I would like to have an open conversation and call it “Redefining Aging: Redefining Ourselves.”
I look around and see so many variations of how we arrive at midlife, how we age, what we think of ourselves, how we are portrayed in various forms of media, and the infinite and amazing variations among people. Here I am, in my mid-fifties, teaching a class on “Midlife through Retirement: A Path Forward,” and here’s a sexagenarian (someone in their 60’s) teaching Zumba, and a septuagenarian launching an art career. Instead of sliding into traditional retirement, many (“old people”) are looking for ways to give back to others, to do good in the world, or to try something new. Then there are many who avoid thinking about the future at all, because they feel they are “too old” or things “too hard” to change. Some are depressed by the mere thought of growing older (even though they are still "young"), while others feel more relieved, liberated, and strengthened as they age. What gives?
What do we think about ourselves and what’s next in our lives? Do we age mindfully or do we fall into it as time comes? How will your life be similar or different from that of your parents and past generations? What changes are you making now to adapt, to create the future you want?
It would be a great conversation, one that would be rich with personal histories and life experience -- and it might awaken us to new realities and open new doors.
People always say, “transitions take much longer than you think,” so now is a good time to start thinking about your path forward.
If you’d like to explore what’s next in your life, regardless of your age, please join me in my North Seattle College course, which runs February 23 - March 15.
Although often misaligned or overlooked, midlife is a very special time. We’ve been on the planet for some time, and we’ve learned a few things. We have life experience, insights, perspectives, and know-how that the young lack. We know what we like and don’t like. We don’t care about some things, and we want to care about what really matters. And we want to be more of ourselves as we age!
We overlook the opportunity of midlife and beyond for a myriad of reasons -- work, busyness, distractions, inertia, and sometimes aspects of our own personalities that don’t allow us to look at the second half of life as something to look forward to or the new venture that it can be. Sometimes, it’s too easy to simply keep going around and around in the same grooves that have served us well (or not) for decades.
At some point, we wake up to the brevity of life. We consciously or subconsciously realize that these grooves will change -- the empty nest, an impending retirement or an “unretirement,” declining health, relationships changes, etc. Or after decades of working, you might be experiencing that gnawing feeling that you want to try something new, something different.
Then you might experience the “wish and worry” -- you wish you could be doing something else, but you worry you can’t. Or you feel you’re “too young to retire, but too old to rehire.” Or “I feel bereft!” you say, “No kids, no job, now what?” Or it feels scary to think afresh about what you’ll do in the next stage of your life.
That’s the beauty of midlife and beyond, actually… This is the time for thinking, dreaming, and doing the work that’s required create the future that serves you well. Now’s the time.
That’s why I’m once again offering my North Seattle College continuing education course, "From Midlife Through Retirement: A Path Forward” (February 23 - March 15, 6:30-8:30pm). This is an interactive four-week course looking at the unique challenges and opportunities of the second half of life and finding a way for you to chart your own way forward. Of course, we won’t solve life’s problems in four sessions, but you will learn critical components that will help you to approach making change, and you will practice the concepts by applying them to one action area of your choice. If you are thinking about “what’s next” in your life, please consider joining the class. We had a wonderful experience in the last class in autumn quarter, and I hope this session will be as well. (You can read participant comments here.)
This is the time to work on your future. Once you start, it’s energizing and uplifting, because the process is creative and it’s unique to you.
And don’t say you’re feeling too old to start something new. As Dear Abby used to say, “How old will you be if you didn’t do it?” (The same age if you did try it - and with a little less time.)
Now’s the time to start!
The trouble with ideating – dreaming of what you’d really like to do, or envisioning how you’d like to live as an expression of who you are – is it that it comes up against reality.
Okay, so there are many people out there who are “living their dreams,” like the one who said to me recently, “I can’t imagine going to work every day because you have to work – every day I wake up and do what I love.” I’m so happy for such individuals, and however they were able to achieve this bliss, I hope they can retain that fine balance even as time and circumstances change lives.
For many people, however, envisioning a new or different future or endeavor, one that embodies their unique configuration of values, interests, and purposes, isn’t easy. Sometimes dreaming is hard, especially given the real demands and responsibilities of our lives. Our hopes and desires are pitched against life circumstances, our own personalities, or the inertia that come from our routine lives.
But daily, I hear of remarkable effort by people striving to create their dreams. One woman said she has been holding the same vision of her encore project since 1998. She has held that vision all these years while working and meeting the needs and requirements of raising two children on her own. In the meantime, she applied herself in the areas that she could so that she could one day realize her dream. Now, her adult children on their own, and her career nearing an end, she is ready and on her way.
Many are seeking a new way forward, a way to reconfiguration their time, activities, and values. Sometimes, this takes the form of a new job, an encore career, a new love, a stab at rebuilding an old and faded relationship, a creative endeavor…
What we are trying to do is to make meaning of our lives, to stake out “this is who I am and what I want and need.”
If you are seeking, searching, striving to create a new future for yourself, make it your task. Envision boldly and rigorously pitch it against reality. Tread mindfully. It’s a task and a challenge, but do it. It’s a dangerous thing to deny yourself what you want or need, entirely or perpetually, or to deny it for your loved ones. For what would life be stripped of ideas and hope, and a way to strive to live as an expression of who you are? As creativity expert Eric Maisel says, “There is something absurd about dreaming, just as there is something absurd in the idea of passionately making meaning. It feels absurd to take life as seriously as it demands to be taken. But it also feels absurd to take life anything less than seriously, since the path of self-dismissal and self-disparagement can also be experienced as absurd.” (Coaching the Artist Within, 2005)
I read an interesting quote the other day. It asked: "The unexamined life is worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining?"
First, I liked the fact that this author (unknown) simply bypasses the age old axiom attributed to Socrates that philosophers have debated for years: "The unexamined life is not worth living."
"Really?!" this writer seems to say, "Let's get real. Most of world live unexamined lives! Moving right along..." Then he (or she) then goes right to the question, "Is the unlived life worth examining?"
I pondered that for a moment. Examining our "unlived lives" could possibly unleash immitigable heartaches, regrets, and disappointments. Would we want to do that, and why? By virtue of being alive, each of us has unlived lives. (All 7.25 million of us living on earth.) By choice and by circumstance -- through what we were born into (wealth, poverty, privilege, race/ethnicity), the natural resources we were both with, the circumstances of our times, the options of our lives, the choices made, the realities we created -- we all have unlived lives in the shadows of our lived lives... the paths not taken, the conditions we are not. We don't pass through life without our unlived lives. Why would we look backwards and into our shadows? Would it not be more prudent to simply to look forward and onward?
Then it dawned on me - "Yes and yes." Yes, the unlived life is worth examining. It is in the paths not taken and in the options that have closed on us that we find parts of who we are -- our original hopes, aspirations, values, and interests that constitute the whole of who we are. It does not mean (necessarily) going back and attempting to re-live or recreate the past, but recognizing and embracing them allows us to choose how we can shape our future. And yes, we should look forward and onward and strive to make our lives ahead better and more enjoyable. In my mind, it is all the same process. Examining the whole of life is to integrate our past and future, our hearts and minds, to become more whole, to welcome a brighter future.
For some people, talk like this is all "psychobabble." So, okay -- you can choose simply to move forward, go forward, focus solely on the future, and there is value in this. But it could become "more of the same," what brought you to this point in life and what is not working or could work better remain the same. Merely looking forward may not invite new possibilities that come from examining that which we wish to ignore or avoid. One of the tasks and challenges that the second half of life presents is to resolve unresolved issues, to become more whole and not to be limited by factors that have come to predominantly define us. In fact, the opportunity that the second half of life offers is the space and perspective to aim for different outcomes, different trajectories to the end of our days. Looking at all of who we are is a gift to revisit our original and unique self.
It's a New Year! Conscious change and growth is an idea you can try. Attention and effort resets direction and trajectories. Best wishes to you! May you be pleasantly surprised to find that what you do for yourself, you will do for yourself and others. Your change and growth will impact those around you - your spouse/partner, your family, your friends, your community, and the extended communities you may not even know of, those people who care and want - and are working for - a better world.
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.