I recently lead a small group discussion with the goal of discovering how to reinvent yourself after the age of 50. One of the members of the group was just turning the magic number and I was hired as a sort of “dog and pony show” birthday present as part of a weekend celebration. I loved the idea and jumped at the opportunity. Having never been engaged professionally before to explore this topic, and with no prepared notes in the “can”, I decided to let my instincts lead me through this exercise.
I felt very comfortable with my decision, as experience has shown me that I access much better information when I speak extemporaneously. After all, this is a subject I have been exploring and writing about for years. Lucky for me I had a fourteen-year advantage of life experience on my side. Turning 50 had me changing life gears, so sharing the steps I took myself seemed like a safe avenue to explore in this venue. Thankfully this proved to be just the ticket.
The sun had all but set, and a blizzard was blowing wildly outside. There was little chance of distraction from the topic at hand. As this very informal and comfortable group settled into their overstuffed chairs, I began with a little background about me, and the journey I had taken. I had never met any one of these folks before, and the energy in the room was warm and intense. I knew I would need to stay focused in order to navigate a path for them to follow with clarity.
Once I finished my introductory remarks, I tossed the ball out to the group, asking them to let me know what each of them wanted from the brief time we would spend together. Two main themes quickly emerged. One was how to find one’s passion. The other was to discover what we are truly committed to – a surprisingly elusive treasure. As with most discussions I lead, I incorporate the Six Pillars of Civility framework into the process. In this particular journey the pillars that seemed most significant were those of compassion, awareness, gratitude, and encouragement.
Compassion for ourselves gives us permission to explore both new and hidden territory. So much happens to most of us at this time in our lives, that we may experience feelings of selfishness – how can we justify focusing on ourselves? We are so used to raising a family and establishing a career, that little time has been available to us for ourselves. The feeling can be very unsettling, so we must have compassion, and allow ourselves to follow our inner voice. That is how we will ultimately discover our true passion.
We must expand awareness. We need to emphasize the importance of paying attention. This is the next step in the process of discovery. When we open our eyes to infinite possibilities, the “yes buts” will fall away, allowing us to consider alternatives we had been putting off, and putting off, and putting off. We can begin to imagine how following our passion will satisfy us and influence those around us in a positive way.
Gratitude for the opportunity to take the next step along our path balances our joy of discovery and acceptance. And encouragement allows us to give ourselves a pat on the back. After all we’ve been putting others first for many years. The passage into our sixth decade provides us with a chance to put ourselves first for a change. We need to develop the confidence to enter these uncharted waters safely and gracefully.
Understanding what we are truly committed to is one of the toughest challenges we will ever encounter. On the surface it may seem simple, but if it were so simple why is the result so elusive; and why has it been so elusive for so many years? The answer lies in a quote I recently ran across by Brigitte Nicole: "All of life's lessons you have been through are only a preparation for what is about to happen in your life. If the experience brings you joy, much wisdom has prepared you for this journey. If it brings you sorrow, remember lessons will keep striking you at your weakest point because that's what needs most strengthening."
Simply put, we must look below the surface at the feelings the situations in our lives elicit to discover where our true commitment lies. Do we empower feelings of joy or put more of our energy into avoiding the feelings of sorrow? Whichever one we choose – and it is a matter of choice – we will find ourselves in circumstances that require us to support that choice.
Whatever changes we decide to make in our lives, we must learn to understand that these alterations require scheduling “me” time. We need to explore how to best find our revised paths, and discover fulfillment in our different roles. I hope we can all take the time we need for ourselves. In the end, this is the ticket to civility in our lives and in our communities.