"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” - Nietzsche
If you are like most Baby Boomers, your life to date has played out pretty much as you planned. You have a loving spouse, maybe a place in an interesting city. You are winding up the career you love after an uninterrupted ascending trajectory. Your 401(k)s and the value of your home have fully recovered from the Great Recession which will enable you to enjoy your remaining years worry-free, surrounded by children who can’t get enough of you.
Sums you up, right?
You’re laughing but I actually know people like that. It can happen.
But for the other 95% of us (I'm just guessing here), we can find ourselves in mid-age cobbling together the pieces of at least a few broken dreams. Put the dream back together, even at a tilt. Ignore the cracks.
But are you sure you really still want to keep that damaged dream?
Maybe you have read the book "Pet Cemetery" by Stephen King. A heartbroken child loses his pet and buries it in a haunted cemetery. He is joyous when the pet returns, but the cat isn’t right, its not the same. It never will be.
Like the pet in the book, you will know a dream has been irrevocably broken when you don't experience it the same way. You can't love it the way you once did. Out of habit you cling to it nonetheless because of how much you once did love it. It's the memory of the pleasure it once gave you that keeps you holding on.
Careers are among the hardest to give up. You have invested perhaps a college education and probably years of your life. Over the years, your career can become so interwoven with your identity that you can no longer see where one ends and the other begins.
The paycheck was more than money. It was the monthly evaluation of your performance not just as a professional, but in many ways as a person. Successful people often feel they are (or were) their best, most authentic selves at work.
They would prefer to continue being their best selves (a noble goal) and struggle to find new validations for their daily "performances" once they retire. The more successful they were, the harder it is to find that validation. Everything pales in comparison to daily stroking by employees and status. It’s good to be king.
When I was unemployed, I was convinced that if I found the right job in my chosen profession, all my problems would be over, not just income-related ones.
Even as I began to dislike what I saw in my field and lose interest in the work I clung, thinking I could duct tape the inspiration back together with enough hard work and the right job. Like in the Stephen King story, I continued to hold on, rather than grieve, let go and find new validation.
My biggest regret is not letting go sooner. I wasted several years that could have been spent preparing for a new life and new life work, precious years and funds attending continuing education programs and events where I felt increasingly awkward in the hope such activiteis would light my fire like they used to. It was torture.
The hardest thing to determine when you meet the career fork is whether to should bear down even harder (i.e.not be a quitter) or if the music has changed, requiring you to learn a new dance. Howard Thurman, a philosopher and theologian call this "our growing edge." The growing edge, he says, is the extra breath from the exhausted lung; the one more thing to try when all else has failed.
The most important point he makes, I believe, is that if you recognize what you’ve lost and begin a new course knowing exactly where it will take you, you’ve probably got it wrong. It’s the living itself that begins to uncover where your growing edge might be.
His insights are especially useful for us who are older, when our minds outrace what our bodies can do. The process of finding our growing edge is agonizingly slow, more intolerable when your ramp is shorter. Thurman says the first phrase is the sense of misalignment, the sense we’ve lost our way and the growing recognition that we need to grieve what we have lost.
If you're over 50, you've been around the block too any times to talk yourself into false enthusiasm. You're old enough to know when you are being manipulated, even when it's you who is manipulating you.
“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination,” - Roman Payne, novelist.
The first steps people take to find new validation, their growing edge, can be picking up a book on a new subject, taking a class unlike any previously taken, joining a new group. One of the most fun methods I've heard of is going to conferences in subjects that fascinate you. These conferences attract young enthusiasts and their energy is often contagious.
Once you have explore all kinds of new subjects (new music) and ideas, one day you'll hear a tune that makes you want to dance again.
It's often playing at a low volume at first. That won’t stop you from awkwardly and tentatively trying to keep time with it, making you do things that confuse you and that you cannot explain.
I first heard the music when I started going to Spanish language practice group meetups in Denver over a year before even thinking about moving to Mexico. Realizing how horrible my Spanish was, I wondered why I kept going when it was so awkward. But it felt right somehow too. I liked the music. I just couldn't dance to it yet.
I stepped into a lot of empty places, and not knowing if they reflected a beginning or and ending. This is where where it became tempting to find distractions to fill the void rather than live with the ambiguity while looking for the new music, the growing edge.
If you find that your new music, proceed with a full understanding that any new dance worth doing will take effort. It will be fun, exhilarating, and take years off you, but it will be demanding too.
The process never changes in its exigency. We still have to practice the steps and do the work to master the new moves the same way we learned our last dance, and the dance before that. The work necessary to reap the reward of a new life never gets easier.
Nothing about the process of learning to dance well to a new beat is easy. You just have to decide how much you still want to dance.
Hola, I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to those considering expat life in Mexico, including "If Only I Had a Place" a guide to renting in style for less.
I am also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. Spanish takes several years to develop conversationally. Why not get started now?