How to find your purpose at midlife. It’s a different kind of post from me today. You see last week I was shaken by the sudden loss of a friend in the village, someone I have known for a long time. She died within days of returning home from a fantastic holiday with her husband and sons. A brain tumour that had given her no warning also gave her no chance. The whole village has been rocked by it and she was known and loved by so many people that I’m sure the ripples spread far beyond this area.
As always when somebody dies suddenly, you try to make sense of it. You wish you could help in some way but there is very little that you can do. I have found myself going over and over conversations that we had through the years and they have inspired this post. She was a ‘hands on, let’s crack on with it’ kind of person so she wouldn’t want this to be an emotional piece. Instead I’m going to write about the inspiration that I took from her.
Although we knew each other from our teenage days, we only really got talking as mums in the school playground. Our youngest sons were in the same year, both August born and so initially we bonded over our worries that they were too small for school. They soon proved us wrong.
As they grew, we found ourselves re-examining our careers at the same time. We were both searching for something that would fulfil us and yet also work around our family priorities. We often talked about our different ideas until one day she told me she was going for it. She was leaving her steady senior role in the public sector. It was a risk because it meant both she and her husband would be self-employed. However she was determined not to waste any more time. She wanted to make a change, to work on her own terms doing something that she truly loved.
Food and wine were her passion so she was heading down a completely different path to the one she had trained for but she was going to carve a role for herself in that industry. It meant she might have to travel more than she would have liked but there is always a trade-off.
I remember leaving that conversation feeling utterly inspired by her clarity of mind. I’m pleased to be able to tell you that through sheer grit and hard work she succeeded in her new venture. She was quite a lady.
You see she found her ikigai
Looking back, we were clearly just a few years ahead of the current trend for ‘Ikigai’. Ikigai is a Japanese term that translates loosely as ‘purpose in life’ or ‘the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.’ The idea is central to Japanese culture, decreeing that you will only be truly fulfilled when you discover your ikigai and build your future around it.
I’ve been researching it for a while but most of the resources that I’ve found have been created either by male academics or millennial journalists. My interest, as always, lies in its application to midlife women because I think it has particular relevance to us. Now of course it strikes me that my friend was a great example of someone who found her ikigai – although I’m sure she would have laughed if I’d told her that.
Adapting ikigai to your journey
I always say that the time when I felt most fulfilled and at peace with myself was when I was pregnant. I felt happy because for every minute of those 27 months I was doing something genuinely useful. The research I’ve been reading shows that for a lot of years, raising a family can indeed be your Ikigai. Even the male case studies gave an example of a Japanese man who hated his job, boss and commute but did it because arriving home and being pounced on by his three-year-old daughter gave him purpose and made it all worthwhile. He had decided that for the time being, providing for her was his ikigai.
I think that a lot of women find ikigai during their child rearing years. We may not feel completely fulfilled but we have purpose because we are absorbed with creating something beyond ourselves. It is when our children start to grow away that we take one of two paths. We either cling to them (never a good idea) or we look up and think ‘what now?’
Being first world women of the 21st century, most of us are fortunate enough to be able to take the first few tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy for granted. Our basic and preliminary psychological needs tend to be met.
It is the areas of esteem and self-actualisation that can sometimes be lacking at midlife. Historically, at our age women would perhaps have invested their time into their grandchildren or the church but as society has evolved, these paths are less clear.
Research that is currently being done into our expanding lifespan shows that the traditional model of retiring in our sixties really isn’t good for us. In fact the people who live in the Blue Zones (the five areas in the world where people statistically live the longest) tend not to retire at all. Instead they remain fully engaged in society in a productive way.
If we keep ourselves fit and healthy (and if we’re lucky), at the age of fifty we may still have forty plus productive years ahead of us. So how can we find a way to fill them with something that will make us want to jump out of bed in the mornings?
The route to purpose or Ikigai
1. Something people will pay for
I would start the journey with the bottom circle. Whereas every midlifer needs purpose in their lives, some have the luxury of not needing to be paid. If you don’t, your options will be far broader. So begin by defining whether your path needs to generate income or not.
2. Something you are good at
There is something, even if it is buried in your dim and distant past. You may have a strength with numbers, music, drawing, writing, talking to people, organising, caring, animals. Jot a few things down, not forgetting that the one you settle on needs to be…
3. Something you love
If you suddenly had a free day alone with only one instruction – “don’t waste it but… enjoy yourself,” what would you do? It doesn’t have to be anything mind-blowing. Take me for example, I would always say that I would spend the day reading and writing. If I didn’t already have Midlifechic as my ikigai, that answer would send me straight along the path to blogging or writing a book.
4. Something the world needs
This doesn’t have to be Nobel Prizeworthy. The reason that it is an important part of the fulfilment mix is because it helps you to achieve recognition. When you do something that is valued by someone else, it is magnified. The fact that you are making a contribution to society helps you to remain engaged with the outside world.
When I look back, I can see that this is the journey that my friend took instinctively so she was a perfect example of someone who knew her ikigai. She needed to earn money… she was naturally outgoing and sociable… she was a great cook and loved food and wine. So, she developed a concept using these attributes that could be delivered as either corporate entertainment or a team-building solution.
She based her work around her passion and knowledge of everything gastro. She used her wit and personality at every event and undoubtedly brought joy and inspiration to otherwise grim corporate occasions. Remember, she built these opportunities for herself. They didn’t fall in her lap.
It is so unfair that she died too soon. There is no way of making sense of it but we can all take inspiration from her. So, I’m going to leave you today with a reminder that:
- we never know how long we have to make our life a good one
- we must not waste whatever future we have doing something we hate
- we can create our own path but we have to be brave, grabbing this life of ours with both hands and living it as well as we can for as long as possible
Carpe diem. Never has this felt more relevant to me than it does right now.
Disclosure: “How to find your purpose at midlife” is not a sponsored post.
Disclaimer: as with the majority of blogs, products featured on Midlifechic sometimes (but not always) include affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase, you are helping to support the site because a small referral commission may be paid. This contributes towards hosting fees, software costs, site maintenance and other plug-ins. Midlifechic could not exist without these small payments, so every contribution makes a big difference.