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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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