
Getting refused three times in a row makes me want to head home. But not Liam.
No, he’ll run his truck through the dirt again and again until another child comes by. Then, he’ll look up and ask for the 4th time, “Do you want to play with me?”
We learn how to make friends early and we keep them – for a while, many years or a lifetime.
What we don’t learn is how to make sense of friendships gone bad or how to end being friends.
Friendships are far more complex than we might think. But most of us make our friends without consulting a manual and no one queries our theory of friendship.
A friendship doesn’t have clear timelines and boundaries, no ceremonial beginning and end. Still, friends are interwoven into our lives and we enjoy them … until we don’t.
Faced with breaking up with a friend is where I am now. It feels bad and will likely hurt, a little or alot.
This is not a sappy post about loser feelings when friendships end.
Still, let’s insert some heart breakin’ lyrics before we enter the kingdom of friendship to unravel our expectations, responsibilities and why we might carry the torch too long for a friendship that is over.
Just try to read the chorus from Fire & Rain without singing it. Impossible.
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend But I always thought that I’d see you again
Spectacular? Yep. With three floors of 850 paintings, 1300 works on paper, and insights from his correspondence (940 letters), you come to know Van Gogh – the person, the artist, his heartaches and determination.
There’s Van Gogh the junior clerk at an art firm, the teacher, the bookseller and the preacher. All this before he decided to become an artist at the age of 27. Self-taught, unmarried, childless and supported (and loved) by his brother, Theo. The public did not know of Van Gogh until after his death at 37; he sold one painting during his lifetime.
The Van Gogh Museum experience was a highlight of my time in Holland and later that afternoon I recalled another museum two years ago with floor after floor of colorful works of art.
The Museu Picasso de Barcelona houses one of the most extensive collections of artworks by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso whose life circumstances are the flip side of Van Gogh’s.
Picasso started to paint when he was eight, finished his first painting at nine (the year Van Gogh died) and at 13 he entered Barcelona’s School of Fine Arts, where his father taught. Picasso was an established artist at 20. Fame, fortune, numerous love affairs, three children – Picasso led the “good life.” He died at 91.
Each of these artists influenced future art and over 100 years later their works sell for millions.
What does this have to do with you?
These twentieth century artists have two things in common:
Extraordinary productivity especially toward the end of their lives
A fire in their internal soul to continue their work – forever.
Neither of these artists allowed their flame for their work to be extinguished. You and I must discover and foster how this might be possible in our own lives.
How’s your flame doing?
Off to Work We Go
It would have been understandable for Van Gogh to allow hardships which included anxiety, poverty and mental instability to dim his passion. Picasso didn’t need the money or much more fame. He could have stopped midlife.
Yet, in the last years of their lives they continued to pour energy into their work with remarkable results.
In his final years, Picasso had a tremendous last burst of productivity painting with the phenomenal speed he had had as a teenager in Barcelona.
Van Gogh painted 70 works in the last two months of his life.
People with high Career Wellbeing – doing meaningful work – are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall. (If you want to understand the research and documentation for choosing work, see Why You Must Dare, Dream and Work – Forever.)
We must ask:
How can we keep our flame for work and life from diminishing?
Do you feel your flame for putting your talents and skills to use in new ways?
The inside window ledges of the homes in Northern Holland tell stories.
During my ten-day visit I saw handsome turquoise pottery, painted pitchers, tall vases with flowers, ceramic birds and farm animals, wooden ships, and tin angels displayed in the windows.
In villages on the Frisian Islands, homes with large front windows edge the sidewalks. As I pause to look closely at what’s on a window ledge, I need only lift my gaze for a look straight through three rooms. Beyond the sofa area, a wood dining table with chairs and a small kitchen in the back complete the first floor.
Often I saw all the way through the back window into a yard with a garden or a clothesline full of floating clothes.
Curious as I was, I didn’t want to gawk. I kept my glances brief. Several times I surveyed the insides of these homes and missed noticing the people in the front room. They were more cordial than you or I might be to a stranger staring in their front window.
The father reading a story to a child on the sofa raised his head, met my eyes and smiled. The woman knitting in her corner chair gave me a pleasing nod.
Day after day I learned about people in places pronounced confidently and with staccato –Enkhuizen, Hoogkarspel, Oosterblokker, Wervershoof. They like order, tidiness, and enjoy a muted palette. They love flowers with large colorful blooms, Hollyhocks and Hydrangeas.
The Dutch are very polite. Because bikes are a primary means of transportation, bike paths meld into walkways and roads differentiated only by the color of the bricks. Many, many times a bike rider’s melodic, gentle bike bell advised me I was not on a foot path as I thought, but in the middle of the bike path.
In villages everywhere I looked on window ledges, peered in homes, observed the young and old ride bikes, kite surf, maneuver boats and ships, and walk their dogs. I wondered about these people and their lives – who they were, their hopes, their dreams.
What were their stories? How did the things on the window ledges connect to them?
My window sills are bare and yours may be too. Still, we have stories. Everyone has stories.
Life is a narrative of stories. Unique stories, linked over time.
In our lives there are places where a story is about to stop before a new one has begun. That can be a confusing time.
When it’s time for a change in life – as a turning point begins and the future is unclear-that’s when you need a story the most.
Traditional retirement is being re-invented. I'm a passionate champion for paid, purposeful work well into your 80's.
"What's next?" is the question being asked by millions.
I help individuals move into the next 20 or 30 years of living by crafting a work identity that fits within a lifestyle they choose.
As an author, speaker and advisor (okay, coach for those of us 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