the new definition of success
a midlife or midday awakening
Chevy Chase, Christie Brinkley & the “Midlife Crisis”
A midlife crisis, re-assessment, re-envision. Hollywood’s cliché version is epitomized by Chevy Chase driving the “family truckster” while flirting with Christie Brinkley and later trying to skinny-dip with her. Of course, it is more than that. Researcher, Brene Brown, calls it the unraveling. It is a pause. Turning off auto-pilot. A re-evaluation of goals. Adult development. It can be midlife or mid-career or midday but the word “crisis” does not seem to fit. What if it is not a crisis but an awakening to our truth? The truth of who we want to be personally and professionally. The truth of wanting our values and beliefs to match our actions. The truth of finding our “why.” The why that drives us each day and night. This why is not about cherry red convertibles, liposuction or a bonus, it is about deciding how to meaningful contribute to others and grow yourself. Instead of falling into the trap of consumerism and fleeting happiness, it is discovering a path to more lasting fulfillment. This path motivates while it enriches others and yourself. It is service and giving and gratitude wrapped up like a messy gift with uneven edges, scotch tape blobs, and a lopsided bow. It is real. It drives grit and builds resilience. Your motivating purpose or direction does not have to be curing cancer or caring for people with leprosy. It could be a pet project at work. A project on equity or better service that aligns with your personal purpose. Or it could be using one of your skills for the greater good. If baking is your jam, it could be delivering weekly homemade baked goods to a rehabilitation center or nursing home. This could expand to running an online cooking lesson or sponsoring an event to donate books to the center.
little bite-sized moments of kindness
After a while, if you are fortunate enough to have safety and stability in your life including a roof over your head and a few good relationships, the next question becomes what else is there. This translates to what is my impact. The only way to feel truly fulfilled is through service. For some, this may be donating money (which is wonderful and helpful). But to fully bathe in fulfillment, for it to seep down to your core, you must give of your greatest commodity — your time. It can be in little bite-sized moments of kindness. At work, this may be listening to an elderly widow describe her recently deceased husband for five minutes longer than your schedule allows or volunteering at a free clinic. It may be indulging a grumpy neighbor complaining about his kidney stone. It may be giving a kind, masked smile (you can see smiles in the eyes too) to a woman new to the area while you discuss how she can connect online with her Florida church group. Your purpose is where you fit into the big picture. It is about gratitude and giving.
It boils down to a better state of well-being. For this to work, your values and actions must align with your purpose/direction.
Beliefs/Values + Aligned Action + Aligned Service → Purpose
Your “why” must be grounded in both service and gratitude to be truly effective. Simply by helping others, we feel more gratitude for what we have and what we can give. The final ingredient to a successful awakening is social support or community.
Purpose + Gratitude + Social Support = Successful Awakening
Without a community or social support, we falter. Humans are hardwired to socialize for survival. It is a cornerstone of all forms of resilience and a must to a successful midlife awakening.
who we want to be
Sometimes, our awakening looks a lot like believing in the person we thought we could be when we were 8-years-old. Before the expectations, shoulds, and musts weighed us down. Who we were and aspired to be if making a living was not an issue — if mortgages, student loans, and college savings did not matter. Who did that person want to be? More importantly, why? If we ignore the why, it limits us. It leads to more frustration, pessimism, and disengagement. Aligning our purpose and actions relieves us of the burden of trying to be “who we are supposed to be” and frees us to become “who we want to be.”
The New Goals
living up to our own values
If we are blessed with stability and safety, we may find our focus switching from money, powerful titles, popularity, and physical appearances to a new definition of success. This new definition is about growth, fulfillment, kindness, joy, and service. The switch is from external goals to internal goals. It is about living up to our own values rather than living up to an external definition of “success.” The best ways to meet the new definition of success is through gratitude, service, self-care, and kindness. These elements let us pursue our purpose. Incidentally, they often help us achieve some of the old definitions of success too.
Let’s turn off auto-pilot and live a life with intention and purpose. It is time for midlife or mid-career or midday awakening. Who do you want to be (when you grow up)? What are your goals? What do you have to change to get there?