I was talking with a friend who was wanted to discuss a problem he had been facing recently. He is in the second half of his life, and has been reading that people are living longer than ever before. While many people would see this a good thing, he was concerned about it. He felt he didn’t just want to live longer. He wanted to live better. In his view, living longer was not worth doing if it just meant eroding health and loss of independence were all he had to look forward to.
When I asked him what his definition of living better was, he hesitated. It turns out he couldn’t really articulate his vision of better living, but he could tell me what it wasn’t. This isn’t an unusual situation and he certainly is not alone. He is just one of the later baby boomers who is trying to figure out which next steps are important in his future.
At first glance, it doesn’t really seem like he should have any problems. He is a successful professional who has followed his career to senior management in his organization. He has authority and influence and lives a very comfortable lifestyle. There is a stable family support network, a loving spouse, and few financial concerns. So what could possibly be wrong?
The problem is that he is not clear about what he truly wants. He has followed all the rules, created the lifestyle he thought would provide happiness, health, and security, but still feels that something is missing. He has focused so much on creating his external circumstances that he has neglected to nurture his own health and well-being. He is lacking clarity when trying to envision what a longer, better life would be.
One thing I’ve realized over the years is that many of the guidelines for success in business and success in life are very similar. In order to flourish as a business, you need a crystal clear vision of the product or service you provide and its benefit to your customers. You also need a plan to guide you where you want to go. Without either of these things, chances are you won’t reach the level of success you hope to achieve.
The same holds true in life. You need to put some time and effort into figuring out what is important to you. What kind of lifestyle do you really want? How much do you need–or don’t need, as the case may be? When are you the happiest? Is health a prime concern for you? If so, are you willing to put in the work to make sure that your body serves you to its best ability as you age?
The truth of the matter is that baby boomers (and near boomers) expect a lot out of life. We are an active generation and are used to getting what we want. The idea of aging as our parents and grandparents did is simply not acceptable to us. Spending a lifetime working at a career, however satisfying, in order to retire, receive a gold watch, and recede from the world just isn’t in the cards. Many boomers don’t even consider retirement as an option–they want to remain engaged and participating in the world around them as long as possible.
After our discussion, a few things became clearer for my friend. He realized that most of his energy was spent dealing with the stress of his job (true of many boomers), which left him little time or energy to focus on himself. His health had suffered, but his energy had been so outwardly directed that he hadn’t had time to notice. He realized that he had to take as active an interest in his own health as he had been taking in the health of his organization. Once he made that decision, a new path opened and he could start planning steps to make that happen.
LIving longer should not be viewed as a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing. My friend is now exploring ways to integrate exercise, healthy eating habits, and stress management into his lifestyle. Improving his health has become a concrete goal, and he is committed to success. He says he is actually looking forward to his next chapter now, not dreading it.
Once you have a clear picture of what you would like to accomplish, the chances of achievement become much greater. Gaining clarity is not always easy–it can take a long time. Sometimes we try too hard to figure out what we want. In many cases it is simpler than we think. In the case of my friend, improving his health was a key to improving his enjoyment and quality of life. A very basic idea, but one that many people overlook.
One thing is pretty clear. Without clarity, it’s hard to get where you would like to go. It’s simple in concept but can be very difficult in practice.
However, if you make the effort it can yield amazing rewards.
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