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Have you ever had a job that made you feel empty? Perhaps you were successful. You had a nice job title, made good money, owned lots of material things and even have a good family and social life. Yet, deep inside when you went to sleep at night, you felt empty. Your work didn’t bring you joy or passion. This is true for many people who go through their work day like robots. Is this normal? If this is you, how do you go about unraveling this sense of feeling lost, especially for those of you entering your middle years or beyond.
Many of us choose our work initially for a variety of reasons-availability, money, nice job title. Some of us actually choose work that we thought we would like and be good at. Rarely in our early 20’s and 30’s did we choose work that served our own self-concept. How could we? This was never taught in school.
Why after forty, it is mandatory to ask deeper questions about your work
As we go through our lives, at least the first 40 years, it is other people who tell our story about who we are and what we should do: our managers, family members, teachers, friends and even those who don’t like us very much. It seems everyone else has a pretty good idea of who we should be and what we should do.
After 40, the story needs to change. It needs to be developed by us. This is the path to an authentic life aligned around our values, interests and abilities. After forty, the real question is about what work MUST emerge from deep inside. What sacrifices are we willing to make to add coherence to our lives and our work?
Where do you want to make a contribution now?
Look around your world, your city, your neighborhood. What bothers you the most? What can you do about it? It is a hopeless to wait for someone else to take action. What is the sense of urgency about your life now? This comes from having purpose, from something you believe in deeply and are involved in. Too many people die too soon after retiring after spending a few years away from work and with no purpose. They spend their years looking back and not forward.
Go from boredom to making sense out of life and work
Is it clear why you do the work that you do ? Aside from needing income or having lots of responsibility or the need to support others, does your work give you meaning and fulfillment? Is your work significant to you? It is important after 40 to place ego aside and pursue a strong sense of integrity around the choices you make around your work.
Why is this important?
Through the ability to internalize one’s purpose and meaning of life, a person can live with a greater sense of control and sense of direction towards self-actualization. It is important in our middle years and beyond to listen to our inner voice. Much of a person’s learning through the first part of life is disconnected from a person’s own interests and internal motivation. We are herded through school with the promise of rewards (grades) and the threat of punishment (ranked low, not passed etc.) Then, in our middle years we wake up and decide to take back control of our lives and learning. We start to pay attention to our own beliefs and quickly seek to align them to new behavior. This is good because as we age we respond more to internal stimuli. In many cases this internal dialog is mostly negative and holds us back from making positive change in our lives. As a result for many there is a mismatch between their current self and perceived past roles. This can cause much mental turmoil and enable people to stay stuck in routine patterns.
The system within us
The good news is within each of us is a system. This system is always adjusting and adapting towards growth. Each of us controls what we do, what we think as well as how we respond to external events in our lives. As result, the ability to make big change, especially in mid-life and beyond is not only possible but necessary for growth.
What big changes can you make now?
What big changes can you make now in your life and your work that will create more happiness and joy? I would suggest while there are many places to start, work is indeed one of the best places to start. Like a long line of dominos, once you move the first one, they will all start to move in the same direction at a rapid place. So ask yourself, what work now MUST emerge from you? This is the most important question to ask yourself during the second half of life.
I'll be cheering you on as you go.
Craig is a 25 year management veteran, Executive coach, college professor, author, and workshop leader. Also, Craig Nathanson is The Vocational Coach helping people and organizations thrive in their work and life.
Craig Nathanson is the founder of The Best Manager , workshops and products aimed at bringing out the best in those who manage and lead others.
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