We are all participants in one of the most significant social movements of our time: We're creating a new phase of life.
For many it happens at midlife, but in fact a Life Reimagined moment can come at any age. It renders obsolete the myths and conventions of the past 50 years — the old story that has defined our trajectory and constrained our choices for the second half of life.
In place of that old route (and rut!), we are paving a more dynamic and exciting path: We are living longer, and staying healthier, than any generation before. Whether by choice or by financial necessity, we are continuing to work long past traditional retirement age. And, most important, we are yearning — as we have since our youth — to find meaning and purpose in our lives.
As pioneers in this new life stage, we are seeking out new possibilities. For some of us, this means delving into favorite hobbies, interests or volunteer gigs. For others, it entails going back to school or traveling to far-off destinations. And for others still, it means starting a business or embarking on a dream career.
But for all of us, it involves looking ahead and asking ourselves, "What's next?" Life Reimagined has identified six guideposts you can use to help you answer that question and navigate the years ahead.
Reflect: What's real for you?
Lasting change often begins by looking inward. This doesn't mean you must retreat to a monastery or spend hours in the lotus position. Instead, think of reflection as a break: a mini-vacation from the daily business that absorbs so much of our time. It's a chance to go inward and listen to your own story.
Reflection involves revisiting the narrative in your head about your life up until this time. You don't have to automatically extend that narrative into your future; you can weave an entirely new story for yourself.
Start the process by asking how you wound up where you are today: What goals and values led you here? Looking forward, what is most important to you? What choices are you likely to face in the years ahead? What possibilities would you most like to pursue? Are you satisfied with how you spend your days? As you ponder these questions, you can begin to say no to the things that clutter your life, and yes to those that give you purpose.
Connect: Convene a feedback panel
In the early phases of our adult lives, we often make connections and form communities around family and work. As we age, the basis for those connections tends to fade. Forty years later, for example, the parents of your children's friends are less likely to be your friends. You may have moved to another city or simply drifted apart socially. The same is true for work friends: You may have changed jobs or left the labor force entirely.
At this stage of life, it's all too easy to end up with a wealth of casual acquaintances and a dearth of real friends. And this occurs just when we all need authentic connections.
1. The cornerstone of connecting is building a sounding board, which is a small group of people who can help you think about what's next in your life. They may see you more clearly than you see yourself.
2. To convene your sounding board, find one committed listener who can offer you support. Ideally this will be someone willing to hear you out on the questions you've been asking yourself, then deepen and magnify them.
3. Once you've found your listener, bounce ideas off him or her every few weeks. Then slowly add new sounding board members. Strive to recruit a catalyst, a connector, a taskmaster and a mentor.
4. Don't forget that connection is a two-way street: Once you've asked people to serve on your sounding board, you may be asked to serve on theirs. Say yes; you're well on your way to being a reimagineer.
Explore: Open yourself to the unknown
This step allows you to begin thinking broadly and honestly about the direction your life can take. You begin to separate what you've always done and who you've always been from what you'd like to do and who you'd like to become. At this phase of your voyage, you get to give your curiosity free rein and try new identities and behaviors on for size. The point of these exercises is simply to get a feel for exploring new ideas and activities. Once you become comfortable with small explorations, you'll be better able to embark on larger journeys of life discovery.
Kick off your exploring with some modest accomplishments:
- Browse a magazine that never appealed to you.
- Skip the Sports section and delve into Food.
- Take a voice or musical-instrument lesson.
- Change your standard route home from work.
- Venture into a tavern that features line dancing.
- Design any other activity to get outside your comfort zone.
Choose: Whittle down your options
Now it's time to narrow your choices. This may feel intimidating — What if the path I pick turns out not to suit me? — but your selections at this stage in the journey are not irreversible. Multiple paths lead to the goal of reinvention; there's no need to worry that you're swearing all-or-nothing allegiance to a wrong one. Indeed, you can ease your way into this stage by taking deliberately small steps. Here are a few to consider.
Take time out. Carve out a regular block of time when you refuse to be interrupted, especially by technology. Visit this oasis each day to imagine future possibilities.
Say hello. Introduce yourself to organizations engaged in the things you're curious (and serious) about. Shadow a person doing something you think you might like.
Keep track. Record your reactions to all these investigations in a Possibilities Journal. Revisit prior entries to see if clues emerge that help you pick your best path.
Repack: What's essential for the road ahead?
Repacking entails removing the obstacles that are keeping you from reaching your goal. Think of it as jettisoning the baggage that no longer fits who you are now and repacking to accommodate the person you want to become. To get started on this step, try the writing exercise below.
1. Create the table of contents that would appear at the front of your memoir. Give each stage of your life story its own summarizing chapter title. Then group the chapters and give each section a title.
2. Now move to the present: How would you label the chapter you're living through currently? What would you name the chapter coming next? This exercise can give your life story a clear plotline to follow.
Act: Make your possibilities real by taking action
Using the previous exercises as guidance, take a first step in a new direction — any direction. See what happens. Then adapt your next steps as things unfold.
It really is that simple: Take action.
You can ask your sounding board to help you weigh alternatives, but ultimately you'll have to trust your gut. And who knows what surprises will appear? When you act, doors open. New connections click. A planned meeting leads to a chance encounter — someone knows someone who knows someone else — and suddenly an opportunity materializes that you had never anticipated.
For each of the next five days, take one chance per day. Then describe them in your journal.
Stepping outside your comfort zone will feel scary at first. Or exhilarating. Or possibly both.
Taking action, pausing to weigh its impact, tailoring your next step — as you find your rhythm with these phases of reimagining your life, you may just find your bliss.
- Make the phone call you've been putting off.
- Get back in touch with the person you've been thinking of lately.
- Sign up for a music lesson — or open-mike night?!
- Start to learn the language you've been longing to speak.
- Introduce yourself to that server who has waited on you so often in your fave lunch spot.
Richard J. Leider is a founding partner of the Inventure Group, a training firm that helps people discover the power of purpose. Alan M. Webber is the author of Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self.
This groudbreaking program helps people make positive changes in their lives. Created by AARP in collaboration with leading experts in personal development, aging, transitions and social change, Life Reimagined offers information, tools, coaching services and ways to connect with like-minded people. This article is adapted from Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, (October 1).
To learn more, visit LifeReimagined.org.
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