Have you found that it’s the milestone birthdays, in particular, that cause you to reminisce? They can get us reflecting on where we’ve been and wondering about where we’re headed.
It’s interesting how some birthdays hit us. My 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays seemed not to faze me. Somehow, turning 60 was different. In the days leading up to my 60th birthday, I felt out of sorts—in a brief period of self-pity, I felt like most of my life was behind me.
On my 60th birthday, I decided to take a trip down memory lane.
Photo credit: B Christy
I took the day off work and drove to the neighbourhood where I grew up. I parked the car and sat in front of the little bungalow where my parents raised my sister, brother and me. I walked around the school I went to from K-9, sat in the pew of the church I attended through my childhood and youth and visited the cemetery where my parents are buried. And so the day went.
Considering I’d started the day feeling gloomy, you might expect it went downhill from there. As it happened, that time spent reflecting and reminiscing left me with profound feelings of gratitude for how I had been so blessed.
A lot has happened since that day when I felt like most of my life was behind me. Life hasn’t sputtered, wound down, or come to a grinding halt, as I thought it might. Since then, there have been some highs, lows, and bumps in the road.
I experienced a spark in my love of learning and went back to university to study coaching. I got laid off from the place I’d loved working. I started a new career, became an entrepreneur, and “hung out my shingle” as a leadership coach.
I discovered a new sense of joy when I became a grandmother—2.5 times over (yes, there is one on the way).
My husband and I purged belongings from the home we lived in for 30 years and “right-sized” to a new home—and we found a new church home, too. Together, we hunkered down during the worst periods of COVID.
I’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones, gained a new network of colleagues, and been encouraged by inspiring mentors. I’ve found more time—or created space—for being with my grandchildren, volunteering, and gardening (sort of).
This month, I celebrated another milestone birthday. I turned 65. This makes me—according to the social construct—a senior citizen. But researchers at the FrameWorks Institute would say it also makes me a person who continues to gather momentum from the experiences and insights that I’ve gained over my life. (Now this description I like!)
I have been excited to turn 65—my family can verify this. I think it’s about the sense of freedom and contentment I feel. Or maybe it can be explained by what Dartmouth College researcher David G. Blanchflower calls the U-shaped happiness-age curve.
In his research published in 2020, Blanchflower reports “the happiness curve seems to be everywhere.” He found the average age of a low point in work-life “happiness” or wellness across all of the countries studied is 48.3. After this low point, happiness continues to increase with age. His work gives new insights into another social construct, the mid-life crisis.
We might argue about whether midlife is actually a “crisis,” but perhaps we can agree it is a transition period when relationships and roles are changing. Some of us begin caring for aging parents. Others become empty nesters. We may have a greater sense of our mortality.
We might ask ourselves: am I where I thought I’d be at this stage of life? On a deeper level, we might ask: why am I here, and what is my purpose?
What if we could go through transitions in life without lingering too long in the space William Bridges calls the neutral zone, that time between the old sense of identity and the new one?
What if taking our first job, or finding ourselves in midlife, or turning 65 could be just a bit easier? What if we could thrive at any stage of life?
What if we could live a purposeful life, finish strong and have an enduring impact?
3 things to help you thrive
Here are three things you can do to live a purposeful life, finish strong and have an enduring impact—to thrive in mid-career and beyond.
(Re)discover your purpose
Discover and define – Whether we call it purpose or calling or why, knowing our purpose gives life meaning. Knowing one’s purpose is a fundamental human need. Discovering—or rediscovering—helps all the pieces fall into place and pursuing it brings joy and, yes, happiness.
Inventory values, talents, passions – Discovering our purpose can sound daunting. Sometimes we’re stumped when someone asks about our purpose. Inventory your talents, skills and passions. Consider your core personal values. We can find our purpose at the intersection of these things.
Consider your mindset
Have a growth mindset – A growth mindset is having the belief that you can learn and grow from any experience, including mistakes or perceived failures. Consider asking yourself: what can I take with me from this situation that will help me down the road? And although it’s sometimes hard to see, what is the gift or opportunity in this
Reframe and reset – How might it help to look at things from a different perspective. For example, I could look at being laid off from my job as a personal failure, or I could reframe the experience as a gift and opportunity to do something completely different, and have more time for family.
Embrace gratitude – What would happen if, once a day, you wrote down 1-3 things you are grateful for? Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, appreciate good experiences, deal with difficulties, and build strong relationships.
Celebrate the journey
Set milestones or markers – Whether we’re talking about finishing school, or getting a promotion or reaching a certain age, milestones indicate something about our progress on the journey of life. What milestone is coming up next for you?
Pause to celebrate - What would happen if you paused to celebrate your progress, a success, or an accomplishment? Research shows there are physical and emotional health benefits, such as improved optimism and lower levels of stress. The celebration doesn’t need to involve balloons or champagne. It can be as simple as sharing your good news with someone you care about.
Shortly after I had my brief 60th birthday pity party, I started working together again with my coach. With her help, I was able to reconnect with my core values, rediscover my purpose and envision what a strong finish might look like for me.
It’s never too late—or too soon—to uncover your purpose and reimagine your future.