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Mid-Life Perception: It's Your View That Counts

By Craig Nathanson

When Murray and Heather Rand of Canada sold their St. Thomas, Ontario, home and moved permanently aboard their sailboat, lots of people - including their children - thought they were crazy. The fact that they d never sailed before, prior to buying the 16-foot craft that fueled their adventure, didn't bother them a bit. Murray and Heather loved sailing. They decided that sailing mattered most. So after several intensive sailing lessons, they were on their way. They agreed: If it's your dream, go sooner rather than later. Life can change at the drop of a hat, they thought, and life was too precious to be wasting precious time heeding other people's disapproval.

When former software engineer Bonnie Vining was told by her boss to stop smiling so much at work because it was a sign of weakness, she decided that it was definitely time to leave her job and follow her dream. Bonnie wanted to own her own coffee shop, where folks could gather and enjoy each other's company and, without being self-conscious, smile as much as they liked. Like Murray and Heather's family and friends, Bonnie's co-workers thought Bonnie was being too much of a dreamer. But she didn't let the naysayers stop her. Today people can visit Bonnie in Tucson, Arizona, serving up a cup of Joe at her own place, Javalina's Coffee and Friends.

And then there's Japanese national Tamah Nakamura, who reached mid-life with an established position as a tenured university professor. Other people thought the position was just right for Tamah. But there was only one problem: Tamah didn't agree. She soon left the walls of academe to follow her heart. Today, she teaches courses on how dance and music can help people honor and care for their bodies.

Perspective and our work
Throughout our working lives, we get the privilege of hearing what other people think about us. Comments are often focused on our work and how we perform. Usually our performance evaluations are a reflection of the 'What have you done for me lately?' syndrome.

If we are lucky, there may be a brief section on suggestions for development. Be we re hardly encouraged to follow our hearts. Development advice at work is geared toward what the organization needs and wants us to do next for them.

A funny thing happens on the way to mid-life. When we hit mid-life, we often stop caring as much about what others think of us. Instead, many of us start to focus inward so we can ask the difficult but critical question: How do we feel about our selves and our work?

Mid-life demands an honest self-assessment. Who are you? What is most important? What are you most passionate about? These are the questions we start asking. And if we aren't asking these questions, we should be.

The beautiful thing about self-assessment is that if you don't like your own perspective of yourself, you change it. This is not so easily done with how others perceive you.

Musts vs. should-haves
Mid-life is a time to shed the external should-haves (I should stay in my corporate job; I should pursue the next promotion; I should move to a bigger house to convey my status) and focus on the all-important musts for your life (I must do what I enjoy; I must take control of my life direction). So much of this relates to the work we do. A strong self-image is essential to defeat both the external should-haves and, more importantly, to put into motion the musts.

Murray and Heather did this when they sold their house and set sail on a new life adventure. Tamah and Bonnie did this by giving up prestigious jobs to follow their dreams. They all ignored the pressure to do what they should have and instead found the courage to do what they must.

In mid-life, it's your self-perception that counts the most and you ll need a healthy one to create an even greater second half of life. Understand what your musts are, and steel yourself against the onslaught of family, colleagues, and well-meaning friends who will pressure you to follow the should-haves. It's your life, and it's never too late to start living it.

Craig Nathanson is a coaching expert who works with people over forty. Craig's book, 'Don't Just Retire and Die,' is designed to help people break free and move toward the work they love. Visit Craig's website at Dr Craig Nathanson where you can take a class, get more ideas through Craig books and CDs, get some private coaching over the phone or read stories of mid-life change and renewal. Craig lives in San Anselmo, California.
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