Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Compass for the Middle

Earlier this month I wrote about the challenges of being in the middle of a major life transition—the period when we're hanging out in limbo and forced to live in the question, "What's next?"

Our natural tendency is to relieve the tension of this ambiguous state by rushing into something…anything. And yet, I encourage readers to not hurry through this stage. That the middle is a rich source of self-discovery, exploration and opportunity.

All this sounds great except for the question, "How do we do it?" If I'm asking you to hang out in limbo for a while, I want to provide a compass that will help you navigate this new territory. I won't hold your hand and walk you directly to "home" but if you use the COMPASS, you'll begin to get a sense of direction. You'll feel renewed hope, and a little hope goes a long way to helping you stay on the path.

Courage: It's going to take courage to create something meaningful in this next stage of life. When you commit to a courageous new beginning, expect discomfort. According to author Brene Brown, "We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time." Accept the fact that you can't have comfort and courage, then determine the path you want to be on. I hope you choose courage.

Organizing concept: When we've lost our sense of direction, an organizing concept helps us feel reoriented. Unfortunately retirement's old organizing concept—not working—doesn't work for Baby Boomers. We want more than 7 days/week on the golf course. A new organizing concept suggested by authors Nelson and Bolles is three-dimensional: Development, Productivity, and Leisure. Consider what you want to do in each of these areas, and then take steps to make something happen.

Matters: What really matters to you? What must you have in your life? I call these your Life Essentials.  They're what you value most and don't want to live without. They make up the best version of our life. If you want to spend your time doing what matters, then you need to know what matters to you. List your essentials and use them as a framework for creating this next stage of life.

Plan: Begin to create a plan. You don't need a detailed vision of where you want to go to get started. By being courageous, using the three-dimensional organizing concept, and incorporating what matters most, you have enough material to start designing a new beginning.

Adventure: Embrace the adventure of creating a new beginning. Be willing to experiment. You don't have to get it right the first time.

Sabbatical: If you're feeling lost and listless, claim this time as your sabbatical year. A sabbatical often includes some type of intense study, but there is also more time for personal growth and pleasure.  It's a time of self-reflection, realigning, and exploration.

Another way of defining this stage is a "Gap Year." Marc Freedman, author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, suggests a gap year for grown-ups offers "the chance for reflection, renewal, and redirection." Freedman advocates a gap year as "an opportunity to disrupt familiar patterns (and inertia), to grow personally, to be exposed to new experiences, and try on potential future roles."

Stories: As you navigate this next stage of life, imagine that you're writing your own story—a book that is full of adventure, humor, challenges and successes. A plot that brings you to the edge of your seat, makes you laugh out loud, and leaves you feeling happy and eager to read the next volume in the sequel. Create a table of contents by reflecting on the past, observing the present, and looking ahead to your future. Then take the next step toward making this story a reality.

The COMPASS is a guide to navigate "the middle" and keep you from getting stuck in limbo. Fortunately you don't have to feel strong or confident about your ability to bring about change. In fact, as author Mallika Chopra states in her book, Living with Intent, "Change doesn't happen when we feel confident, strong, and rooted. The blessing of uncertainty is that it gives us the nudge we need to dig deep—to incubate and reflect on what we want—and to find the courage to carve out a different path."

Use the discomfort of "the middle" to make something BIG happen in your life!

Copyright 2016 Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Being in the Middle

Retirement can leave you feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under you. When you're not going into work everyday, you may begin to think you're turning your back on everything you've learned—all the experience you've accumulated. With this comes a loss of professional identity and social status, and no clear sense of direction. You're in the middle of something—just not sure what it is. You're in limbo, and it doesn't feel good.

According to authors Richard Leider and Alan Webber, "Being in limbo is all about learning to cope with the in-between-times. We’re forced to live in the question What’s next?  Limbo can become a form of resignation, a kind of prison sentence to accept the way things are, as the way things have to be. When you decide that limbo is an opportunity for self-exploration, you discover new energy and new possibilities." 
Image result for transitions 
The challenge is how to hang out in this in-between-time for a while without feeling overwhelmed by a loss of direction. We're entering the unknown and not sure when a sense of equilibrium will be reached. As a friend questioned, "How long will this turmoil last and what if it does not end or resolve in some way?"

As with any major life transitions, there are no easy quick-fix solutions. Marketers would have us believe otherwise. Companies understand the economic potential for addressing our needs—suggesting retirement communities with non-stop scheduled activities to keep us from experiencing "the middle." However, I think it's very important that we create our own solutions to move through this transition. There is much to learn about ourselves during this stage of life—perhaps the first time in a long time that we've had a sense of creating our future.   

Robert Brument, author of Finding Yourself in Transition: Using Life's Changes for Spiritual Awakening, cautions us about rushing to create a new beginning so that we can alleviate the discomfort of the middle. "Sometimes we may attempt an external beginning before we are internally ready. We may feel uncomfortable in the Void [middle] and eager to 'get on with our life,' and through the power of our personal will acting alone, we may make something happen. What we've then created is not a New Beginning but a 'pseudobeginning.' A pseudobeginning is not living a new life but is simply living the old life in a new form."

From what I've learned about transitions, the middle is a rich source of self-discovery, exploration, and opportunity. Instead of focusing so much on getting through it, consider it a journey. As Brument suggests, "The transforming power of the transition process lies not in our arrival at a certain destination but in our experience of the process itself."

Copyright 2016 Patrice Jenkins. All rights reserved.