“There is one quality that one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it”.- Napoleon Hill
It’s quite amazing how many people go through their lives with very little thought as to where they are heading with it.
There is an accepted lifecycle assigned to everyone and most of us seem to just fall into it and ‘live’ it out as if there was no alternative. But what happens when we become middle age?
There are some truly disturbing statistics about people’s lives, most of it relates to their financial status at retirement time. But what is even more disturbing is the clarity of purpose of their lives. This is difficult to measure or put into statistics, yet is all around us.
You know when you go on holiday you always tend to “People Watch” not sure why we do it. I suppose we are just curious to see how other people live and what they might be thinking about. How many times have you sat around the pool or at a table in a smart cafe and just watch people?
I often look at people and wonder whats happening in their lives, are they happy with their lives, has life given them everything they wanted? Or are they just putting a brave face on to fool everyone, including themselves? It’s no different when we get back home, we watch people all the time, from our office window, sat in a traffic jam, in a queue.
You read or listen to so much news on middle age and lifestyles, we drink too much, we are overweight, too much stress in our lives, kids, parents, partners, the dog! It’s never-ending.
But are we to believe that modern life is one big disappointment and middle-aged people, especially men have no ambition left, that modern life is so awful and unfulfilling that we have resorted to living out of a bottle or the local take away because we are so time poor and stressed that junk food and alcohol are our only true friends that allow us to cope with everyday life? Do we really have a problem with modern life or is it just media hype? How do we view old age? Does it fill us with fear or optimism?
Do middle-aged men have a clear plan or a clarity of purpose on how they see the next chapter in their lives? Do they have a clear clarity of purpose, a roadmap which they can follow?
According to Deepak Chopra, M.D., founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, what most people find when they look inside themselves are:
- Confusion: this manifests as not setting clear priorities because the path ahead doesn’t look clear and decisive.
- Distraction: this manifests as a hundred small things that pull your attention this way and that.
- Disorganisation: this manifests as a lack of orderly thinking that leads to productive results.
I don’t claim to know all the reasons for it or be an expert on why people think as they do, I can only paint the picture as I see it from being middle-aged and why I spent time looking within to find my own clarity of purpose and to set out my goals on how I wanted to live my life beyond middle age.
For one reason or another, being 50 in today’s society is a problem that most of us will have to face up to. When it comes to being middle age finding clarity of purpose, a vision, direction or true meaning to life is not easy – As we get older it becomes more difficult to have clarity or a sense of purpose. But Why?
Because of your age, its a simple as that, as we move through life we become magnets, by that I mean we collect all sorts of baggage, memories, scars, that’s part of life, its always been said that as we get older we become wiser, not strictly true, but we become more experienced in life. Hence we find it difficult to find out what values we still old.
If you think about it we lived in different times. No internet, a job was for life, we could afford to buy a house, we had more respect for the law, no social media and so on.
So being middle age and asking what is your vision for the future, do you have clarity of purpose or a new purpose?
I guess most men would have to think long and hard to give a really honest answer.
I would describe it like-
When we hit middle age our clarity of purpose in life would have changed many times, It’s like looking at a road map, planning a journey, you have so many routes to choose from but whichever route you take you normally get to your destination with a few detours.
A bit like life, we all start with a vague idea of what we want to do when we leave school or college and by the time we enter into middle age our clarity or purpose has somewhat changed.
So What Happens When You Hit Middle Age?
Bud Bilanich, an executive coach says to develop your personal clarity of purpose you need to do three things:
- Define what success means to you.
- Create a vivid mental image of your success.This image should be as vivid as you can you make it.
- Clarify your personal values.
Now I guess those three would seem fairly logical to follow when you just starting out or even when you are at crossroads in your life, let’s say in your early thirties. But how can you apply those values when you are middle age?
From first-hand experience, it’s really difficult to be self-critical. It’s not easy to stop and look at your life and it is even more difficult to face up to the reality that your life as of day has not gone as you would have expected or wanted to go.
The lack of unbiased, friendly and in some cases anonymous help make this even more difficult.
Men With a Healthy Sense of Clarity and Purpose.
By the time some men reach middle-age, they’ve established a healthy sense of clarity of purpose. Clarity for these men is that they are on track for retirement. A good paying job, financially secure, settled family life, everything is fine within their camp. Having a purpose and clarity is pretty much more of the same PLEASE until retirement.
The Non-Conventional Middle-Aged Man But Happy
For these men by the time they have entered into middle age, they have no real family commitment or any other traditional markers that make them middle-aged and successful.
On the whole, they are happy with their lives and they see the future with optimism. These men probably have a history of being guided by their own internal compass and prioritizing personal growth, they work off gut instinct, they follow their own path and allow external circumstances to work out as they will. They don’t rely on chance or good luck it’s more about a predetermined destination.
Conventional and Unhappy.
This is the group that a lot of middle-aged men fall into. Typically they aren’t all that happy with the way things have gone so far. These men normally fall into two camps:
- They’ve never really felt much in the way of deep satisfaction with life. Half empty half full personality.
- Or they have all of the traditional trappings of success and have felt that they were satisfied, but now feel a sense of emptiness or loneliness and are not quite sure why. They might question what they’ve done with all those years, were things had gone wrong and might even experience a sneak preview of what old age might look like, which fills them with anxiety and worry, which is the last thing they want on their minds. Old age and no money!
There is a great post by Scott H Young, where he talks about the purpose and the worry it causes and that we should focus on the small things in life and the quick wins. Heres a quick take on his view of purpose:
Just because I don’t know what kind of life I’ll lead in 5-10 years, doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference now. It’s easy to obsess over the big picture and forget all the little victories along the way. From the personal victories to finishing a project, to the more altruistic of finding out something you’ve done has helped one other person.
Even if you don’t know exactly how you’re life will turn out, you have the little victories along the way. It’s those little victories that can add up to something bigger than you could have ever imagined when you first started.
Middle Aged and Board With My Life.
In a paper published in 1965, Elliott Jaques, then 48 and a relatively unknown Canadian psychoanalyst and organizational consultant, coined the term “midlife crisis.” Jaques wrote that during this period, we come face-to-face with our limitations, our restricted possibilities, and our mortality.
When I first came across Jaques’s life I thought: “How can one a person stay productive for so long?”
But then I realised that my conception of age was hopelessly out of touch with reality. If you believe the research life expectancy today in the West is around 80 and if the trend continues it’s only going to rise.
This means that at 53, the average age man in the baby boom generation (those born from 1946 to 1964) the average man will live another 30 years.
Stop and think about that for a moment: Since few people enter the workforce until they have completed their education—usually when they are in their twenties—the average baby boomer has as many years of productivity ahead of him as he has behind him.
Myths of Midlife.
The first, myth of midlife as the onset of decline, is rooted in historically outdated conceptions. According to this myth, people end their productive lives and retire at age 65. This was based on the retirement age for men in Germany in 1916. The life expectancy for men in 1916 was at the time 49. So there was no way that the average man was going to get his pension.
The second myth is the notion of midlife as magical transformation. This myth has been fed by hundreds of self-help books and magazine articles, selling the idea or illusion that by having a vision and willpower, they can be anything or anybody they want to be. So if you are middle-aged, this doesn’t make midlife career changes easier—it makes them more frightening.
The ideas that midlife for men is the onset of decline, and that acceptance of growing old and all its limitations is the only natural way to deal with getting, are still generally accepted as good common sense.
Common sense, however, may be overrated. Midlife is exciting because it is a time when people have the opportunity to reexamine their purpose in life and to rectify their beliefs and aspirations, to take time and review their clarity of purpose.
For a growing number of men, the middle age can be a period of unprecedented opportunity for inner growth. At best middle age can be a time when men move from what psychologist Abraham Maslow called deficiency motivations to growth motivations
Deficiency motivations are fed by the lack off. For those men for example who lack self-confidence will look at ways of improving their confidence levels. By contrast, growth motivations are fed not by a deficiency but by the need to realize our full potential. Motivated in this way, middle-aged men may try new things in life, they change their mindset to a growth mindset.
Men Need To Acknowledge That Change is Happening
This is when the penny finally drops- Yes you are now middle-aged, and you may still have 30 to 40 years left god willing, so what I am going to do? This can be a hard transition for many men. Some welcome this new phase of their life, but others it fills them with fear and anxiety.
Work Was Your Driving Force But Its Changing.
This is where your purpose in life comes in and the clarity of your vision. Perhaps you’ve been made redundant or maybe you’re changing jobs, going back to work, or doing something completely different. Perhaps you’re happily planning your retirement but are aware that your life will change significantly once you do. Anytime you change roles, your clarity can be affected which then changes your view or purpose in life, which ultimately changes your personal view of yourself.
Open Your Mind To Change. Find Your Why, Find Your Passion.
Everyone has a why. Your why is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.
Knowing your why gives you a filter to make choices, at work and at home, that will help you find greater fulfilment in all that you do.
German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, ‘He who has a why can endure any how.’
Finding your why is the very first step in figuring out what you want to do beyond middle age. The ideas you may have or aspirations or a picture of your life that is completely different from today.
How can I create a life that will give me enjoyment versus merely surviving? The bottom line is it’s, only when you know your ‘why’ will you find the courage to take the risks needed to get ahead, stay motivated when the chips are down, and move your life onto an entirely new, more challenging, and more rewarding direction.
What Makes You Come Alive?
The word inspire comes from the Latin, meaning “to breathe life into.” Accordingly, when you are working toward things that inspire you, it literally makes you feel more alive.
Your why needs to be something that gets you excited, you feel energised by doing it. It’s not anything that is to do with normal everyday things, It’s bigger than that, It’s about connecting with what you’re passionate about. If you don’t have a passion find one, everybody has some form of passion within themselves, you just need to find it
This is about you connecting to a cause that’s bigger than you are, but which is also congruent with who you are what you care about.
What Are Your Innate Strengths?
What are the things you’ve always been good at (sometimes wondering why others find it so hard?) Have you a hobby that you can turn into a business or can you use the skills you have gained over the years to start something for yourself. This is all about your clarity of purpose your dreams and aspirations of what the next 20 or so years will look like.
Consider this for a moment. If for any reason, you were to lose your job, what would you do? And let’s say you were 50 plus, well educated good job history, would you be able to find a new role? What is the chance of you finding a similar role at your age?
Age discrimination is against the law in most developed countries, but how many companies bypass it? So you need to find your inner strengths.
The civil rights leader Howard Thurmon once wrote, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive, then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The Effort Is Worth It.
It may take an effort to make sure your life is oriented toward the satisfaction of the most genuine part of yourself, and that you know—and feel deeply—that your life matters and your clarity of purpose has a real meaning and value and you see your life stretching out way beyond middle-age.
Any effort you make now is an investment in what is arguably the best, most important reward available to a human being. It’s the ability, in old age, to reflect upon your life, with its twists, hills, and valleys and say, “Job well done.”