We often think of life as linear, with fixed mile markers setting our pace for the long run: Get your degree. Land the job. Find a partner. Grow your family. Build the career. Maybe even complete an IronMan or two in between.
Then, over time, your relationships flex, the kids move out, and your business marches on. Where to next? If you’re straining to see where your next mile marker hits, you’re far from alone.
Welcome to Midlife: the place where past successes and societal pressures mentally hang out with depleted energy and forgotten priorities. Before this time, you may have been living out America’s predetermined trajectory for life. This looked like checking off a list of things that you were supposed to do from childhood to adulthood. But now, instead of enjoying the mountaintop views your younger self envisioned, your inner voice is speaking up to let you know the mountaintop resembles more of a rundown treadmill where you have no idea of how to push stop and find relief.
Throughout my career, I have encountered hundreds of business leaders that have found themselves on that exact treadmill, myself included. While experiences, income levels, and locations vary, the need to catch a midcareer breath and get unstuck remains front and center for all of us.
Don’t Stop Your Story
One of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Orson Welles, once said, “If you want a happy ending that depends on, of course, where you stop your story.”
Hear this: Midlife is not the end of all that’s happy nor a call for crisis, but an invitation to take a deep breath and believe that the next half of your life can and should be more fulfilling and invigorating than the last half.
(Read that line again – and then really do take a deep breath!)
Who doesn’t wish to make their next 20-30 years matter in a way that’s unique to them? Who doesn’t want to move beyond just keeping the lights on at work or following steps that were already laid?
A search for greater meaning is important to lean into because we’re more active, living longer, and thanks to technology, have the ability to change career paths more than ever before.
Further, the recent increase in suicide rates tell us that it’s near essential to know your purpose as you approach your older years. The U.S. suicide rate has jumped 35% in the past two decades. The highest rates for males were those ages 75, the age when men are in retirement and contemplating their impact on the world. For women, the highest rate was between ages 45-64, right at middle age, when identity shifts and aging can fill us with doubt and anxiety.
This wakes me up. What about you? Is your vision for life setting you up to arrive at a place of feeling fulfilled, or will it have you looking back wondering “what just happened?”
It’s common to hear my clients say they don’t want to wake up one day and realize they just went through the motions, grew stale, or weren’t living a purposeful life. My advice is if you want a different story to tell, it’s essential to make space and start asking yourself, “What do the next 20-30 years hold, and how can I be intentional about defining that?”
Need a role model? Peter Drucker, hailed as the father of modern management, was the author of 39 books, two-thirds of which he wrote after age of 65. He gave his last lecture not long before he died at the age of 95. Drucker believed the best years of somebody’s life were between the ages of 60 and 90 – and look how that played out for him. Talk about invigorating! Operating from a “best is yet to come” mentality can give you that extra “umph” to better show up for your team, your company, your kids, and more. You just need a vision for it.
A Vision for Your Life
It’s a defining moment when you look at your past and your present and then ask what you want to do with your future. The majority of my clients are CEOs and business executives who have reached a place of wanting to be less necessary in their roles but still necessary in their lives.
In order to let something greater than burnout or boredom steer their ship, I recommend my clients establish a vision for their life by going through a strategic life planning process called Life Plan. Thousands of people have gone through this process to make sense of their past and how it connects to their future. In discovering their unique purpose, they now feel more confident than ever in making their greatest impact in life.
Defining Your Why
Too often people think their purpose in life is their job or role of being a spouse, parent, etc. This creates a problem because when these roles shift, and they do, it’s easy to feel like you have lost your purpose. This is very dangerous for understanding our true identity.
The most effective way to move beyond an identity based on roles is to go inward to know your why, which is the purpose, cause, or belief that drives every one of us. This looks like knowing your unique reason for being, what you love, and what you are uniquely gifted to do. Once you know this you can infuse it into all you do.
During a Life Plan, we help you clearly articulate your purpose statement, unique talents, core values, and your heart’s deepest passions. While many of us have thought about these things, few people have actually put them down on paper. This is a very powerful experience. Once you understand how you’ve been uniquely designed and why you exist, you’re in the best place to establish a vision for your life.
Articulating and Applying Your Vision
If you’re reading this thinking the best years of your life are behind you, think again. When you’re living out your purpose in a place aligned with your passion, retirement seems almost silly or undesired because there’s so much you want to do!
While you can expect the Life Plan process to reinvigorate your work, it’s exciting to find the ways your vision reaches well beyond the office. It’s easy to miss this if you’re used to measuring yourself by the outward American ideals of ambition, success, power, and profitability that push on our careers most. Remember that success at work is not how the whole world defines a meaningful life. What unites us globally is remembering who we are as human beings. The best way to have a full impact is to make sure you are living out your purpose in all areas of your life including with your family, friends, and community.
Embracing a New Year
As the famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote goes: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
As we examine the past and plan for the future, what remains constant is what lies within us. Quarantine has put us in closer proximity to our own thoughts than perhaps ever before. We were used to being so busy. Then our breaks were slammed by a pandemic and we have been forced to stop and contemplate the bigger picture.
As we look back on the close of a tumultuous year, we see how 2020 has collectively pushed us toward a place of reflection and pause. That was a really hard and difficult year but we don’t have to waste the suffering, big or small. We can take what we’ve learned about ourselves, what we want to change, and find what is propelling us to move forward. There’s never been a better time to know your purpose and have a vision for it.
Success by society’s standard often ends at wealth or fame. However, ultimately, we need to decide where our fulfillment could and should come from. If your goal is just to make money or gain power, I’m not sure a Life Plan is for you. However, if you’re looking to reach for true success measured by your individual impact and personal fulfillment, then a Life Plan is exactly what you need.
As Clay Christianson sums it up, “Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. – Think about the metric by which your life will be judged and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”
I believe that memorable positive impact happens in the small spaces between two people, not on the broad stage of life. Remember that once you define your talents, purpose, and vision, it’s the personal moments between you and your family, friends, and colleagues that will be remembered in the end.
So, here’s to having a vision for your life – Here’s to stepping more fully into your abilities, giftings, and passions – And here’s to the growing opportunities you will encounter and the greater impact you will make in 2021 and beyond!
Traci Barrett is President & Founder of Navigate the Journey, a leadership and strategic consulting firm. Traci helps leaders and entrepreneurial companies build their leadership skills, strategize on growing their business and ultimately, realize their full potential. Prior to NTJ, Traci spent over 20 years in the television and advertising industry. She was part of a small team that launched the national cable television network HGTV: Home & Garden Television in 1994. She helped lead the network to success running their Chicago and Dallas Offices for over 17 years. Traci holds a B.A. in Telecommunications & Marketing from Indiana University. She also holds her M.A. in Professional Psychology from the Illinois School of Psychology.
Traci is also a cohost at Overly Human, a podcast about what it means to be human in the workplace. Learn more at https://www.overlyhuman.com/ and listen to each episode wherever you find your favorite podcasts.