A challenging time
This is a year of financial turmoil in which millions of people around the world have seen their retirement nest eggs shrink, and their houses decrease in value. For many, a generalized anxiety about their future keeps them up at night.
While I can appreciate this current state, in many ways this panic is self-induced by our society. I have never understood the concept of investing for the future when the present isn’t providing a joyful and fulfilling life.
An unhappy and unfulfilling life is the current state for millions of Americans, and according to my research, this proves true for most people over forty when it comes to work.
The majority of people just wait out their work years, until the time when their investments are big enough for them to finally retire, so they can do something else. The problem with this strategy, as we’ve seen in the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, is that life gets in the way.
Retirement no longer makes sense
Retirement is no longer an idea that makes sense. People are living longer, in many cases well into their eighties, and the idea of simply retiring twenty, or even thirty, years earlier no longer makes sense. We have the word “retire” thanks to the French, and it originally meant to “slow down” or “crawl under.” That is the last thing people want to do in mid-life.
As I write this article, I am fifty-two years old, and I feel like I am thirty-two. I have more energy now than I did in my younger years, and I have many projects planned. The thought of stopping my work feels no different to me than the thought of dying. And this is exactly what happens to most people when they stop working. They grow old and bored quickly, which leads to a focus on the past, followed by death.
The idea I would like to present is that at mid-life, we should stop working at “just a job,” and starting living an authentic life.
In 2001, I trademarked the term “vocational passion.” What I mean by vocational passion is to live your vocation doing work that aligns with your abilities and interests.
Vocation is work that is joyful, coherent with your integrity, and that provides meaning to your life. Vocation is work that never stops until you stop breathing.
Your best long term investment is to do work that fits you “just right.” You can begin to take charge of your life and your work now, and stop waiting for Someday to come.
What can we learn from others who traveled this road of an authentic life?
When you have faith in yourself and others, magical things can happen in your life, despite the odds!
It is easy to become overwhelmed when life’s challenges hit after forty. Many times life can suddenly feel like a game that is just too difficult to play.
Suddenly everything a person has come to define as success seems to crumble. This happens to many people. It can feel so overwhelming; some people decide to give up. The problem with this strategy is that there is no one who will come to the rescue. It takes a new strategy, one that may go against society’s expectations of success or what you have been taught.
It is only when redefining what success after forty really means, and learning new ways of measuring success, that your authentic life filled with purpose can emerge.
It will not come all at once, but in pieces. One day you feel a little lighter on your feet, the next day new ideas emerge, and suddenly you realize your life is in your control and determined by your feelings, actions, and your desired direction.
Taking the time to reflect deeply about your needs and desires after forty is not only important for finding purpose, it is mandatory.
With a new sense of purpose you can start to lead a life that allows you to give back. You learn that you really do control more of your life than you are led to believe. Only then will your natural gifts and talents start to emerge, and your life will never be the same.
Life will be richer and deeper, and you will live it with more awareness.
Make a decision and action
Once you figure out what is most important to you, it takes a decision and action to move towards doing more of what you love in your vocational life. This can be challenging if you have fallen into a pattern of doing what you have always been good at.
After forty it is much better to follow a path of your passions and interests, and learn as you go, rather than continue down a road of doing work you are no longer interested in.
Take small steps
A new vocational path takes small steps. These steps can start from a simple new idea. This idea only comes from deep thought and the realization that what you are doing is no longer working. In fact, a deeper self-awareness brings new insight that your life doesn’t fit anymore. As with those six year-old jeans still hanging in the closet, you need to make an effort to throw away the old. Only after the old is discarded do new possibilities emerge.
After forty, it is important to examine your abilities and interests, and focus where the alignment is just perfect. This can bring fulfillment, joy, and meaning back to your life.
Again, this must be a solo exercise; you must be free of external views and opinions.
Trial and error
Sometimes it takes trial and error before your life starts to work just right. Be patient with yourself while starting down the road to insight and self-discovery. With each new step, small pieces of evidence will emerge that this new life built around what you prize can actually work.
After forty, it is mandatory to be selfish about your life and work. Only then can a life of integrity and authenticity emerge.
I’ll be cheering you on as you go – Craig Nathanson