This article was written by:
AARP.com – Robin L. Flanigan
Instead of despairing over where you are, figure out where you want to go
Just under two years ago, Mike Benz realized he was failing at retirement.
He’d spent his career in information technology, eventually becoming a chief information officer, and had earned a master’s degree in cybersecurity in his 60s. But without something to focus his energies, he was at loose ends.
So two months after retiring at 65, he went back to work as an interim CIO and finished a second master’s degree, this time in technology management.
“I wasn’t built for sitting around and didn’t have this great vision of going fishing, or moving to Florida, or something like that,” says the 67-year-old from Minneapolis. “I thought, What’s my purpose? … Is there some mission I should have to keep me invigorated and wanting to get up in the morning?”
It was a pivotal moment in Benz’s life. But instead of despairing over where he was, making rash decisions to try to fix things, or falling into a rut with the feeling that this is how his life had to be from now on, Benz hired a life coach — a member of a profession he hadn’t even known existed. And instead of a midlife crisis, he opted for a midlife evaluation, doing a deep-dive assessment of his experiences and pinpointing what he valued. He used that knowledge to create a road map to an exciting and satisfying future.
Get out of that rut
At midlife and beyond, many people grapple with changes in their lives — work, family, romantic partnerships. A feeling of being stuck or a need to find a greater purpose can be kicked off by a milestone birthday, changes in sexual function or fear of mortality.
The good news is that this time of life has its perks too — experience from decades weighing and making decisions, and presumably decades ahead to use that experience in ways that make you feel proud, at ease, accomplished or any number of feelings that turn the word “crisis” on its head.
That said, keep in mind that time is indeed ticking. Figure out what you want without too much delay so that you can enjoy having it instead of chasing after some nebulous fantasy. It can help to put goal dates on the calendar, for example, or set aside a dedicated amount of time each day (even 15 minutes) to think deeply about your future.
If the aim is to get clarity, a life coach can help take the “crisis” out of midlife reflections.
“Life coaching is really about increasing your awareness about what you’re thinking, and looking for a disconnect between the life you’ve created for yourself and the life you want,” says Suzy Rosenstein, a Toronto-based certified master life coach. “This helps you get more clear about the changes you may want to make.”
Benz’s life coach had him define his core values, write a mission statement, consider how other people view him, and reflect on ways he could turn what he likes to do into something that’s valuable to him, his family and the world.
He now takes on occasional projects only when he wants to (as a people-pleaser, he used to feel guilty for turning down any request) and feels much less stress and anxiety.
“It helps talking things through with a neutral third party who isn’t emotionally involved,” Benz says. The life coach “helped me spend energy focusing on something constructive versus ruminating, which was not a good strategy for me.”
Not too late for change
Midlife can be an excellent time to make big decisions and take control of life’s path. Sometimes outside events force those reevaluations.
Two months before turning 50, Rosenstein got laid off after 19 years as a health educator and content developer. After the shock wore off, she thought about how unhappy she’d been over the previous five years and how she hadn’t done anything about it. She hired a life coach, gained “massive insights” and decided to start a new profession as a life coach herself, focusing on women in midlife.
Her clients often feel stuck and unclear about what they want in their next chapter of life. They commonly are empty nesters searching for more purpose, needing more self-care, and wanting to be more intentional.
“It can be a frustrating time,” Rosenstein says. “I often hear how strange it is to be so responsible and competent in many areas of life but confused and unclear about what they really want. They don’t want to have regrets.”
Aside from private coaching, Rosenstein has a weekly podcast and runs an online program and community for midlife women. Her recommendations for reinvention include:
- Decide you don’t want to miss out on new opportunities.
- Seek guidance from your future self.
- Be curious about fear.
- Choose to focus on what you can do with the time that you have.
“It can feel indulgent to think about what we want, because we’re so used to putting others first,” Rosenstein says. “Thinking about what you want may be something you haven’t done since you were much younger.”
As people age, it’s common for them to feel that time is running out to accomplish goals, “but time has been ticking since the moment we were born,” Rosenstein says. “It’s only our awareness of the passage of time that has changed.”
Like Rosenstein, Anissa Buckley has been on both sides of the midlife transformation model. At 50, in the middle of grieving four significant losses simultaneously — the death of her parents within eight months of each other, a divorce and the sale of her nutrition company — she began traveling the world to complete extreme physical challenges.
Out of those experiences, Buckley, now 55 and based in Tucson, Arizona, founded B-Untethered. The company, which features the tagline “rule midlife,” offers an online lifestyle program around healthy aging and a place for women to build community at a time when their estrogen levels are dropping, their children are leaving the house and other changes are afoot.
“There is always an opportunity to change your situation,” says Buckley, whose book Midlife: Turning Crisis into Quest is set to publish in late February. “Acknowledge that this is a great time of life, as we are typically more established, knowledgeable and in a position to take a few risks. I’m a big fan of the statement, ‘If not now, when?’”
While women often find themselves needing a midlife evaluation, men do too. And men generally tend to have more limited experiences expressing and processing emotions, which can make the process challenging.
“The midlife passage can bring tremendous self-questioning, a deep crisis of meaning and much-needed change,” says Nathan Hunter, a men’s life coach in Southern California.
Becoming curious about why you haven’t prioritized your happiness can be an emotional process.
How to Find a Life Coach
If you’re looking for a life coach, keep in mind that certification in this fast-growing, unregulated field is not a necessity. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t evaluate credentials thoroughly: Graduating from an accredited training program, as well as having a background in psychology, wellness or business, lends credibility to any life coach’s résumé.
Bruce Wayne McLellan, a certified business and life coach in Naples, New York, says a good coach is able to do three things well: listen (including reading between the lines); reflect back what you’ve said; and see the best in you.
“There’s an inherent difference between someone who regurgitates information and someone who has a natural capacity to help you let go of what you think you know,” he says.
When interviewing a potential coach, and after settling on one, pay attention to who is doing most of the talking, advises business coach Craig Goodliffe, based in Ogden, Utah, who is well-versed in building a successful relationship with a coach.
The person doing the most talking should be you, Goodliffe says. Also, make peace with the fact that you’ll probably be uncomfortable — because trying new things is uncomfortable — and that you might not wind up clicking with the first life coach you work with. Don’t let that stop your drive to find the perfect fit.
“Most of us don’t question why we do what we do,” Rosenstein says. “Now’s a great time to ask, ‘What are we waiting for?’”
Robin L. Flanigan is a contributing writer who covers mental health, education and human-interest stories for several national publications.