Are You Living Your Life on Purpose?

Here in the north-east USA, it is starting to feel like the end could be in sight. Covid numbers are dropping, vaccination rates are increasing, and, as I write this, there is even a hint of Spring in the air. 

The atmosphere is filled with potential, and I sense my old dreams starting to stir: socializing over dinners, chatting to friends over coffee, brainstorming with work friends over breakfast. Eating outdoors, hiking and day trips. Travel! I feel excited and energized. After almost a year of putting all my energy and focus into my day job, I am ready to step away from my desk and my webcam.

I shared with a friend how I was feeling, and—sadly—she said she felt no stirrings at all. This year, 2021, is the year she turns fifty, and it filled her with dread. All she could see was a life slowly winding down like a much-loved book drawing close to its last few pages. She saw fifty as the sun starting to set on her life.

I was shocked, and mainly because she was younger than me—by quite a few years!  She explained that after decades of child-rearing, she now felt untethered. I agreed that being a mother is one of the few jobs where your goal is to work yourself out of the job; if you do it right and successfully launch your young adults into the world, you end up losing the position as CEO of your small non-profit business, also known as Your Children.

In the Before Times, she had filled her empty-nest days with friends, shopping, and planning. There was always the next birthday, the next vacation, the next dinner party, or the next decorating project that required her focus. But now, after almost a year without any of that, she looked back and felt all of that ‘busy work’ had been rather pointless. She admitted that even at the height of her busyness, she had been both busy and bored.

Jokingly, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. What were her dreams? What did she want to do with her life? How did she want to fill her hours? She sighed and replied that considering she would 50 by Easter, what was the point. She went on to say that if she hadn’t done it by this stage, what made me think she’d do it now.

We ended our chat, but her comments stayed with me. I kept coming back to a saying that for years I had stuck up on my office wall.

Your dreams don’t die because you get old. You get old because you let your dreams die.  Considering how our definition of old has changed, then she had decades ahead to pursue her dream.  If 60 is the new 40, then my friend was only closing in on 30! She was also in the fortunate position that she didn’t need a paycheck, and she was no longer responsible for someone else’s care. Wasn’t this the perfect time to make use of that good fortune and chase the dream?

Some clever person once remarked that most people are living by accident rather than living on purpose. (Think of it like this: She broke the vase by accident versus she broke the vase on purpose.) I love this idea that you are intentionally living, not inadvertently living.

As Snoopy replied when Charlie Brown said, we only live once: “Wrong! We only die once. We live every day.” 

Spot the Dalmatian, on 34th St, NYC. Artist: Donald Lipski.

I know how hard it is when your job—regardless if you are an accountant or a full-time mom—stops. When my children were babies, I ran my own business with a wonderful business partner. It was always a juggle. There were many days when I wanted to step away from the company to be fully engaged in the job of mothering.

Be careful what you wish for!

We arrived in the USA and, overnight, I became a full-time mum and housekeeper. I loved so many aspects of it, but there were days I longed to hand them over to someone else, get all dressed up, and sail off for a lunch meeting with other adults.

I thought back and another lesson popped into my mind.  You can reinvent yourself as many times as you want. The only person putting you in a box is you! 

I clearly recall when my youngest hit the age of about 11 or 12. I thought back to how much I adored being a full-time mom. After the initial shock, it turned into the greatest job ever. But, as they grew older, I realized that this job had a time limit attached to it. So, I dipped my toe into a small craft business. I was the sole employee and, for about two years, I loved it. I had no background in crafts; I just took a hobby and made it into a small business. 

After that, I started a business as an etiquette coach. Again, I had no experience in teaching etiquette; I simply threw myself into it. Later, I took a four-year break to care for my son’s health. Now that was a prime example of on-the-job training! In his third year of treatment, I wrote and self-published a book. Again, no training or qualifications. Next, I signed up as a private tutor teaching writing to elementary and high school students. 

During these years, as a favor to several friends, I helped them or family members write and deliver speeches for weddings. This led me to my current day job as a public speaking & communications coach. And, woven through the last four years, has been my work on my second novel and this blog.

I would love to say that this was all thought through, brilliantly planned out, and executed—but that would be a lie. Not a single one of these “jobs” was part of some grand overall plan. I was open to ideas and latched on to things as they took my fancy. And, truth be told, most of the time, I was flying by the seat of my pants.

Now, I understand many people need to stick with their main job to pay the bills, but my friend didn’t fall into that category, so I called her and challenged her to put a bow on the empty-nester box and shelve it!  

We spoke a bit, but she still focused on her impending fiftieth birthday. I reminded her: There is no sell-by date on your dreams. Yes, the dreams you chased at twenty or thirty may no longer apply. But there is nothing stopping anyone from setting new goals, dreaming new dreams. I reminded her she didn’t need a paycheck so she could think about what really gave her life meaning. She promised to “think about it.”

Days later, she texted to say she had found her dream. After we’d spoken, she listed some ideas and remembered that she’d always wanted to be a veterinarian, but life got in the way. Then, that morning, she was at the Vet with her dog and blurted out that she’d always wanted to do the same. They spoke for a bit, and he suggested she apply for a job as a Vet Assistant. It required no qualifications and didn’t pay much, but she’d be doing what she loved. The surgery loved that she was open to flexible work hours, and they already knew she was passionate about animals and deeply caring. They called right before she texted to say she was hired. And, her new boss was decades older than she! Suddenly 50 didn’t seem that old.

The last year forced many people to reevaluate their life, and from what I’ve read and heard, many don’t want to go back to their old normal. Maybe now is the time to think about what you want to do so you can live your life on purpose.

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