Living Forward at Midlife
by Suzanne Zoglio, Ph.D.
Have you ever said to yourself or someone else: "I
have got to get a life"? Or perhaps someone has
told you that you really should get a life.
"Getting a life" is a common goal for those of
us past forty. We want to get it right for the next half
of our lives. Some of us search for a way out of life’s
turbulence. Others want to feel more alive and savor the
exquisite riches of life. And increasingly, we seek more
Well, if you are one of those people who want to get
a life, I have good news and bad news. The good news is
that there is every reason to believe that you can
have the life of your dreams. The bad news is that you
can’t just get a life, as you would a quart of
milk, a new CD player, or a custom suit. You can’t buy
it, steal it, beg for it, or even trade for it. No one
else knows what pictures fill your mind or what passions
fuel your heart. You’ll need to envision the design
and embellish it with details that reflect the
uniqueness of you. You will need to examine what feels
right and what doesn’t, what you should keep and what
you should give away, what you should add and what would
just clutter things up. The way to get a life that
tickles your soul is to create it yourself. You will
have plenty of company along the way.
While some midlife reinventors get pushed headfirst
into the waves of change by illness, divorce, loss of a
loved one, or being downsized out of a job, many of us
willingly wade into uncharted waters in pursuit of
something that’s missing. We want to shift our
lifestyles so they are more aligned with our inner needs
and values. Situations that once seemed perfectly
sensible and rewarding look quite different when viewed
through the focusing lens of fortysomething.
After forty, the need to accumulate material things
becomes less significant than the need for time to enjoy
what we have. The need for the approval of others
becomes far less compelling than the need to follow
dreams of our own. The need to be seen is superseded by
the need to see our true self...and let others see that
self too. As we assume positions of leadership in our
careers and communities, we want to exercise that same
level of influence in our personal lives as well. We
become more insistent on living deliberately and
according to our own rules. As we begin to lose parents,
older siblings and even peers, we become keenly aware of
our own mortality. Just as we hit our stride, time
starts to really fly. Suddenly, we have an urge to do
what we’ve always wanted to do…before it’s too
late. We want to taste life more fully, connect with
others more honestly, and somehow have a hand in making
the world a better place. Five elements that contribute
to greater life satisfaction are authenticity,
self-mastery, relationships, growth, and meaning. Let’s
look at each to see which are abundant in your life and
which – if increased – would make the next
stage of your life feel right from the inside out.
Authenticity: Living from the Inside Out
In the early stages of life we are focused on
pleasing others (parents, teachers, bosses, spouses) in
an effort to get our needs met. But as we mature, we are
able to meet our own needs and are less motivated to do
what others want us to do. Now we just want to live a
life that feels right.
You can probably name several people who have taken
considerable risks in order to lead more authentic
lives. Someone who has turned down a promotion to have
more time with the family, forfeited a steady income to
start up a new business, or left an unhappy marriage
facing the firm disapproval of friends and family? Maybe
you know someone who decided to start a family at 43,
get a high school diploma at 52, or retire at 60 to work
full time as a hospital volunteer. When you fashion a
life where the decisions you make and the actions you
take are considered, deliberate, and in harmony with
what's important to you, you are living an authentic
life. It is not necessarily a life that others
admire or think is right for you, but a life that you
know in your heart is right for you…a life that
allows you to greet each day with enthusiasm and sleep
peacefully at night.
The more honest you can be (with yourself and with
others) about who you are and what you need to be
fulfilled, the more likely you are to create a life that’s
right for you. You will not expend energy on denial,
survival, or suppression, but you will gain energy from
insight, evolution, and expression…from being
authentic. The energy that fuels an extraordinary life
is harnessed from within your heart.
See if any of these statements ring true for you:
- You are skilled, perhaps very successful in your
career, but not doing what you love.
- You don’t know what you want, but know it’s not
the life you have.
- You want close relationships, but escape to work,
food, or alcohol, instead of developing your own esteem
and emotional aptitude.
- You know what changes would make your life more
meaningful, but still find many excuses for not making
the changes just now.
If so, give some thought to what would bring your
inner and outer worlds into better alignment. Perhaps
you’re not expressing your true gifts, or trying to
please others more than following your heart. Maybe your
confidence could use a boost so you could move forward
in the direction of your dreams. It might be time to
revisit what you value most, and nurture relationships
that allow you to be your best self, while encouraging
you to stretch and step into a more meaningful and
Self-Mastery…Being Responsible and Competent
We all need to know that we are capable of surviving
on our own. For high self-esteem and inner peace we must
know at our core that we are "enough" just the
way we are…and all by ourselves. We need to take
responsibility for the choices we make and believe in
our ability to handle whatever comes our way. If you can
competently handle the basic details of life (e.g.,
shopping, cleaning, cooking, and banking), support
yourself financially, manage time well, and deal with
crises without falling apart, you probably have a strong
sense of self-mastery. That doesn’t mean that you want
to be alone, but rather that you are not afraid
to be alone.
You realize that events may occur outside of your
control, but you can choose your response to those
events. You take responsibility for the choices you make
and for how you spend your time. Your days are not too
rushed or overly complicated. Instead of feeling as
though you are playing a bit part in someone else's
movie, you feel as though you are producing, directing,
and starring in your own masterpiece. You set achievable
goals and reasonable schedules. You are able to say
"no" to unreasonable requests and honor your
own priorities. Because you do so, you find time for
renewal and reflection and invest in relationships that
are important to you. You make time to do what is fun
for you and take responsibility for your own happiness.
People who have reached a high level of mastery often
have a strong faith. They take responsibility for their
actions and seek guidance through prayer or meditation.
They are optimistic that all will work out for the best,
so they act not out of fear, but out of intent. They go
after what they want by taking risks and continuously
improving their competence. With clear desires in mind
and a belief that a power greater than their own will
guide them, they move confidently toward the life they
When you become a master of your own fate, a river of
calmness flows through your life. You don’t panic when
adversity strikes. As you reflect on how you’d like to
live the second half of your life, consider where you
would like to exert more influence. Would it be in use
of your time, managing your emotions, maintaining
fitness and health, or perhaps developing more
satisfying relationships? Each will enhance your sense
Relationships…Loving and Transcending Self
Research indicates that connections outside of us are
fundamental to a happy, healthy life. Of course, you
don't need research to convince you of that fact...just
look around you. Think of a few of the most vibrant
people you know. Do they have significant others in
their lives? Do they maintain close relationships with
family and friends? Are they members of a community that
cares about them? Do they have a strong faith? Do they
minister to others? If they are happy folks, you
probably answered, "yes" to several of those
questions. People who surround themselves with love
radiate an inner confidence, a capacity for joy, and an
Have you ever noticed how alive you feel when there
is a spontaneous flow of love in your life? It’s not
the same as receiving approval for something you did or
bartering for something you’ll get back. Unconditional
love is pure and simple.
A dear friend of mine shared a poignant story about
such a bond. When her great-grandmother passed on and
her belongings were being dispersed among the daughters,
my friend’s grandmother asked for only one thing. She
wanted the fur coat that her mother had worn. "That
way," she said, "whenever I wear it, I will
feel her loving arms wrapped around me." We are
most alive…most free to be the best we can be…when
the fabric of our lives is woven from threads of the
Feeling loved and appreciated gives us an inner
richness that does not come from success or possessions.
Such "symbols" of love do little to fill the
hollow of feeling alone. Strengthen your bonds with
partners, friends, communities, and God and you will
enhance the passion and joy in your life.
Growth…Choosing Change and Progress
Often at midlife we make an important decision about
the direction we’ll take for the rest of our
lives. We either embrace a spirit of renewal, growth,
and adventure or we give in to notions of settling in,
slowing down, and taking it easy. It has been said that
there is no such thing as standing still. According to
the laws of physics, living systems either grow or they
begin to break down. This is true of the mind, body, and
spirit. We stretch, learn, and expand… or we shrink,
forget, and contract. We all know alert and energetic
90-year-olds who bowl, swim and take college courses.
There are also frail 70-year-olds who don’t even read
the newspaper, let alone leave the house.
To seize growth opportunities takes courage. Alarms
go off, and a myriad of questions appears. Each new
adventure we face is like a double-edged sword. One side
sparkles with the opportunity to grow and feed our
passions. The other side casts a shadow of danger: we
might get hurt, have to work too hard, or meet with
public failure. If we retreat to the safety of what we
know best and pass on the opportunity to experience
growth we generally feel older
As you paint a picture of the life you’d like next,
consider what would add zest to your life, but would
challenge you to stretch. What you have always wanted to
do? What fears might be blocking you? If you opt to feel
the fear and do it anyway, you’ll never have to wonder
if life is passing you by. .
Meaning…Making Your Life Matter
When we are young our direction seems pretty clear.
We go to school, get a job, find a partner, and then get
a better job. But later in life, we often question our
direction, fervently seeking more meaning. It might even
feel like an identity crisis. We ask: "Who am
I?" "Why am I here?" "Is this all
there is?" We reflect on individual purpose,
consider our legacy, seek self-growth, and deeper
connections outside of ourselves. As we come to grips
with our own mortality, what feels right, feels
Marching into our second adulthood we often have
greater opportunity to change careers, become full-time
volunteers, write books, adopt children, run for public
office, become leaders at church, or otherwise reinvent
our lives to include what is personally meaningful. To
explore where you can add meaning to your life, consider
these questions: If you won the lottery, what
"good" would you do with it? If you could make
one relationship right before you die, which would it
be? If money were no object, what adventure would
you love to pursue? Now, move your life forward toward
what you know in your heart to be right for you…one
dime at a time, one conversation at a time, one step at
a time. Turn every "I can’t" into "I
can if I…."
In summary, let me share a short verse that sums up
what I believe are the "secrets" to peace,
passion, and purpose at midlife:
"I take the time to look inside;
I hear the wisdom in my heart.
I dream new dreams, release the old.
I live a life that tickles my soul."
© Copyright 2003 Suzanne Zoglio, Ph.D. All rights
reserved. Adapted from Create a Life That Tickles
Your Soul by Suzanne Zoglio, Ph.D.
Sue's Seven Suggestions for
Reinventing Your Life
1. Dream ’til you get light-headed…feel the
rush of clear vision and strong desire.
2. Act as if your life depended on you…take
responsibility for your own happiness.
3. Create "tenant" rules for thoughts in
your mind…if they don’t behave, evict ’em.
4. Take your passions for a walk every day...enjoy,
embrace, and celebrate.
5. Build bridges without tolls…create
relationships of trust and caring.
6. Stretch until you feel it…move out of your
comfort zone to realize your potential.
7. Make a difference every day…change the world
one act at a time.
Suzanne Zoglio, Ph.D.,
is a life-balance expert, author, and national lecturer. Through her writing, coaching, and seminars, she helps individuals and work teams reach their full potential. With a personal mission to nurture growth, she supports practices that lead to energy, empowerment, and the realization of meaningful goals.
Suzanne’s books include Teams At Work: 7 Keys To Success (Tower Hill Press, 1997), The Participative Leader (McGraw Hill, 1995), Create A Life That Tickles Your Soul (Tower Hill Press, 1999) available in paperback as well as
hardcover, and her newest, Recharge In Minutes (Tower
Hill Press, 2003). All are available online and from major retailers.
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