If Not Now, When?

Quiet introspective reading for a Sunday afternoon for anyone on the verge of reinventing her life, Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path, by James Hollis. He delves into the inescapable human condition of dread; fear of dying without really having lived. He asks, “what is one waiting for–retirement, a lottery win, an unmistakable sign–to start one’s life?”

He goes on to quote the poet Mary Oliver,

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.*

We are so busy now. Busy working. Busy buying. Busy driving. Busy worrying about our family. Busy juggling so many tasks, roles, and errands; busy crossing items off our “to do” lists as they continue to grow longer anyway. Busy going here and there, mindlessly hurrying through our “one precious life” (again, Mary Oliver).

For those of us in this new “third chapter”, we’ve built our careers, raised a family, and done all the right and responsible things. I believe this question of how to be more alive, more engaged, more truly ourselves is the most important question of this stage.

Certainly, I am guilty of magical thinking — hoping that “unmistakable sign” would come along and tell me what to do next.  That would get me off the hook! I could blame “the sign” if it didn’t work out. But alas, no. It is up to me to decide, to choose what path to take, how to be more my authentic self. To do that, I have to slow my day down and take time to listen to that quiet still voice within we each have that gets drowned out in our noisy, busy lives.

For each of us, being authentic means taking risks and being courageous (like making my personal journey public). For me, it also means focusing on and developing my creative ideas and my need to be on a great team making something happen. And, it means not allowing myself to become so distracted that I forget where I am and what my real task is now. Else I die only having “visited” this place.

By mid-life, we’ve all been knocked down over and again. But we’ve also learned a few tricks along the way, figured out we don’t have to play by the rules every time, and developed some inner strength to weather the storms and measure things by our own ethical gauge. All that matters is that you get up after getting knocked down. This may be a quintessential American point of view, but everyone who lives long enough has a shot at a second, even third or fourth chapter to their lives. By the Vanguard Scout stage, you have all you need to step into the fray of life, be yourself, and be part of it all.   ______________________________________________

* Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes”.

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2 Responses to If Not Now, When?

  1. Jean Baur says:

    Very helpful insights. I love the Mary Oliver poem and what you wrote about wanting a magical sign. As a career counselor, I see how difficult it often is to make decisions when we're busy, overwhelmed, unsure of our direction. I went to a conference of career professionals a year ago and learned about Civic Ventures and Encore Careers. Helpful stuff. One thing that stuck with me is that we have to pause, we have to use a semi-colon to stop before moving on.

  2. Pat says:

    What a pleasure not to feel alone, with a voice inside that shouts the news that now is indeed the time to be more authentic than ever, be more beautiful inside than ever, be more courageous than ever. It makes one feel that it is a blessing to have gotten older.

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