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Over 40? Work life Empty?

By Craig Nathanson

After 20 or more years of working we seldom acknowledge that our work life is no longer meeting our needs for meaning and fulfillment. After all, who has the time for this self-reflection? Between worrying about growing older, staying in shape, keeping the relationship alive, dealing with issues of confidence and paying the mortgage and other debts, who has time to live an authentic life?

Faceless meetings, bosses, products, customers and unrealistic demands and deadlines. Even with all these, it seems easier to just accept the mundane tasks of work. After all, work isn't supposed to be full of joy and happiness, right?

Most of us were brought up to work hard in school and get good grades that lead to a good job with good pay. With this would come a nice job title, Mom and Dad would be proud and life would be perfect. Then we could have a family, with its new responsibilities, and life would be complete until we retire.

No one taught us how to live an authentic life. Your authentic life starts with finally asking the question, "What would my perfect work be?" It may be the most important question to ask yourself after you turn 40. What is your answer?

  1. Is your work life significant?
  2. Does your work give you meaning?
  3. Is your work fulfilling?
  4. Does your work make sense to you?
  5. Do you find joy in your work?
Robin Sparks decided what was perfect for her after a painful divorce. She decided that she wanted to write stories about other people's lives while traveling around the world. Today, if you were to meet Robin you would discover a strong woman who never accepted the status quo. Robin is currently planning her boat trip around the world while living in different countries.

Michelle Hill grew tired of her many hours working as an administrative assistant. Her passion was to start her own cookie company. She ignored the advice of those around her and designed her perfect vocational day around baking and selling cookies. Today, as the proud owner of Michelle's Cookie Kitchen, she has learned that once she gave herself permission to follow her heart, her work life seemed to align around it.

Joyce Zee has started early. Although not quite in mid-life, her story is proof that it is never too late or too early to take action to create and follow your perfect vocational day. Joyce was good at her job in the investment and finance field for many years but her heart was elsewhere. Joyce wanted to help people plan their honeymoons. One day, she decided she couldn't wait any longer and she started her own honeymoon and wedding planning service.

What can we learn from Robin, Michelle and Joyce? They ignored the status quo and gave themselves permission to follow their hearts. What can you do? Pretend that I just gave you 50 million dollars after taxes. Would that be enough to allow you to create your perfect vocational day without worrying about earning money? Good. Now, let's meet back in six months. Many of you will quit your jobs, travel, pay off debts and buy stuff, right?

OK, six months later and look at you! Tanned, relaxed, peaceful. Now with the money you have left, write down exactly how you will spend an average day for the rest of your life. Be specific from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep.

I have bad news. You have to give all the money back. But you can keep your vision of how you would spend your days if you had all the money you would ever need.

  • Look for patterns. Examine the patterns of your day when you thought you had the money. Find examples of activities where you could make money. Don't worry at this point how much money. Using these patterns, rewrite a perfect vocational day that would get you really excited. Write this down as a typical average day that you would enjoy for the rest of your life. You are finished when you are breathless!

  • Align your passions, abilities and interests. This is where you give yourself permission to take the next step. Write a biography of yourself five years from now describing the life you wish you were living. You are done only when you have become really excited about it. Then write a biography of today and examine the gap. This will create the tension you will need as momentum to start acting to close the gap.

  • Don't wait for permission. Don't wait for your spouse or your boss or your kids or society to give you approval. The permission to start to create and live your perfect vocational day must come from within yourself. If this was easy, I wouldn't need to write this article. And I wouldn't need to do the work I do helping people believe what is possible in their lives. This may be the hardest thing you will ever do, but your life will never be the same.

  • Be careful what you envision. Many times, your mind can't tell the difference between what you imagine and what is real when thinking about the future. This is good news when you start to envision your perfect vocational day.

You are not alone. This is a journey. We all seek and very few achieve, but it is possible with your hard work. Your authentic life is possible. Give yourself permission and you will find, as Robin, Michelle and Joyce did, the world will align around your journey.

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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