Years ago, I wrote a book called, Road to Fulfillment, about men and women who made meaningful mid-life changes. After the age of 50 they fulfilled their dreams.
I was reminded of the book when I read a June 9, 2019 article in The Washington Post called, “Changing Channels: Millions of women wait years to fulfill their dreams – or to figure out what their dreams are.”
It’s Your Time
The article states that after 50, many women do what they once considered selfish – they achieve ambitions that make them feel productive and satisfied, professional milestones that are difficult to pursue while taking care of a family and paying their bills. Please note that I believe many men feel the same about this time of life. In fact, both men and women ask me to help them answer the questions: “What’s next? What has meaning now?
This makes sense. After 50 we take stock of our lives and want to make the most of the remaining years. After 50 we know our strengths and want to use them in a way that makes a significant difference.
In the article, Patricia Forehand, a retired educator turned comedian says, “After I retired, I took the teacher mask off and really cut loose…. I feel like I can be myself again.”
It Takes Time to become Good
The singer Bettye LaVette, hit it big after the age of 60. She says, “It’s much better to find success later in life. It takes a very long time to become good. Iris Gomez, a lawyer turned novelist agrees. “My work has gotten richer as I’ve matured.” She adds, “People say you can have it all as a woman, just not at the same time. There’s truth to that.” Another woman, Suzanne Wilson, became a doctor 25 years after being accepted to medical school. And she believes that her experiences raising a family will make her a better doctor than she would have been earlier.
Life’s Travails Make Us Better
In my book, Road to Fulfillment, a male writer turned therapist, describes the pain and suffering he needed to endure in order to become the wise therapist he is today. A realtor turned minister feels the same.
Others in the book describe how their values changed over time. I often hear people over 50 say that now that their children are grown, fulfillment comes from living simply and making social contributions through work with non-profits and volunteering. Others said you shouldn’t wait until the time when you have enough money. Start where you are today. Begin to live your dream now. Reading their stories in Road to Fulfillment will inspire you.
What’s next for you?
Don’t go so far that what you remember about your hike is how ridiculously hard it was.
Matthew Vandzura, Grand Canyon National Park Chief Ranger
Time Magazine, March 18, 2019
Photo of the Franz Josef Glacier by Lynn Ryder
I read this quote the week I returned from nearly three weeks of hiking on the South Island of New Zealand. It was the most difficult terrain I’ve encountered, including the scree we hiked up when climbing volcanoes in Ecuador in 2014. New Zealand has very steep rocks and roots covered with moss, making them unusually slippery. In the past, my hiking group would hike 2.5 miles per hour; on these South Island hikes we could barely complete one mile in an hour. When it rained on our way down the Roberts Point Overlook trail, below the Franz Josef Glacier, I was scared I would break my neck or some other part of my body. Which brings me to the question: When is it time to stop? What are my limits?
On the Overlook hike, I slipped on slick rock early on, so I knew I was pushing my limits. Two of my friends turned back, and I could easily have joined them. On the other hand, I felt intertwined with my group of 22 experienced hikers. There was some peer pressure and the thrill of doing something harder than I’d done before. I was focused on my goal; I wanted to see the glacier from the overlook….and it was something to see. But I can’t help thinking that if I had been smart, I would have listened to my body. I would have realized that my legs were tired, and I was relying a great deal on using my hiking poles and my hands to scramble up Robert’s Mountain. Plus, I am no spring chicken.
The Goal or the Journey
This reminds me of the dilemma of process versus outcomes. My friends who turned back, told me what a lovely time they had listening to bird songs, taking photos, and examining the ferns, moss and berries. While I was huffing and puffing, they enjoyed taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this unique area. I’m reminded that often I’m so focused on my goals and outcomes, that I miss the special qualities of the journey.
There’s More Living to Do
I haven’t decided if I was right or wrong to endure some scrapes and some fright to get to the gorgeous glacier overlook. I know I learned many lessons from pushing myself that day. In the future, I will take time to pause, tune out what others are saying and check in with my body to determine if it’s time to turn around. In the past, I wanted to prove how strong and capable I was, so I refused to be the person who wouldn’t complete a hike. Now it’s time to look rationally at what makes sense at this time in my life, knowing that any injuries won’t heal as quickly as when I was young. There’s still an enormous amount I can accomplish. I want to remain healthy and strong enough to keep hiking and seeing the many great sights I haven’t seen yet.
Find your next step at the next Reinvent Yourself after Fifty class on May 4 at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA. Visit the workshops page on this website at:
Flexibility and New Perspectives
Some important themes have been appearing in my coaching work lately. One is flexibility and the other is changing your perspective.
We Need to Be Flexible
After I taught a workshop at a local library, I met with several people who are struggling with the high cost of renting in Marin County, CA. One person has decided that if staying in the county means that he needs to do Senior Homesharing – sharing household help in exchange for reduced rent, he’ll do it. A friend who has lived alone for 20 years is looking for a roommate.
However, another person told me a litany of things that “must” stay the same “or else.” This person is angry, depressed, and unwilling to change.
Most of us don’t like change. I know I don’t. However, I’m continually reminded of these lessons: Stay Flexible and Keep an Open Mind. We don’t know what is supposed to happen. Sometimes a change that looks bad, turns out to be good; the change often leads to something positive that we couldn’t predict.
I recently saw the fabulous Broadway musical, “Come From Away.” On 9/11, 2001, 7,000 airplane passengers were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. They were stranded there for two weeks, and, at first, they felt angry and lost. But then the locals took them into their homes, fed them, entertained them, and showed them other remarkable generous qualities that humans are capable of. Some of the passengers, who were strangers at first, got married to each other afterwards, and most struck up life-long friendships with the folks from Gander. Yes, it looked like a disaster, but such beauty came from the experience.
Change your Perspective
I was hiking yesterday with a man who had a motorcycle accident two years ago. He lost vision in one eye and has compromised the use of one arm. I asked him what he learned. He said the accident reinforced what he always thought: “Nothing bad has ever happened to me.”
My girlfriend, who was part of the conversation, added, “There are no mistakes.” She said, “When I say what seems like the wrong thing, I no longer get angry with myself. I wonder if what I said might, ultimately, be helpful for the person who heard it.” Wow! These are interesting and refreshing perspectives.
Speaking of perspectives, last week I taught a class on Positive Thinking and referenced the work of Martin Seligman, the author of “Learned Optimism.” Seligman’s research proved that three attributes make the difference in how optimistic we are. He studied how people view the Permanence of a situation, their view of Pervasiveness, and if they take the situation Personally. It turns out that you will be more successful and happier if you view a situation as:
- temporary (not permanent)
- limited in scope (the situation is not going to impact everything, it’s not pervasive), and
- if you believe the situation is due to outside factors and is not your fault (not personal)
As some of us face hard times – debt, high rent, underemployment, health setbacks – it’s helpful to think about staying flexible and looking at life in new, more optimistic ways. It’s wise to see the situation as temporary, limited in scope, and not your fault.
Feeling that our lives “must” or “should” look a certain way, only leads to depression. It’s more helpful to simply say, I “prefer” this to happen….and “I’m flexible.”
Finally, when life feels hard, try to stay open to hearing what others are telling you. If you say, “But, but,” to others’ recommendations, you will find yourself alone. What sounds crazy at first, might be the seed of something worth looking into. It’s easy to say, and harder to do – we need to trust and “live into” the answers. The answers are coming.
A year after the devastation of the Sonoma County, California fires, friends who have lost their homes and most of their material possessions spoke to me about gratitude – gratitude for the outpouring of gifts and support from both friends and strangers.
It doesn’t erase the pain of the loss, but one friend shared that small events will long be remembered, such as gong to community garage “sales” where you are told to take anything that fits or is useful…maybe a new pair of earrings or a sweater or even a bicycle – for free.
I recently spoke with a Sonoma artist at a local art festival. He lost most of his paintings when his studio burned in the fire. I looked at photos of his lost paintings and then felt exhilarated by his fresh, new paintings. He has worked through the trauma and come out the other side with stunning, gorgeous images.
My friend Annie calls this “getting pruned.” She says it’s like cutting back a rose bush and being rewarded with even more stunning rose blossoms.
This metaphor reminded me that in the 1980’s I lost my home in a mudslide in Sausalito, California. I’m grateful I got out alive and was able to rescue some possessions. I realize now that the loss and trauma was a turning point for me. It forced me to re-evaluate my life and eventually led to a better romantic partnership, and work in coaching and training that was more aligned with my values.
In fact, one couple I know announced their engagement shortly after she lost her home in one of the fires. Maybe they would have announced it at that time anyway, but experience tells me that after facing the possibility of losing your life, some decisions become very clear.
Another friend told me that when the fire destroyed her home, she decided to move closer to San Francisco where most of the family works. The shorter commute has resulted in greater family togetherness, which she loves.
I certainly don’t want to minimize the pain and trauma of major loses; however, as we remember the fires, it’s good to recognize that sometimes life calls for us to reinvent ourselves…and that can be a good thing.
Some years ago, shortly after my father and brother passed away, I hit a low point and saw a therapist at Kaiser Permanente. He recommended a YouTube video of Albert Ellis, an influential American Psychologist who died in 2007. Ellis is best known for developing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). When I applied REBT to my situation, I felt much better. Now, when I have negative thoughts, I use REBT – because it works.
I’ve found Ellis’ approach to be highly effective for coaching clients. Men and women quickly see how their thoughts have blocked them from success. For example, one client had a problem with his foot. He blamed himself and said that perhaps he deserved to suffer. When he examined his belief, he saw that it was irrational. He “de-catastrophized” the situation, found the energy to look for new options by talking to people who could help, and tried a therapy that eventually healed his foot.
Here’s the approach:
Albert Ellis’ ABCDEs of Adversity
A – Adversity happens
B – What is your belief or thought about it? Is the belief logical? Rational? What would be a more helpful belief?
C – Consequences – What did you feel or do?
D – Dispute the feeling. De-catastrophize it: What is the evidence? It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things Look at alternatives Look for greater meaning – nation, God, family, a cause, volunteering, charity
E – Energy – feel energized. Take action
How can you apply this is in your life? If you are working on an issue, let’s meet for a private coaching session. It’s time to move forward.
I recently read the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. If you want to know the best time of day to get results and the benefits of napping, this is a must read. He has a chapter on endings, including what he calls “Act Three” of life – where we “sharpen our red pencils and scratch out anyone or anything non-essential.” Research shows that as we age, we edit out people who are less emotionally meaningful.
Here’s something to try when you’re in a slump. Mr. Pink shares a technique he learned from four social psychologists. This process is inspired by the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
- Think about something positive in your life – your relationship, your child, a career achievement, your home
- List all the circumstances that made it possible – a friend’s suggestion, a class you took, a party you attended
- Write down all the events and decisions that might never have happened – you didn’t go to the party or take the class
- Now remind yourself that life did go your way. Think about the happy random events that did happen. Be grateful for your good fortune. Life is pretty wonderful.
Try this technique and post a comment on how it worked for you. I did feel wonderful when I tried it.
My friend Harry was laid off from his job at the age of 64. He took some time to think about his future….and then took some more time. His savings were slim, so he said he would look for another job. I’m not sure if he looked. I do know that he spent a lot of time on his computer, going to movies by himself, and watching TV. Mostly he was alone. Then he got sick. Then his cognitive thinking declined. He was depressed and isolated. He is one of the reasons I created the “Reinvent Yourself after 50” workshop. I want to help people feel fulfilled, joyful, and passionate, whether they are working or not.
For many people the most difficult aspect of leaving the workforce is losing daily interaction with work colleagues and the people you meet when you’re at work – the coffee barista, the bus driver, the cashier at the deli. In the workshop we discuss the many benefits of social integration and how to ensure we don’t lose it. This video demonstrates why our relationships are paramount to our longevity and to having fulfilling lives.
What does it take to live for 100 years? These are the surprising predictors of a long, healthy life.
Susan Pinker at TED2017 – The secret to living longer may be your social life