Empty work

Have you ever had work which was empty? Perhaps you were successful as society might view. Perhaps you had a nice job title, made good money, owned lots of material things and even a good family and social life. Yet, deep inside when you went to sleep at night, you felt empty. You work didn’t bring you joy or passion. This is true for many people. Many simply go through their work day like robots. Is this normal? If this is you, how do you go about unraveling this sense of feeling lost, especially for those of you entering your middle years or beyond is important.

Many of us choose our work initially for a variety of reasons-availability, money, nice job title. Some of us actually choose work which we thought we would like and be good at. Rarely in our early 20’s and 30’s did we choose work which served our own self-concept. How could we? This was never taught in school.

Why after 40, it is mandatory to ask deeper questions about our work

As we go through our lives, at least the first 40 years, it is other people who tell our story about who we are and what we do. Our manager’s, our family members, our teachers, friends and even those who don’t like us much. It seems everyone else has a pretty good ideas as to who we should be and what we should do. After 40, the story needs to change. It needs to be developed and told by the person living, creating the life. This is the path to an authentic life aligned around one’s values, interests and abilities. After forty, the real question what we need to ask ourselves is what work MUST emerge through from deep inside. What sacrifices are we willing to make for the second of life which will bring us more coherence about our lives and our work.

Where do you want to make a contribution now?

Look around your world, your city, your neighborhood. What bothers you the most? What can you do about it. It is a hopeless pursuit especially after 40 to wait for someone else to create this for you. What is the sense of urgency about your life now? This comes from having purpose, something you believe in deeply and are involved in. Too many people die too soon after retiring after spending a few years away from work and with no purpose. They spend their years looking back and not forward. Many researchers have suggested that their there is a positive correlation between one’s purpose in life and their lack of fear of death. The individual who finds meaning in life accepts and finds meaning from his own suffering and ultimately his own death.

Go from boredom to making sense out of life and one’s work

Is it clear why you do the work which you do ? Aside from needing income or having lots of responsibility or the need to support others, does your work give you meaning and fulfilment? Is your work significant to you? It is important after 40 to place ego aside and pursue a strong sense of integrity around the choices you make around your work. Through this new self-awareness creates a strong sense of self and integrity which can emerge.

Why is this important?

Through the ability to internalize one’s purpose and meaning of life, a person can live with a greater sense of control and sense of direction towards self-actualization. It is important in our middle years and beyond to listen to our inner voice. Much of a person’s learning through the first part of life is disconnected from a person’s own interests and internal motivation. We are herded through school with the promise of rewards (grades) and the threat of punishment (ranked low, not passed etc) and it is not until our middle years where we wake up one day and decide to take back control of our lives and learning. We start to pay attention to our own beliefs and quickly seek to align them to new behavior. This is good because as we age we respond more to internal stimuli. In many cases in my own coaching practice this internal dialog is mostly negative and holds people back from making positive change in their lives. As a result for many there is a mismatch between their current self and perceived past roles. This can cause much mental turmoil and enable people to stay stuck in routine patterns.

The system within us

The good news is within each of us is a system. As the active human system interacts with the environment and personal factors, this system is always adjusting and adapting towards growth. The human system is an open one. It is this open system that allows it to incorporate energy and information that makes positive entropy possible. It also enables the human like other living things to grow, learn and develop over time. So when we learn we are a dynamic system of our own finding as we search for a context for learning and purpose. When one solves an algebra problem, there is a great surge of chemical activity. These chemicals helps to determine both our responses nd later decision making. If instead one was to sit down and listen to classical music, a different pattern would result. Life then is representative of this dynamic system we call being human. Each of us controls what we do, what we think as well as how we respond to external events in our lives. As result, the ability to make big change, especially in mid-life and beyond is not only possible but necessary for growth.

What big changes can you make now?

What big changes can you make now in your life and your work which will enable more happiness and joy? I would suggest while there are many places to start, work is indeed one of the best places to start. Like a long line of domino’s, once you move the first one, they will all start to move in the same direction at a rapid place. So ask yourself, what work now MUST emerge within you? This is the most important question to ask yourself during the second half of life.

I’ll be cheering you on as you go!

Craig Nathanson

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