Is life turning out how you expected it to?
Every now and then circumstances create the chance for us to review our progress in life, perhaps we don’t take these chances often enough.
Attending funerals is an unavoidable experience in life, funerals of family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours, acquaintances, people we admired. In my experience the older I get, the more often these moments come around. One such moment came around this year with the funeral of a friend who passed at the age of 91.
In a reflective conversation about this lady we were discussing the life she’d had, and one observation was that her life had been an interesting one, but not a happy one. That comment landed heavily on me, and had me thinking about what it meant for the lady in question and also for the rest of us. She had been successful in a couple of businesses (in the decades where female entrepreneurs were rare). She had travelled extensively in the world before the days of packaged holidays. She was living in a very comfortable home in arguably the most attractive rural area in the UK. She spent chunks of the winter season in sunny climes and enjoyed her beautiful garden here in the other seasons. She had financial resources that meant she would never have to think about money. Two daughters, both also successful in their own careers. And yet somehow her interesting life wasn’t a happy one.
What makes us happy?
Thinking about it in the days that followed I became clearer about the things that we all pursue and strive for through our working lives. We strive for so many things, the catalyst for all of it seems to be higher income, more money, wealth. That’s the thing that will allow us to do all the things, visit the places, drive the cars, buy the houses, eat the food, wear the clothes, treat the kids, throw the parties. Once we have the money we will be happy. Really?
Now I know that without enough money lots of things give us the squeeze and cause us lots of stress. But is it really as simple as getting the money and everything becomes rosy? Are we guilty of linking cause and effect without proper proof that the two things actually link? Fascinating book Black Box Thinking by Mathew Syed is all about our habit of looking for explanations for everything and grabbing onto what appears to be the reason, when actually if we investigated further we might find there is little or no link. My friend was a successful businesswoman, wealthy by most standards, and still her interesting life was not a happy one. So maybe money isn’t the solution, or at least not the complete solution.
What about me?
Being basically selfish, my thoughts revolved around my own situation and whether if I were to reflect now, my life would have considered by me to have been a happy one. It occurred to me that “mid-life crisis” is actually when some of us take stock and see that we are not on the road we imagined we would be on. I had such a moment some years ago, but it didn’t come from any structured thinking on my part. It came from my wife’s struggle with Post-Viral Chronic Fatigue, which eventually led us to searching for a nutrition support plan to help her get back to full health. That search took us to first a product, then a company, and then to reflecting on alternative career paths.
My career up until that point could easily be described as a success. Professionally qualified and recognised, running my own professional practice, regular reliable client base, good reputation in the industry and earning a good income. All good, but on further reflection I began to see the other side of the shiny coin. My working day revolved around arguments about money, I had very limited opportunity to travel or meet people, the experiences it created for me were more groundhog day than wizard of oz. And the money, while I was generating good profit the whole practice was built on my personal reputation, and without a big commitment to marketing and recruitment it wasn’t likely to grow significantly. I was already working long days and short changing the family on holiday time. Also the practice was operating with personal connection clients and didn’t offer great prospects for selling as a going concern. Which meant if I decided to work less or even retire, the income was absolutely going to be in direct correlation with my input. Looking at the road I found myself on from this viewpoint, it wasn’t exciting in any way other than monthly profit.
Is it too late to change things?
My moment of taking stock resulted in a decision to transition into a different career and a different way of life. It has been quite amazing in so many ways. I have switched all the things that weren’t good in my career, I help people every day, I meet new people and see new places all the time, I have amazing experiences, the income level has reached and exceeded the previous income, and best of all my future income is not dependent on me working hard forever. My “mid-life crisis” reflection led to a decision and then actions to change things, I am so happy I did that.
You’re worth it
As I go around and meet people and talk to them I realise how few people of my generation would describe their lives as both interesting AND happy. I guess the fear of losing or reducing income is the most common reason for sticking with what you have, but maybe taking steps in the direction of what you want is not as scary as it seems, and worth the risk anyway! A quote from my favourite business philosopher Jim Rohn covers this “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree!”