Which of these two questions do you find yourself asking?
- What do I want to do?
- What will give my life meaning?
If you’re in the middle of your life journey, you’re likely to be shifting away from “doing” and focusing on a more complex search for the meaning inherent in “what you do”. Fortunately, as Baby Boomers reach this new stage of life, we have choices for defining what our success will look like during this time of life.
In an article titled “Understanding People in Life’s Second Half”, Dr. David J. Powell explains that we are faced with “a crisis of limitations” around the 40s or 50s point in our life journey. Our sense of having unlimited energy and physical possibilities shifts to seeing the limits in what we can accomplish, limits in how long we might live and loss of important relationships. This shifting is what causes us to reach a decision point or a fork in the road. Dr. Powell describes three alternatives that we can choose for this next stage of our active adult lives. Which direction will you choose?
Three Forks in the Road
The journey down the first fork in the road finds the traveler striving “to ascend the ladder even higher”. This road focuses the journey on creating external success by accomplishing more, having more “power, prestige, and possessions”. Although this path may create external results, the quality of experience may feel shallow or empty. Think of the executive who places all of her focus on work and later in life finds herself without family or close friends.
The second fork he calls the “rusted-out road”. The traveler on this road continues to do the same old thing, running into the same road blocks and vistas. Disappointments and frustrations can become internalized into depression and addictions, and externally be expressed as blame, negativity or indifference to life.
The third fork, which I call the Meaningful Way, begins by taking an inward journey. This journey requires getting off the outward track, going inside to explore one’s dreams as well as facing the fears about what “might happen”. As the focus moves inward, the traveler begins to look at what is personally meaningful. Society’s external measurements of success take on less importance. Being on this path opens up the opportunity to discover what brings positive energy and joy. It may open up new vistas that include seeing the bigger world and the interdependencies we have with our fellow travelers.
This meaningful fork isn’t necessarily easy or comfortable. It typically involves introspection as well as sitting with the unknown aspects of life during a time of exploration…allowing a new direction to emerge. Yet this road offers the potential for creating new meaning to the current activities of life and a new way of internally experiencing success. The options that emerge may include making subtle changes in past activities, carried out differently with a new perspective. Or in other cases, new directions may be taken that are quite different, perhaps revitalizing a past, previously discarded passion. Here’s a story from one of my clients that chose to explore this third fork and found a new, meaningful way.
“I used to joke that my purpose in life was to find my purpose in life. I thought it was a clever line, and it may have been funny to anyone else hearing for the first time, but after twenty-five years, any humor it had for me was long gone. I hadn’t been happy in my work for years, but I seemed paralyzed about making a change, or even starting the process of making a change. For that reason, I (reluctantly) turned to coaching.
When I signed up for coaching, I had two goals. I wanted to change jobs, and actually write the book that for the past several years I’d been saying I was writing. Coaching helped me take a look at both. I began to realize several things. First, while my job has some low points, it’s not bad. At least, it’s not as bad as I sometimes make it out to be, a result of my focusing on the negative. I can get myself all worked up about what bad things could happen, instead of just living in the moment. I began to realize that most things I had worried about never came to pass. I decided not to worry until I had good reason to, and noticed that wasn’t very often.
Second, I realized that getting a different job in my field wasn’t the answer. Although the reframing I described above has helped, what I’m doing isn’t what I want to do forever. Why go someplace else and start doing the same thing in a different environment? So I’m not going anywhere for a while.
Third, I started to do things I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve started bicycling to work most days and I love it. I feel much better all the way around when I bike to work. Better still, I’ve started writing. I’ve written more in the three months since starting coaching than I’ve written in the past two years. I’m better organized about how I’m doing it, too. Writing an outline so I know what I’m going to write sounds like common sense now, but I hadn’t written one. Now I have. I know the book will be written and published. What I’m really looking forward to is when the movie based on it comes out.
It’s hard to isolate an experience and say, “I’m different now, and it’s because of this one thing,” but I think coaching has had a positive impact. I’m more confident and relaxed. I’ve set goals for myself that, for the first time, are realistic. I’m doing what it will take to accomplish those goals and will stay on that path, unless something happens, indicating a course adjustment. Then I’ll adjust.”
Next Steps to Move Down YOUR Road to Meaning
If you’re ready to choose that Meaningful Third Road here are two steps I find effective in my coaching that will help you move forward.
- Identify one next step you can take to get more clarity about your direction.
- Hint: Keep it small and doable!
- Example: Start taking the inward journey by journaling on what gives you the most joy/meaning in your life.
- Set a time frame for completing that step and schedule a specific time(s) when you will act on it.
Many people find “getting started” on a meaningful path alone overwhelming. Mary Radu is a skilled guide for handling the most challenging midlife circumstances and creating practical strategies to keep you in action. She’s a great support if you need help to get past the struggle and uncover fulfilling new career, lifestyle and retirement directions for the next 20-30 bonus years. Her guidance draws on your experience and passion to develop long-term strategies as well as practical solutions to current work/life challenges. What’s your current challenge or concern about your future? Call Mary for a complimentary consultation at 707 963-2594 or email her at Mary@PathmakerCoaching.com with the challenge you’re facing and take your next step together.
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