Everyone can have a more satisfying life if they both allow themselves, and are willing to pursue, doing more of what they love. That’s what I believe. And so, coming out of a period of illness in 2009, at 69, I started writing, first for myself, about what I hoped to make true for the rest of my life. It turned out to be a book: Why Not Do What You Love? And then four years of blogs posts. Over the years since publication, this book seems to have appealed to people of all ages. It is grounded in three simple (actually not so simple) questions and lots of anecdotes and processes for engaging with them:
With what gifts do I wish to express myself in work and life?
Why might I be unwilling to take that step?
What do I need to do actually manifest the result I want?
Now, there’s a new phenomenon to consider. My own perspectives are shifting. As a now 74-year old life-journey-author, I note that the folks coming to my local classes tend to be over 55, a few wayyy over. While the basic premise and key questions in the book remain the same, age is deepening the exploration. How do I/we occupy ourselves for the bonus decades longevity has granted? Either we’ve lived a good life, or we perceive we have not. And now we are looking at 20 to 30 more years on the planet. Is this the time for seriously new choices? Is this the time for dreams to come off the back burner? Is this the time for a serious pause for reflection about what’s important?
Just a few years ago, the fears about facing one’s mortality were undiscussable. Now, I am glad to say, the “last chapter life questions” seem to have found their public forums. Not only in my own Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, sponsored by our local newspaper, but on the national scene. Three illustrations: Conversations about positive aging abound. Conversations with family members and doctors about advanced directives are either required or highly recommended. Resources, such as encore.org, for transitioning into what some call the “second act” careers, are starting to proliferate.
As a complement to my original three queries, targeted variations of those questions emerge and lead to mature thinking about what a good life at 60 to 90 means, both to individuals who may be in poor health and decline, and those who are blessed with good health and energy.
How do I want to spend my remaining years on this planet?
What do I want to contribute? How can I be both useful and satisfied as I age?
What, for me, constitutes a dignified end-of-life and what preparations will it require of me?
What do I want to leave for the next generation of my family?
I believe that the hopes for joy, meaning, purpose, usually found in doing what one loves, are the constant components of a good life at any age. But as we get on in years, the act of taking that sneak peak at the inevitability of our demise, dares to reveal new questions, and can deepen our conversation with ourselves and each other. That is, if we allow it.
May we let those additional questions, and others that readers may offer, contribute equally to a vibrant and meaningful journey in the later years of our lives.
PS. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the questions that are swirling around in your heads.