A few days after my fiftieth birthday, I had an epiphany. It was one of those otherwise unspectacular moments that would become pivotal to the rest of my life. I was lying in bed early one morning thinking through my day when a disturbing thought punched me right in the face.
“I now have less life ahead of me than I have behind me.”
I’m telling you, it was very visceral. It wasn’t a panic attack. It was more like one of those desperate “I’m running out of time!” feelings. I remember my eyes exploding open at the realization of this urgent dawning.
Unless I completely crush the current life expectancy for American males and live to be one hundred, I have lived the longest stretch of my life at this point in the ballgame. While I am not quite prepared to think of the rest of my life as being downhill from here, I’m certainly closer to the end than I’ve ever been.
I laid there for a quite awhile longer that morning thinking about all that I still wanted to do in my life. Most disturbing to me was the list of things I had neglected for so long. Had I run out of time to do all of them?
By the time my feet hit the floor that morning I was on a crusade. I was a man on a mission.
Or was I just another middle-aged, white male embarking on a mid-life crisis?
Well, it was a crisis, of sorts.
And it was around the mid-point of my life.
But this was very different! Let me explain.
Generally, we use the term “mid-life crisis” in a derogatory manner to describe the irresponsible shenanigans of someone trying to relive the past. People having the stereotypical mid-life crisis start combing what’s left of their hair differently, wearing the clothes of a hip college crowd, and buying a car that says something that hasn’t been true of them for a very long time. New car or truck purchases among middle-aged divorcees (a classic mid-life crisis move) are almost always black (tough) or red (sexy) vehicles. Can you say compensating?
However, if we study the dynamics of a mid-life crisis, we can learn a thing or two about the human spirit. A mid-life crisis is simply the angst of dormant ambitions trapped under a layer of life called Marriage, Parenting & Career. It is completely normal. Where it all goes wrong is at irresponsibility, immaturity and stupidity.
I happen to think a good crisis somewhere around the halfway point of our life is actually a very healthy thing. Somewhere around that time in our life, most of us need somebody to take us by the shoulders and shake us out of our mid-life malaise.
A good mid-life crisis is healthy. The operative word here is “good.” There is a good mid-life crisis and a bad one. A good mid-life crisis precipitates long overdue introspection and fuels important changes needed to shift our life out of neutral. A bad mid-life crisis jettisons personal responsibility and does stupid stuff in an immature attempt to be something you failed to become over the previous thirty years of your life.
Don’t confuse the two. There is an enormous difference between pursuing long neglected goals and trying to be something you aren’t anymore. They are not the same thing. One is noble. The other is not even close.
Part of my work as a Life Coach is helping clients understand that the fundamental building blocks of living are thinking, choosing and doing. Our thoughts influence our choices, and our choices determine our actions. Once a client understands this important truth, it puts them in the driver seat of determining their destiny.
Ultimately, anything we want to see happen in our life will come down to taking action; doing something about what we want to become. If you don’t eventually take action, it will never become a reality. There are Dreamers and Doers. Only Doers see their dreams come true.
Take, for example, your Bucket List. You have one, right?
I am big fan of Bucket Lists. A Bucket List is a catalog of “Things I Want to Do Before I Die.” It can be a list of exciting adventures, significant accomplishments, or important priorities.
It’s not as important what a person has on their Bucket List as it is that they have one. My Bucket List is going to be different from yours. Mine is the stuff of pushing myself further than I thought I could go, the acquisition of new skills and a quest for adventurous experiences. “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” is the question that saturates my Bucket List.
Your ambitions, your personality, your view of the world are different from mine. Therefore, your list of what you want to accomplish or experience before you die is not going to be the same as mine. And that’s okay. What’s important is that you have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish with the limited time and energy remaining in your one and only life.
A good Bucket List gets you off the couch and into the game. It should be both inspirational and motivational. But trust me, you are not going to accomplish anything on your Bucket List if you don’t first get busy doing what it takes to make it happen.
You have to act.
Otherwise, our dreams remain fantasies inside our head and never see the light of day.
The more time I spend coaching people who want to live their life with greater purpose, the more I realize that most of them face three obstacles. They are:
· Procrastination, and
I am surprised by how many adults let their fears and insecurities define the boundaries in their life. I shouldn’t be. I have been one of them from time to time.
We mistakenly assume that fears and insecurities are things of the past; stuff we wrestled with when we were kids. All of us remember Junior High School! But here, later in our lives, we have outgrown our insecurities and become confident, courageous adults. Right?
Adults are some of the most insecure people around. Age only makes it more unbecoming. Watching grown men and women try to compensate for their fears and insecurities is a fascinating study of human behavior for a “people watcher” like me.
How people dress and what they drive can be a clue to adult insecurities. The frequency of resume citing and name-dropping interjected into most every conversation is also a telltale sign. The tough talking “I don’t give a damn” bravado portrayed by both men and women are classic signs of fear. Most Facebook pages are a digital billboard of photos and posts that scream, “I crave your approval.” From the amount of spray tanning, teeth whitening, hair styling, cleavage bearing, makeup applying, and gut sucking going on at parties for the over forty crowd, you’d think we were all back in the eighth grade again.
Insecurities are fears resulting from painful experiences in life that undermined our confidence and left us with a lingering sense of inadequacy. We eventually adopted these beliefs about ourselves and permitted them to define us. We convinced ourselves we really are (fill in the blank)…stupid, ugly, incapable, talentless, uncoordinated, worthless, or all of the above. All because of something that happened or something someone said to us years ago. None of which is true, of course, but we have chosen to believe it is.
Most of the painful experiences that have shaped our insecurities go all the way back to the time we were children. That means, then, we have lived with these insecurities almost all of our life.
Maybe it’s time we see them for what they are and stop letting them define our life. Growing up doesn’t have to do with getting taller. Sometimes it means maturing to a point where unfounded fears based on experiences from the past no longer rule us.
My concern here is how these insecurities and fears immobilize us from pursuing our dreams and ambitions. Our insecurities can paralyze us from even attempting to do something we’ve always wanted to accomplish. It’s sad to think how often our fear of failure or our dread of what people might think keeps us from our dreams.
Procrastination is particularly sinister at robbing people of their dreams. It deceives us into thinking there is still time to get to do what we want with our lives. Then we wake up one day and we have run out of the time… or energy… to do what it takes.
Procrastination is the desert where dreams go to die. The harsh land of “Someday” has suffocated the life out of many “I Want To’s.”
While we all procrastinate in different ways, we almost always do so for one of the same two reasons.
Sometimes procrastination is about paralysis. We are either so overwhelmed with not knowing what to do or with how much needs to be done that we find it difficult to take the first step. “Paralysis by analysis” renders us immobile as we try to anticipate all the variables, figure out all the solutions and eliminate all the risks before we pull the trigger.
At other times, procrastination is about avoidance. This is classic procrastination at its worst. Putting off what needs to be done when you possess the talent and the time to do it is an especially unbecoming character trait.
The unfortunate downside of procrastination is what it does to our self-respect. It erodes our sense of personal integrity. Procrastination stirs dreadful feelings like fear, anger, guilt, and resentment that haunt you while putting off what needs to be done. It leaves you feeling like a loser. This is why procrastinating is never satisfying or fulfilling. It is always accompanied by negative emotions that take a toll on our spirit.
Whether generated by paralysis or by avoidance, procrastination can become the archenemy of your Bucket List or any other ambition in your life. Putting off what you need to do to see your dreams become a reality puts you at risk of waking up years later wishing you had started earlier.
I have always thought of myself as a very tenacious person. My wife might call it stubborn or hardheaded, of course. I just don’t like to give up on something important to me. I will keep at it until I figure it out and become proficient at it. From learning a new skill to protecting an important value, I can be very persistent.
However, lying in bed on that morning of my half-century epiphany, I realized I had left a lot of unfinished projects in the wake of my last thirty years. So many that it really annoyed me.
I rolled out of bed that day with a brand new determination to finish what I had started. Waiting any longer was to risk losing what I had always wanted to do with my life. And I’d have nobody to blame but myself.
Here two years later, I am closer than I’ve ever been.
The time to start on what you’ve always wanted to do begins right now. The only thing that can stop you is you.
Whatever our ambition, if we get cut through all of the explanations and excuses, the only thing keeping us from achieving our goals is quitting. Call it whatever you want. You got derailed, distracted or even discouraged. But when you decided not to take another step forward toward achieving your ambitions, you quit.
Every person who has a dream will encounter a million obstacles. You must find your way through, over, under or around each of them if you hope to get where you want to go. But you'll never get there if you quit.
The key to getting where you want to go is to quit quitting!
Your dream - that thing you've always wanted to do, to be or to become - doesn't have to remain a wish or a fantasy. It's not just the stuff of positive thinking and naive ambition. If you can imagine it, you can create a plan and a strategy for pursuing it. Then, with enormous amounts of diligence, discipline and determination, go for it!
Expect delays and obstacles along the way. They are inevitable. They are your teachers and your trainers. What you learn by navigating your way through each of them reveals the depth of your passion and the character of your commitment.
The only thing that can ultimately steal your dream away from you is quitting. And that's on you. If you quit, you have nobody to blame but yourself. And that’s what we call regret.
And regret, my friend, is a heavy burden to carry around with you for the rest of your life.
So, I just have one question for you.
What’s next on your Bucket List?