In the last post, we examined where we are right now in life in order to identify where we might want to be in the future: the health of our bodies, our spirits, and our relationships as well as the dreams or passions we have not yet pursued (or maybe even identified).
With this in hand, let’s move on:
Step #2. Same drill. Quiet place; journal in hand. Read through your initial entry. Anything to add or edit? Does it still feel honest?
What leaps out at you from your work? Do you notice any patterns—boredom and overeating; stress and impatience; lack of self-assertion and a feeling of victimhood?
Did you identify something you always wanted to pursue or to learn? Are there disappointments you uncovered? Are some elements of your life story simply incomprehensible to you—how did you end up here, you ask?
Sit with these for a minute. What tugs at your heart? What calls to you? What sounds absolutely awful or completely thrilling? What needs a closer look?
Also read over your assessment of your primary relationships. Any action plan needed here? Fences that need mending or habits that need adjusting?
You aren’t writing anything, necessarily. You’re just noticing habits, patterns, ways of thinking, and how yesterday’s work makes you feel today.
Now. Begin creating your reinvention plan. This is the eulogy moment. What do you want people to say about you after you die? How do you want to feel about your one and only life? Begin to articulate the big, sine qua non items. The ones you cannot die without having accomplished. Make a list of them. Not an overwhelming list—the top three or four. The big ones.
Choose one. This is your project for this year. And maybe for next year. If it’s that important, you may work on it for the rest of your life. Break this goal down into manageable steps that you can start doing tomorrow. What’s the first step, then the second? Travel to Africa? You’ll start by researching your options with the goal of having a plan in place this year. Lose 35 pounds permanently? Research your options with a goal of having identified a realistic, lifelong approach this week that you can begin practicing next week. Learn how to play the flute? You’ll need to find an instrument and a teacher…
Next, review those primary relationships—kids, extended family, spouse. Have you identified tendencies to work on? Habits to develop or break? Relationships that need attention? Relationships that need special nourishment or a new approach?
Don’t overlook the one relationship that is most critical to your longevity and quality of life. “If you’re in a happy marriage, you will tend to live longer. That’s perhaps as important as not smoking, which is to say: huge,” says Lyle Ungar, one of the researchers of that data-driven longevity calculator I mentioned in the first post. Knowing that someone in the world knows you intimately, loves you, and has your back adds measurably to quality of life. It makes sense, then, to focus especially on this relationship in your life review—to test its soundness and ponder how it might be strengthened.
List one or two specific steps you can take immediately that will make any of these relationships stronger. Also write down one or two habits or personality traits that impede them—that you should work to change.
With a path identified (for the year, at least) and the initial steps delineated, you’re ready to begin. Let me just add the wisdom of a few professionals and life-reinventers who have walked this path before.
Practice gratitude. Every day. “…allow yourself to be grateful for the things you…have. Anger is never inspirational but gratitude is,” writes the best-selling albeit hyperactive author, James Altucher.
Goals, such as those you just articulated are important because “if you don't have long-term goals, you run the risk of doing lots of little things every day—cleaning the house, sending emails, catching up on TV—without ever making a contribution to your future,” says Art Markman, psychology professor and author in this article.
Stay flexible. Change is never static. Reinvention is an ongoing process. You’ll have to rinse and repeat again next year (or next month) to make sure the goals you set today are still relevant and important and that your progress is unfolding according to plan. “Too often, we give up just when we need to push harder, and persist when we actually should quit,” writes one author.
Change is never easy. Expect setbacks; anticipate resistance. Anything really challenging and worthwhile will take time to accomplish, so if it’s really important, don’t shortchange yourself. Persevere through the tough spots. “The most successful self-reinventors are those who understand that they have time and are willing to use it to invest in their own skills and education,” writes this author.
Declutter. Yes, you read that right. Downsizing, clearing out, cleaning up can feel both psychologically freeing and is also metaphorically linked to ridding your life of things that hold you back—mental clutter, too many commitments and obligations, relationships that are buzz-kills or worse, according to Margaret Manning, blogger and creator of sixtyandme.
There. You did it. I hope you feel empowered or at least optimistic. You should now have a roadmap for the months ahead. I’d love to hear how the project is working for you and if you have suggestions to refine it.
Need inspiration? Some of our “The Fullness of Midlife” podcasts are on topic: Lesley Jane Seymour on reinvention, Kate Convissor on overcoming fears, Deborah Robinson on appreciating our own bodies and treating them wellI, Joan Vernikos on how movement keeps us capable.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.