I may have mentioned that I’m turning forty this year. For a decade and a half or so, I rolled my eyes at the “mid-life” crowd and their annoying propensity to over think everything, their inward focus on “the crisis,” and their apparent over emphasis of particular milestones.
Then I caught up to the curve. I had a bit of a mid-life crisis, looked back and realized the party was half over, looked forward and realized that I really am standing at the top of the hill, and all of a sudden, I got it. I got a two handed grip on the fleetingness of life, the precariousness of relationships, the difficulty of balance, the importance of feeding my own soul, and the all-fire, hell and high water, burning passionate need to make damned sure I’m not wasting this time I’ve been given. There’s nothing quite like reaching the potential half way mark to cause a girl to reevaluate, reassess, and recommit to living and breathing her dreams.
Apparently, I am not alone. The piece I wrote a few weeks ago, about your twenties and Setting Yourself Up For The Life You Want, resonated with the younger crowd, as I’d hoped it would. But then there was that guy on Twitter, @rafat:
@SEKeener love this. but can someone write something like this for turning 40 & then resetting your life with travel?
— Rafat Ali (@rafat) January 22, 2014
So that got me thinking. Of course life goes best when lived intentionally from the outset, that’s obvious, but the reality is rarely that well orchestrated. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of folks hit the wall at some point, look up from their carefully crafted norm and think, “How in the hell did I get here, and what am I doing, anyway?”
And the most frustrating part of all is that everyone around us seems to accept this soul-sucking realization as par for the course and they just keep plodding.
We think we’re doing all of the “right things,” and then we turn 35, or 40, or 45, or 50, and we realize we’re not where we thought we’d be. We’re not happy. We’re not “living the dream.” We’re “stuck.” And the most frustrating part of all is that everyone around us seems to accept this soul-sucking realization as par for the course and they just keep plodding.
Is this life?
Is this all there is?
Is this what it means to be an adult and a responsible member of society?
I would submit that the answer is, “Yes,” to the vast majority, but a wild and resounding, “HELL NO!” to a growing minority to whom passion means more than security. Are you looking to make that left turn and really live the second half of your life? Rafat, my friend, this one is for you.
Taking back control
The good news is that 40 is the new 20, or so they tell me. In so many ways, I’d rather be forty than twenty. Gone is the angst and the drama of trying to figure it all out. I no longer give a damned what anyone thinks. I know who I am. I like who I am. I understand how to play the games: I’ve won most of them, and I know which ones truly don’t matter.
The upside to forty is that we have resources we didn’t have at twenty: connections, relationships (both business and personal), experience, confidence, perspective, and money. Okay, not everyone has money, but the odds are good that at forty you have more than you did at twenty when all you had to work with was a high school education and only that evenings and weekends gas station job on your resume. At twenty you had the luxury of time and flexibility. At forty, you have the luxury of something to work with as you reinvent yourself.
When my husband quit a six figure job with a division of Apple six years ago, at thirty-seven-years-old, people thought he had lost his mind.
The conversation between his boss and the higher ups went something like this, “What do we have to do to get him to stay? How much is this going to cost?”
“Guys, this is not about the money, he’s following a dream.”
The boss was excited for us. We were reminded that he could come back within two years at the same benefits package, “if it didn’t work out.” We sold a four bedroom house, two cars, and most of what we owned. We packed up four school-aged kids and informed them that “home” was now defined by a big Hilleberg tent and transportation was the two wheeled variety as we set out to ride our bicycles through Europe and North Africa for a year.
That was six years ago. We’re still traveling full time.
When we left, we were a mess. We’d spent two hard years planning and actively working on our launch plan, which was a little more complicated for a family of six than it is for your standard boots and a backpack gap year, for one. We were both working full time at our real life jobs and putting in another thirty hours a week to get the dream off the ground. It was exhausting.
Getting on that airplane was like breaking the surface after the deepest free dive you’ve ever made and filling your screaming lungs with air when you were sure you weren’t going to make it. The relief: I can’t even tell you. My husband is a creative. He appears to be a computer geek, but that’s just the outward expression of his puzzle loving soul.
I can’t even imagine what life would be if we hadn’t made that break, if we hadn’t flipped conventional expectations the bird and pursued our passions instead.
It wasn’t until well into the fifth month of just pushing pedals up and down with nothing more to life than camping, kids and the Euro Velo, that he grinned at me over lunch one day and announced, “I hear it. I hear music again. In my head, like when I was a kid; I have a whole symphony playing in here while we ride.”
It took five months for him to get his soul back. It was another four months before he started working again, this time on his own terms. I can’t even imagine what life would be if we hadn’t made that break; if we hadn’t flipped conventional expectations the bird and pursued our passions instead.
So how do you do it?
How do you go from stuck to pursuing your dreams?
How do you use travel to reset a life in your forties?
How do you let go of everything you thought you wanted to pursue with clarity what you’ve discovered matters most to you?
Great questions. Hard questions. How does anyone do anything? You just do it.
You’ll get to the point where the pain of not living your dream is greater than the comfort of your status quo. You’ll come to understand that every day you waste is gone forever. The fear of end of life regret will begin to wake you in the night. You’ll look at your kids and realize that they’re almost gone and that you can’t get them back. You’ll find your why and it will light a fire in your soul that will either kill you, or transform you like a phoenix from the ashes. You’ll be forced to the brink of a decision that will determine the course of the rest of your life, and you’ll have to make that choice.
Making the choice is the hardest part. Once you’ve decided, committed 100% to your dream, it’s a done deal. The details will work themselves out. The Universe will conspire to help you forward. You will do the necessary work, because you have to. Your world will change.
I can year you already: “I’ve got a great job, I’ve got a partner and a couple of kids, I’ve got responsibility, debt, commitments, family stuff.” I know. Me too. All of it. So here’s the question: are you going to keep trading your very breath for less than the passion of your heart? Are you going to put off the only thing you have: right now? Are you going to trade your soul for things less worthy than the life you were born for? Many will. Many do, every day. I cannot.
The responsibilities, the challenges, the relationships – all of those things are negotiable and manageable. They can be worked into the fabric of your dream. Family life and long term travel are not incompatible. Education and adventure are not mutually exclusive. Career advancement is not necessarily traded away when you choose to restructure your life in such a way that you work to live instead of live to work. We’re making more money now working approximately half the time that we used to. We know people who make far more than we do and work far less than we do as they travel. It can be done.
Can you drop it all like a hot rock at forty and just buy a plane ticket to somewhere? Well you could, but it might have catastrophic consequences. You have a career, a home, and a family. You have responsibilities and debts, perhaps. These are all things that you’ve chosen; they are things that you’ll have to work through and around and with as you redesign your life.
Grown-ups take responsibility. That’s what we do. For ourselves, for those around us, for what will come after us. Reinventing yourself at forty doesn’t mean that you destroy your family, declare bankruptcy, quit saving for retirement, and become a drain on society.
No. Reinventing at mid-life is all about finding more ways that you can give back, to yourself first, and then to those who matter most to you and the rest of the world. By cutting loose from the “stuck” places and creating freedom for yourself, you put yourself in a position of being able to change the world, internally and externally, in big and small ways.
Having the courage to really live your dreams is a gift to the world. It is a gift to your partner and your children. It is a gift to those who look up to you in your career world.
So where do we start?
At forty it’s unlikely that you’re an island. Talk to the people in your life – friends, family, partner, children. Build a dream together. This requires risk taking, vulnerability, negotiation, and compromise. Take the risk of being known, of admitting that you’re feeling stuck, that you hate some aspects of the life you’ve chosen, and that your dreams are bigger than your status quo. Talk.
Take stock in a serious way of what you have to work with and what your limitations are. How much will you have to save to take a year completely off and travel? It’s not just about what your basic budget for Europe vs. Southeast Asia should be, it’s about life insurance, schooling costs, investments, health care, debts and all of the difficult, under the hood financial realities that should not be cut loose like an old boat. Your realities will go with you when you travel, so plan for that.
Next, get real about what is possible in your individual situation. You might have aging parents, someone with a long term illness, children with special needs, or any number of other complicating factors. There are seasons of life for certain things, and if there is one lesson midlife is teaching me, it’s that embracing those seasons and the challenges they come with is the only path to happiness or dream building.
You have to work with what you’ve got.
My Uncle Dick is famous for the 7 P’s: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. By forty you should be an expert at patience and perseverance (two more P’s, do I get extra points for alliteration?!) Take the time to plan, carefully and properly.
Odds are that following your dream does not affect just you. It took us two full years to prepare to take our leap, and we don’t regret a second of that time. We built our dream together, developed the skills we’d need, prepared our children to be excited and enthusiastic instead of feeling unsettled and displaced. We saved money. We invested money. We worked on developing other income streams. We downsized. In daily life we began practicing living our dream until one became the other. Don’t despise your planning time, embrace it.
It sounds completely hokey, but it’s 100% true: The moment you quit saying “if” and begin saying “when,” the game changes. Set a date for your dream. For us, it was April 1, 2008. We set that date in February of 2006, on an afternoon’s drive through the mountains of New Hampshire. We began talking (and acting) differently about our plans when we had a departure date set in stone. We told people. We designed our plans leading up to launch with that day in mind. It held our feet to the fire in a way that “someday” just doesn’t. We left March 24, 2008, a week ahead of schedule.
This is a tough one sometimes. It is likely that most people you know now are going to think you’ve lost your mind. If you’re lucky, they won’t say it to your face. Why would someone quit a solid job, sell a “dream house” and wobble away on bicycles into the world, literally dragging four children behind them? Why indeed.
Community is key. It’s too easy to give up on your dream without other folks cheering you on, screaming at you to RUN and leading by example.
There are some people in your life that you’re never going to be able to explain it to. There will be others who get it instantly. Find those people. Build a tribe of dreamers around yourself and feed your soul, feed your dream, with their adventures and their input. You may feel like “the only one,” but I promise you, you are not.
Contact me, I’ll hook you up with a mind blowing array of forty-somethings who are rocking the world. They’re my friends, and they’ll inspire your socks off. Community is key. It’s too easy to give up on your dream without other folks cheering you on, screaming at you to RUN and leading by example.
Seriously: just go. If you’ve been talking about this for a decade, shut up and put your money where your mouth is. I’ve learned to ask, “What’s the worst case scenario?” Short of death, the worst case scenario is that we lose it all and have to start over flipping burgers at McDonald’s at forty. That would suck.
Could we do it? Yes. Would I rather have had my dream and an epic crash and burn story to start over with, or would I rather have safety and soul-sucking security? Everyone will answer that differently, but I suspect you know what my answer is. The reality, of course, is that you’re unlikely to be reduced to the absolute bottom because you’re forty, you’ve got brains, experience, grit, determination and a skill set that can be repurposed if you really need it. You’re not twenty with just “gas station” on your resume.
Would I rather have had my dream and an epic crash and burn story to start over with, or would I rather have safety and soul-sucking security?
You might wake up tomorrow with breast cancer, a brain tumor, or some other life path altering bump in the road. Don’t bet your dreams on unknown tomorrows. Take what you have right now in both hands, and run with it. There is not going to be a better time than now to build your dream, even if you have to wait a year or two to launch it.
You’ve got a limited number of days. Stop wasting them on less than your dream.
You’re forty; you’re younger and healthier at this moment than you ever will be on any future day. You’ve got a strong mind and a strong body. You’ve got the people you love. You’ve got a limited number of days. Stop wasting them on less than your dream. Take a deep, deep, cleansing breath; now dive deep, swim hard, and then harder, down to the very bottom, through all of the things that must be sorted, organized and restructured. Touch the bottom, feel the depth of what you’ve created in your life so far and then take that hard left turn toward the surface and kick with all of your might. Your lungs are going to burn. Your muscles are going to scream. Your head is going to feel like it’s exploding, but when you break the surface and you take that deep breath, it’s going to feel like morning, it’s going to feel like coming alive, because you’ll have broken free from the depths and you’ll be floating on the surface of the world.
Talk to me, people: Where are you at forty (ish)? Where do you want to be? What’s stopping you? How can I help?
Need more inspiration to get you out on the road? Check out the following articles and resources:
- How to Build a Passion Driven Life
- Setting Yourself Up for the Life You Want
- Challenge Yourself and Do Hard Things
- Finding Pleasure in Simple Moments