What’s the dream for your life ahead? How hard are you pushing yourself to get it?
The Rijksmuseum is TripAdvisor’s #1 rated ‘Things to do” in Amsterdam. But not for me. On my visit last month I wanted none of those dark Dutch paintings.
I wanted Van Gogh’s “Starry, Starry Night.” Turns out “The Starry Night” is in New York and part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Collection since 1941.
Never mind. The Van Gogh Museum is spectacular without it.
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?
Can you imagine doing your ‘work’ until the very last day of your life?
I love a museum of one artist’s work for the visual of “transitions.”
Van Gogh moves from darks to vibrant colors influenced by time in Paris and Japanese prints as he moves through phases of still lifes, portraits, sunflowers and landscapes. Picasso’s Blue Period, Rose Period, Cubism and Surrealism are definitive phases of his artistic development.
You and I have had many transitions throughout our lives. Even without a museum documenting different periods, we can recall them. Some of these changes and their transitions were tougher than others.
On or around your fiftieth birthday, a shift in perception occurs. A glimpse of a future of freedom, work and how you might fill that time occurs right along with some anxiety.
Work – paid or unpaid – (preferably paid) is well-documented for late-in-life happiness and work is what many of us want. But we want our lives back too.
‘Yes’ to productive longevity. ‘No’ to working 60-80 hours a week.
And often, ‘no’ to work we have done in the past even though we were highly successful doing it. We want something fresh, new, interesting and meaningful. Flexibility and meaningful work mean we must find new facets of ourselves through exploration and clarity.
The process requires time out of the identity we have now. We will create a provisional identity and that provisional identity needs a story. A story that informs a next step that may or may not end up being a definitive answer.
The last post, Reinventing Yourself? Why You Need a Transition Story, shows how motivation and confidence can remain high during this time of change.
You will move into the last third of your life with or without a transition story.
But, if you want to keep the flame and excitement for a future of work, have others help you and be self-assured during this time of change, you’ll not only want a transition story – you’ll want a good transition story.
One that’s honest, authentic and true. Not trite.
Reinventing? What Not to Say
The transition from midlife to late adulthood is harder than one might imagine. If you craft a story of change badly or never craft one at all, you’ll lose the context of a dynamic, meaningful life (and feel crummy about yourself and your life.)
That’s the pits, of course. Quite a miserable place. And no one could know that better than me.
For someone smart, educated and knowledgeable about human behavior it was truly a surprise in my early 60s to find myself sitting with morning coffee staring over beautiful Santa Rosa Sound, wondering what I was going to do with my life.
For starters, I simply couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. Wasn’t it time to slow down work? Wasn’t this a time in my life that I should be enjoying without working? Why couldn’t I just travel the world (on a budget), be an awesome grandparent and let it be enough?
There was also a dialogue in my head fueled by the media, friends and colleagues: “Hey, you should just retire and be a volunteer.” I hated the sound of every word in that sentence.
When I arrived at the conclusion I did not want to close the door on work this hardly helped. What was the work?
During these two years, I’m sure my friends, colleagues and family looked on with concern. Susan Reece, a dear colleague and friend confronted me (kindly) in a catch-up conversation.
Susan: So, what’s up with you?
Me: I’m percolating some ideas.
Susan: (silence) Barbara, you’ve been percolating for a long time.
Nailed. That was the end of my smarty answer. (Thank you, Susan.)
I got off the couch to begin the work of crafting (and crafting) the short story of “who I was and what I wanted.” I gave my transitional self an identity – an authentic one that was true and as cohesive as I could make it.
If you don’t take away anything else from this post take this:
In life there are always places where we do not clearly see how to get to the other side. Indeed, we do not even know how to get to the other side.
“Arranging life’s events into a coherent story is one of the most demanding challenges of reinvention,” states Herminia Ibarra, author of How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career.
I am meeting people struggling to explain what they want to do next and why that makes sense for them. Maybe you are one of them.
Bad transition stories are more and more common because we don’t do the work of creating a good transition story. If you are reinventing your life or approaching a time of change in Post50 future work, the answers below will not inspire interest from listeners nor allow others to help you. They are vague and boring.
Honestly, you can feel yourself becoming duller and duller if you use them repeatedly.
When ask a variation of ‘what’s up?’ do not to say:
- I’m retired. Never say this unless you are sitting around a campfire at an RV park with other retirees in which case no one will ask you what you do but where you are going and how you like your rig. This is a conversation stopper.
- I’m exploring. (Percolating, expanding my horizons, investigating, looking at options.) Okay, this one may work for a while but it conveys zilch. People need more to go on to be interested or helpful.
- I’m confused. (Lost, bored out of my mind, want to do something but don’t what.) You might as well head for the bar on this one because people in that circle around you will be making a run for it.
- Well, I was…. No career facts please. We don’t care who you ‘was.’
A good transition story is a pitch – a condensed story – that allows you to feel confident and allows others to understand your intentions and perhaps be motivated to help you.
What You Need to Know About Your Transition Story – 6 Tips
Tip #1. Expect to devote considerable energy to developing the stories. In the above examples, you will have recognized the one liners people use everyday. Do not be tempted to grab onto a one of them. Start early – before the transition even begins – and do the work. The transition story will morph and change. One transition story – even a good one – won’t see you through. Plan on several.
Tip #2. Get out from under yourself. As I connect the dots for individuals in transition and offer plausible ideas, I hear: “Oh I never really thought of that.” (Why is that?) Fall in love with what is possible; this may be the last chance for a good go finding work you love. Start doing some interesting things. Blow glass.
Tip #3. Dream it, do it? Forget that. If this sounds as if I have contradicted #2, you’re wrong. You now live or will live in the winter of life. Choices you have made cause consequences that may mean financial, health or geographic restrictions. Circumstances may now include parental responsibilities. Dream it for sure, but overlay it against reality and adjust.
Tip #4. Create the horizon; not the answer. The transition story’s purpose is not to be definitive. When you are functioning in the new life, you won’t need the transition story. Until then look to a new horizon and line up pathways of possibilities to explore.
Tip #5. Launch into your story even when you are not asked. Do it as early as possible in the conversation to help draw the audience in. If you are within 5 years of a retirement option, tell people your transition story as soon as your current title leaves your lips. Listeners start to see the idea of your future. This is the bigger story for you, not your current job.
Tip #6. Stop the conversation you are having with yourself. Letting go of an identity you have held and has been good to you feels like death. It is not. But the strong magnet of “identity” isn’t happy to launch into a future of insecurity during change. “Identity” implores you to answer who you are. Your transitional story is the invitation to this part of the ‘self’ to let the story arise. That will make it somewhat happy.
These tips create a mindset of what a transition story might be and how one flows through your brain.
Now let’s get started on your transition story.
How to Weave a Coherent Story about Who We Are Becoming
Sorry, no 3-step recipe. Your story is uniquely yours. (But coming up there’s great ideas for where to begin and how to get your transition story to hang together!)
Think of this as a springboard story -an elevator-pitch narrative – that:
- provides a convincing internal pitch
- creates confidence with self and others
- ensures momentum
- is condensed
- informs a next step
- has honest coherency
- creates a new level of understanding for the listener
- links ideas so others can help
Test it against these questions:
Does it inform?
Does it just communicate information?
Does it convey a future step?
At the very start of a transition, we may have a laundry list of possible selves or no list at all. Neither makes for a good transition story.
In fact, I find people can be disturbed to find so many different options appealing. Others who once chose what they no longer want to do fear making another bad choice.
You’ll want to settle on one or two possibilities in order to craft a transition story. Use the ideas below to create a first draft.
Ideas for Creating Your Best Transition Story
Idea 1. Begin with a turning point or event that triggered insight.
- On my last birthday, I thought…
- At my college reunion, I realized…
- When my son left for college, I knew…
- Last year on the Amazon, I saw…
- When my company was restructured, I felt..
Idea 2. Define your challenge.
- I want three things for my future.
- This will mean learning something entirely new!
- I will need to find a new tribe.
- I’ll want work I can do from anywhere.
Idea 3. Find the coherence.
- I’ve always been interested in…
- Lately, I understand ‘x’ about myself.
- My skills lend themselves to…
- As a kid, I loved ….
- My old debate skills will …
- There’s cross-over from my present experience to …
- My father was the one who …
Idea 4. Keep reasons for change grounded in who you are.
- I’ve always been good at …
- I’ve always made people laugh, so this …
- I like that it’s similar to …
- I’m southern to my my core and …
- It gives me real pleasure…
Idea 5. Cite multiple reasons for what you want. Mention personal and professional reasons. You can tap into geographical, financial, growth, development opportunities, or the revival of old passions.
Idea 6. A goal rooted in the past serves well to introduce your transition story. Do you have a dream deferred? Did life get in the way of something?
Idea 7. Don’t be timid about financial rewards. Be real about wanting to earn money. Pensions are a way of the past; you have 30 years more to live (and finance.) The power to earn money isn’t necessarily about making as much as you once did. But, earned income enables generosity, funding for new interests and health well being. (Pilates isn’t cheap.)
Idea 8. Use the season you are now living in. Make your reinvention story a coming-of-age event.
- At this time in my life, I’d love to be able to …
- My experience has allowed me to …
- My curiosity has never faltered about …
- I’m more confident than every before about …
Idea 9. Allow listeners to have a stake in your success. When you are in the midst of change, a good transition story shifts connections and helps us find people who can help us see and grow into our new selves. When those offers of connection, networking, information or mentors are made, be ready to say yes.
A good transition story creates a safe place to explore and plow toward one of the most important and exciting times of our lives.
What’s the dream for your life ahead? How hard are you pushing yourself to get it?
Carry on. Get it together. Surrender. Write a good transition story.
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