After two decades of childhood and three of decades of adulthood you’d think we’d have it all figured out. We’ve adjusted, re-adjusted, modified, adapted and tweaked ourselves from infancy to adolescence through young adulthood past the age of innocence only to smack right into midlife.
Managing life transitions? We got it down.
Unfortunately that kind of confidence and bravado can get you into trouble.
Ahead lies a transition never before awarded a generation or attempted. With a bonus of thirty plus years of living after the age of 65, we are privileged to create a new life cycle.
But crafting a new stage of life is not as easy as slipping into one that’s been around.
What is for certain is that advancing toward us in midlife is one of those delicious ‘defining moments’ – one we can choose to use or not to use.
Ted talker, Meg Joy, a clinical psychologist, insists for her twenty-something audience that 80% of life’s defining moments happen before 35. This is ridiculous.
Have you had a happening or two since your mid-thirties that got you where you are now? Any big damn event helped shape you in your 40s or 50s? (Marriage? A baby? Divorce? Love? Heartbreak? Lottery? Career setback? Dad died?)
No one decade defines us.
With high expectations and time not on our side, we should aim to make this upcoming demarcation – from mid-life to late adulthood- one of unparalleled significance.
Other defining moments of your life slipped up on you to catch you unaware or unprepared. Still, you made it through with time enough to savor or recover.
This one’s different.
You will either use this one to create the life you want to live until it’s over – literally game over.
The Intricate Defining Moment Ahead
Ordinary old age lacks a factual basis; what was is now in flux. We know we’re living longer, are healthier than ever and could possibility outlive our money. Nothing new here.
Beyond this, how to live a life of productive longevity and happiness is as curvy and uncharted as the entrance to Luperon harbor in the Dominican Republic where every sailor prays and sweats each inch of the navigation.
To be honest, the world is quite eager to give you a map of your future, if you let it.
Social narratives –“be a virgin” “go to college” “get married” “settle down” “make money” “buy a house” “have a baby” “retire”– strongly suggest when and what we should do with our lives.
Most of us bought into one or two of these – not to say it was totally a bad idea.
Many of those narratives have undergone profound change.
I’m particularly glad about that virginity one which I never had the where-with-all to question. A good idea perhaps, but not a good enough reason to get married- a recipe followed by many of the 60’s good girls who wish they had a do-over on that.
Today’s classic retirement, the social construct we may have internalized early on as an end-of-life event, is like virginity – without much of an audience.
Now the question posed for the twenty-two-year-old college graduate is being asked of us in our mid-fifties and early sixties.
“So now, what are you going to do?”
For some midlifers this can seem like a cruel joke. What they expected and wanted was the on-golden-pond-retirement path appropriate for another generation, not for ours.
Instead, we must now start exploring options:
Will we look for another job, find part-time work, join the community theater, adopt a new career, be a volunteer, become family caregivers, or learn to play the lute (for pay)?
But exploring only what you will do ignores the complexity of the transition to this late adulthood. This approach to crafting a life after midlife is too linear and unfortunately is a mistake many make.
The view from your window, the folks who surround you, devotion to your health and how not to squander new-found freedom – have equal shares of critical value.
Just extending your career arc or finding meaningful work – as important as this is – is not enough preparation for a phase of life full of the promise of contribution, well-being, engagement and development.
The Midlife Map for the Starting Gate
Deep in our hearts all of us need to find a path when we are in unfamiliar territory.
When faced with my defining moment in midlife, it was deeply disturbing to discover a pathway blazing clichés I’d heard my entire young-and-old adult life.
It made me want to scream.
Find your passion, write your mission statement, live your values, and make the world a better place – platitudes of value, but none of them invited enthusiasm or energy.
Most important, nothing gave me a starting place or helped me create a concrete vision of what my life after 60 could be.
As well qualified as I am (post graduate degrees in human behavior and development; vast experience as successful coach to high achievers) I had to go on a long learning journey to find and develop a tool of value to create a Post50 Lifestyle.
Four important discoveries are part of the framework of this tool:
- Unlike many other adult life stages “freedom” is at the core of Post50 life – from how to spend time, where to live, who to include. It’s the highest joy applied to the work of life design for this stage of adult development.
- It isn’t enough to find “work that matters,” especially if you wake up every morning doing work you love but yearning to live somewhere else. Choosing your “geography of place” has positive consequences that can’t be ignored. (Hint: you could be happier if you’ll relocate.)
- Crafting the life stage before old age is more about creating a lifestyle – not just exploring disparate aspects about work or freedom, or what book club to join.
- Choices for a future plan involve new-found freedom, work, geography, intimacy and health – stand-alone elements in an inclusive, interconnected model.
Use the Four Essential Elements of a Post50 Lifestyle – Geography of Place, Freedom, Career Arc Extension, & Personal Intimacy/Health – to glimpse into arenas where extraordinary important choices are to be made.
The Post50 Lifestyle provides a simple, straightforward way to understand what is necessary for living a full, vibrant life well into your 80s and beyond. Taken together these 4 elements constitute a lifestyle – a new way of living.
Use this as a discovery channel and conduit to creating a Post50 life. In future posts, we’ll explore each element in detail with guiding questions to unravel and reveal the code – your own personal code of how to create a lifestyle of meaning and joy.
Useful, practical, with a truthful foundation and girded in research, this is what I wished someone could have given me in my late fifties.
Start Over, Really?
You’ll have to decide whether to do the work to discover a new life for yourself. But the fact is we’ve started our lives over and over and over again.
Idina Menzel says that now is one of the sweetest times of her life and she is so happy to be living through it.
Nominated for the 2014 Tony “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical,” Menzel gave a show-stopping performance of the song, “Always Starting Over” at Sunday’s Tony Awards.
“Always Starting Over” is from If/Then, the Broadway musical with a story where ‘choice and chance collide.’ The website is collecting “If/Then” stories: “Tell us the situations, meetings or choices that set you on or changed your life.”
Or simply enjoy the incredible lyrics about starting out again. It’s enough to motivate anyone over the age of eight.
Ev’ry brand-new morning
Then we’re always
With the end in doubt
We can leave life for tomorrow
Or grieve all that we thought we’d do
Or make each moment new
All that might happen is here, somehow
All of the choices that made me, me
All of the accidents yet to be
All that’s ahead
And all that’s behind
It’s all in the moment
I make up my mind
And open my heart