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The Midlife Journey and Opening Doors

Transitions And Closed Doors

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.  Helen Keller

Reading this quote led me to think of how, in midlife, we begin to feel the unease of change and the belief that too many doors are closing. Each time I read it, I get an immediate visual of someone looking longingly at a closed door, looking backwards at what’s done and gone. It may be that she’s not ready or willing to face what’s ahead. Or perhaps she’s not even aware that there is another door beckoning.

That makes me sad.

Our Options

When life hits us with challenges and changes it certainly feels like doors have closed and options are evaporating. And sometimes we’re too tired to go searching for the newly opened doors. I get that. And, while it may not always feel believable, what I do know is that we always do have choices, also known as doors.

We can:

Ignore the open door. Or continue to believe that there are no open doors for us. Feel sadness and despair.

See the door but feel fear about walking through it. Do nothing. More sadness.

See the door. Or doors. (There may be several.) Pause and step through with understanding.

That pause in the last option is a rich one.

A Potent Pause

A pause can be minutes, days or longer and here is what I have found to be true about it:

  • A pause is a rich time when we listen to our thoughts, observe and feel our way to choices. Because there are always choices. We can make them actively or passively, but they are always there.
  • It’s a period to process and integrate what has passed. When we do so, we can regroup, refresh and reorient ourselves to what lies ahead.
  • For me, pausing enables me to set aside my impatience and be objective and observant. I have aha moments and my body cues me as to the best direction.

What I’ve learned

As we listen deeply during a pause, we begin to understand that the first attempt might not be the final and that’s okay. At the same time, we know that inaction is rarely good. I’ve learned that life is full of trial and error and that we always have a second chance (or a third or fourth!) until our time on earth is over.

Life has taught me this many times. It’s why I pause. It’s how I remember what I know. When I believe there are open doors, they appear. When I trust my inner voice, I make wiser decisions. Those decisions are always the best for me at the moment. It may not always be what I expected. I leave myself open to wonder and surprise and I know there will be more doors.

Are you working through changes and looking for open doors?  I can help you with that. Contact me and together we will shine the light on the door that has opened just for you.

 

Finding the Incredible You

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

– Carl Sagan

If you live in New Jersey, road work is a fact of life. The sun rises, Taylor pork roll is fried and the road crews set up for the day. Something is always being taken apart and put back together; milled and paved; big projects (think new bridges), small projects (paving your street…in fact, they just set up camp at the end of your driveway.) Detour signs take us on new roads, concrete partitions (ironically called Jersey barriers) shunt us from lane to lane, sometimes leaving our desired point of exit in the rear-view mirror. We’re used to it. We don’t particularly care for it, but we’re used to it.

I have found that the path through life can present similar obstacles. Yes, I know that the idea of life as a highway isn’t new. The journey, the road, the way. But it’s still a good analogy.

And the idea of waking up to the best on-ramp to your next stage of your life? A good parallel and oh, so necessary. (I prefer the idea of an on-ramp. It feels like movement to something new rather than an off-ramp which feels like the journey is over.)

My Goal

What I have learned is that if you don’t look ahead and form even the slightest idea of your desired destination, you’ll end up on an eternal round-about. Have you ever gotten stuck on one of those? So frustrating.

For me, the goal is and continues to be to building and maintaining an on-ramp to each next stage of my life. It started as an unconscious yearning close to twenty years ago. Since then, I’ve had to make several U-turns. I got proficient at driving in reverse. I learned to pay better attention to where I was and where I was going. (Believe it or not, I have missed work exits, not once but several times. Being attentive really helps!)

You plan ahead for a road trip, right? Why not do a little for your one, precious life? Seriously, where is the benefit in the struggle?

If we stay with the analogy of the road and visualize the crisscrossing winding arrays of possible directions, here are a few things to consider:

The speed at which you’re traveling.

Like the White Rabbit who’s always in a hurry, are you always in motion? No time, no time…  What might you be missing as you rush through life? Possibilities can be hidden in plain sight as you speed by.

Take the time to pause and listen to the quiet voice inside that is nudging you in your best direction. Be curious about where you’re going and understand that it is an unfolding process.

What you bring along.

What are you toting around in your bag, backpack, trunk of your car, the untended places of your heart? The old messages about what you can and can’t do; should and shouldn’t do. The ballast that weighs you down. The rules of the road that don’t work anymore.

What is one small thing you can offload now?

The clarity of the view

Sometimes we drive along squinting through our windshield, when all we need is a little Windex.

What are the things you say to yourself that get in the way of what’s in front of you? What old beliefs are coloring your current experiences? Are they true? Maybe they were then, but are they still?

What might clear that view, even if just for a mile at a time?

A vision of where you’re going

 Even if your vision of the journey is not fully formed, there is usually an overarching element in your yearning that is non-negotiable. Freedom, beauty, creative expression, relationships, family, out-reach, advocacy.

When you know what is essential, you will tune in to the possibilities that will provide those elements.

The Goal

The goal in all this is to home in to your personal journey so you are able to recognize your on-ramp to what is next for you. Pausing and considering your direction will set you up for a rich and meaningful next part of the road, your second half of life, retirement or whatever is next for you.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be overwhelming. It should always be a work in progress.

What part of the incredible you is waiting to be known? Contact me to find out how I can help.

Flowing Like a Mighty Wind

Many people live their lives struggling against the current, while others use the flow like a mighty wind.

~ Madyson Taylor, The Daily Om

Midlife. It brings the inevitability of change as well as the quest for wholeness. When you enter wholeheartedly into both you will slip into the current and flow like a mighty wind.

Change is a fact of life, regardless of age. We have no control over it. But the quest for wholeness is something I have found to be more pressing as I move into midlife and beyond. If I resist the former and ignore the latter, life becomes a struggle. It can actually be physically painful as I tense my muscles, eat poorly, bind myself to my work and ignore the multidimensional life that is calling me.

The quest for wholeness

Reaching for wholeness is a normal part of this time of life. It’s gathering together all of the disparate pieces that have been strewn across the first half. It is combining your creativity and dreams with the resources and skills you’ve acquired over the years to shape something greater and truer.

It’s also an exercise in pulling ourselves out of the eddies of the opinions and expectations of the world at large and checking in with the inner world of your essence. Who am I at my most basic self? What do I know now? What’s important to me now? What delights me? What do I do well? How can I transform this knowledge into a current and flow like the mighty wind?

The inevitability of change

As much as we think things stay the same, change is constant. Minute by minute, often invisible, right in front of our eyes.

Here’s another quote. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)

Clearly, the great mystery of life is that it is lived in an always flowing stream of change. We are one person with one set of ideas at one age, and then, when we look back years later, discover that we became another person at another age. The only certainty about it is the fact that we ourselves decide both what we are now and what we intend to become. And we make that decision one choice at a time.

~ Joan Chittister

What I know to be true for me is that when I cling to what has been, I miss out on the possibilities of what could be and I struggle. If I don’t consciously decide both who I am now and who I intend to become, I struggle. But when I allow myself to flow with change – and I don’t mean the leaf in a babbling brook – with my hand on the rudder, making choices rather than having choices foisted on me, ah, then the struggle drops and I revel in the wind at my back.

These active choices and decisions are unique for each of us and when we flow with it, we are better situated to find that wholeness we seek.

Navigational aids

There are ways to step into the slipstream. Here are a few of my best practices:

Ask a Small Question

The work of reconciling to change and returning to your true self can be daunting. A small question can make it so much more manageable.

However, there is an art to it. You want to elicit curiosity and surprise. One element to consider is the scope. What is one thing I know now that I didn’t know before? Limiting the request to just one thing takes away the overwhelm of life’s great questions.

Another element is letting go of the need for an immediate answer. If you ask the question, the brain will begin to work on it. Straining for an answer will often produce an edited version of the truth or an old story. Allow yourself to be curious about what comes up and tune in to what feels right.

And, finally, consider formulating your question as a how or what instead of a why.  Why often produces reasons why you can’t; asking how and what will offer ways that you can.

Listen

Once the question is asked, open up to possible answers.

One of my favorite things to do with a small question is to take it out for a walk, preferably a solitary walk. (In bad weather I take it for a spin on the treadmill. Not as refreshing but it still works!) You’ve probably had the experience of an aha moment as you walk, drive, do the dishes or take a shower (Consider investing in tub crayons for those moments of brilliance.) You know it works. So put that experiential knowledge to work. Ask the question as you set out and then enjoy the scenery or the bubbles. At the same time, ratchet up your awareness and don’t discount any ideas or thoughts or objects that come into your line of sight. Say hmm… instead of nah.

Capture the Responses

Asking the questions and listening (whether while walking or driving or waking) is part of this adventure. You then need a way to capture what emerges. Doing that lets you go deeper and integrates your findings into your inner conversation. The answers that arise can also lead to more questions and your journey will become clearer.

One of the ways I do this is to use the voice recorder on my phone as I walk or drive (hands-free, of course). I also journal, make notes on a pad or post-it or use the notes app on my phone. I do this so I will remember.

Use whatever action that will help you remember, take you further along in the conversation and give you access to that current and your essential self as you navigate the journey into midlife and beyond.

The more I work with these tools, the more responsive they become. For instance, when preparing for a presentation I ask a small question (What is one thing that will be impactful?  What is one way to make it fun?) I go about my day. I listen. The script is then downloaded, quite effortlessly!

It’s almost magic!

As always, if you need a guide or a nudge contact me to find out how I might you help navigate this rich time of life.

What to do when what you’ve always done doesn’t do it for you anymore

Discover Possibilities In Midlife

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.– Thomas Edison

Do you feel like possibilities are dwindling in midlife?

You’ve been doing what you’re doing for 30 years or so. There was a time when you were passionate about it. You leaped out of bed in the morning ready to conquer the world. Can you remember that? You were a crusader. There were windmills to tilt at. You were learning tons of new things and gobbling up new experiences.

Now, you’ve hit a certain age and you feel like your spark has gone out. At a minimum, the pilot light is flickering. How do you find new possibilities?

Something has shifted.

As a result, it’s gotten harder to drum up the enthusiasm that had once filled you up. Now many mornings bring dread instead of excitement.  Something has shifted. Is it just you?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve been there myself.

Wayne Dyer said “change your thoughts, change your life.” I used to think that meant I had to change the way I thought about my career. And while that might work for some, it didn’t work for me. For me, in midlife, the thoughts I needed to change were about what else I could do. I needed to see doorways, not brick walls. I needed to widen my lens.

What to do?

First, I would never, never, ever suggest you quit what you do every day. Even if it’s an effort.

But what I always, always, always would suggest is that you step back and Pause.

Some things to do in a Pause.

Do a little exploring and excavating.

A small, Kaizen-like question is a perfect place to start your explorations. Stay away from the question that begs to solve all the problems of the world. Instead, make it smaller and more immediate. Frame it in a positive way. Ask what lights me up as opposed to why am I feeling so flat. (How you frame it is important because your brain will supply responses to the negative also.) Ask it frequently during the day without any expectation for an immediate response. Your brain will grab onto it and go to work. Answers will pop up. The real trick here is to be paying attention and not censoring. Be curious.

Journal. Writing is a powerful tool during a Pause. In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron prescribes 3 pages, longhand, to be done each morning upon rising. This is ideal and, if you can, certainly start there. However, if this is too daunting, you’ll likely do nothing. In which case it’s better to begin with very small Kaizen-like steps. Promise yourself to write for 1 minute. Ask your small question on the page; do a very quick brain dump of what’s on your mind. If you go longer, that’s great. If you only do one minute you’ve still kept your commitment. As this becomes habitual, stay on the page longer.

As you expand your writing time you will get to a point where you think you have nothing more to say. At that point nudge yourself very gently to write a little more. I promise you will go deeper.

Is what you do for a living leaving you deflated?

Can you explore your current industry? Is there a way to shift the focus of your work, move to a different area of your organization, take on a different responsibility, learn something new? What opportunities are there? Often compensation becomes a factor here. If a reduction in pay is really necessary, put pen to paper and figure out if it’s feasible and worth it. How long would it take to get back to your previous level and what would you gain in the meantime?

Do you have a mentor or a trusted colleague with whom you could confide your frustrations and concerns? This person might be able to role play with you as you practice asking for what you want. She can also provide a different perspective on opportunities as well as an objective look at you.

Do a skills and experience inventory. Dig in to what it is that has made you successful. Maybe more of a functional resume. Where else can those skills be used? Get creative here. And, don’t forget the volunteer work you’ve done: the PTA, the fund raising, the sports coaching, even the family event planning. All of this has combined to make you a unique package.

Or is it something else?

There’s also the possibility that the problem isn’t what you do each day, but rather what you don’t do. Have you over-fished your personal pond? I’ve been there. It ain’t pretty!

More about that next time.

As always, if you need a guide or a nudge contact me to find out how I might help ignite that spark.

Can You See the Possibilities?

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.”  Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher

The world wants to put us in boxes by life stages. Marketers, social policy wonks, demographers, politicians. We get categorized, labeled and put on the shelf. We become a bland avatar and a statistic. While you and I may have things in common, we are each unique in a very special way.

Life stages have been invented and reinvented for centuries. Aristotle had thoughts on this as did Shakespeare. As demographics and economies shift and life expectancy increases, so do the definitions of the phases of our lives. Marketing and social policy also have a lot to do with this.

Consider the Baby Boomers (another life stage category) with our health and longevity, and how this has made an impact on society. (Yes, I’m a boomer.) We continue to influence social policies, the medical and pharmaceutical world and even the beauty industry. Our buying power speaks loudly.

Or, take the category of middle age. Now, if I am “middle aged”, then I guess I’m living to at least 120. Not sure that’s in the cards, or if I want to!

However, if I really need to be categorized, I’d prefer to put myself in the Third Age which encompasses midlife and beyond.

Oh, what a juicy and spacious place this is!

What is the Third Age?

In his book, A Fresh Map of Life – The Emergence of the Third Age, a British historian, Peter Laslett, posited that life is comprised of four ages. (Another opinion, yes, I know.) These ages don’t correspond to our chronological age, but rather to our roles in life. In our first age, he says, we are dependent. We are still immature; we may be students. The second age is the time for independence, maturity, working, career building and children rearing. The third age is an era for personal achievement and fulfillment after retirement, and the fourth age is a final dependence, infirmity and death.

Laslett suggests that the Third Age can be the culmination of our life. While he also says that typically it is the time after retirement (and before the Fourth Age), I think it starts sooner than that. Or, perhaps, that it should start sooner. Or, really, that we should consider the journey leading up to retirement as part of the Third Age. At a minimum, there is overlap.

The Harvard University Press, in their description of his book, says something similar to what I’m thinking: The prospect of spending long years in reasonable health and scarcely impaired activity, far beyond the convenient landmark of retirement, has already become the norm—without anybody really noticing it, let alone appreciating the implications. In this highly original and perhaps controversial book, Peter Laslett urges us to plan ahead for personal enrichment—before retirement and before the children leave home—before we reach the Third Age.

That Third Age can span decades

It becomes a time of great possibility. It becomes our Creativity Age. We have the opportunity to reawaken. We can begin to focus more of our time on those areas that are personally important and meaningful, those things that feed our hearts instead of just our mouths. (Can you articulate what that is for you?) We can start a second career or become an entrepreneur. We can take all of our life experiences, our self-knowledge, all that has become most meaningful, and turn these decades into a time to blossom in new and deeper ways.

At a certain point in my life, I intuitively moved into preparing for my Third Age. I realized that I had expended a lot of energy adapting to a corporate life. It became necessary for me to unravel that thinking, to detox from that mindset and learn to open myself up to those things that would feed me on a soul level. I began to declare and explore how I wanted my life to look. (I will retire at 55 and do something with writing, I said out loud, without any idea of what that would look like.) What began instinctively (or maybe out of desperation) became a journey of awareness, curiosity, trusting, and discovery. It’s also been a time of trial and error, with each round strengthening skills and self-awareness and bringing me closer to who I am at my deepest level. Chipping away the old, revealing the new. It continues and, I hope, will continue for many more years.

I would never have gotten this far, however, if I had not begun the journey, if I hadn’t heeded the quiet voice inside me. That inner wisdom suggested that there might be a way to live differently, appreciate life in new ways. Without this I might have missed out on the feeling of joy I now experience each day. I would have been staring at walls instead of seeing possibilities.

My Third Age is evolving in new and exciting ways. What would it make feel the same for you?

Some people need a nudge, some a guide. Some just need a witness. What do you need as you navigate your Third Age?

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