Sandra Vischer is the author of the novel Unliving the Dream, about the challenges and triumphs of midlife.
As young people, we have all kinds of dreams and visions for our futures. We want to summit Mount Rainier, paraglide off of a cliff in the Austrian Alps, rumble a Harley down Route 66, or save whales in the Southern Ocean. We dream big! And we naïvely think we will fulfill those dreams.
But then, we get out of college, start a career, get married, have kids… and before we know it, we’re cruising at a respectable speed in our Life Lane.
Eventually, we find that we’ve been traveling at the same old steady pace for years. We’ve become comfortable—unconscious to the opportunities to change lanes when they show up. Heck, we’re not even looking for them anymore! We’ve slid into the passenger seat of life and are sitting back, taking in the view. Or if by chance we do happen to notice an opening to get over, we may not have the courage to act on it—maybe we think we’re too old, or maybe we simply don’t remember what it’s like to experience the thrill of living life with abandon.
I’m not saying our families don’t bring us joy, or that we should shirk our responsibilities to them. My children and my work have been two of the most rewarding parts of my life. However, there will come a time when opportunities will present themselves—when the kids are grown, when we’ve earned a boat load of vacation days at our jobs (or better yet, we’ve retired!), or even when a long-term partnership comes to an end.
I was like this—cruising along in my comfortable lane of life, happily married, two great kids, successful career, when the wheels suddenly fell off of my car and I crashed head-on into divorce and its difficult aftermath. While it took years for me to recover from my injuries, the good news is that I learned some incredibly valuable lessons along the way.
Find your courage.
At our age, we are very aware that life is short. With that awareness, shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to make our lives the best they can be? Begin by prioritizing your bucket list. Start at the top and take a shot at checking off as many as possible. If courage is a problem, take a friend along to copilot the ride. Plus it will probably be more fun that way!
Whatever it is that’s stopping us from realizing our youthful imaginings, we can indeed overcome it. It’s not as if that hurdle is a matter of life or death. And since it’s not, what are we waiting for? There’s a wonderful quote by Joseph Campbell that says, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Be brave. Enter the cave and you’ll find its reward.
Be attentive to opportunities.
Our lives are filled with chances of every sort on any given day. We simply have to be mindful of them. I was never more aware of this than when I spent time volunteering in a third world country. What I realized was that we have a ridiculous amount of opportunities to do, be, and have all that we want here in the United States—the possibilities are endless. Whether it’s as simple as going to a movie or as lofty as becoming a business owner, it’s ours for the taking.
But riding in our comfortable Life Lane, it’s easy to lose sight of the opportunities. While most of the world struggles just to find clean water, we are blind to the options that present themselves to us on a daily basis. So we can either volunteer to help those fighting to survive, or, at the very least, take advantage of the freedoms we’re blessed to have. Why wouldn’t we?
Find your “windows.”
We have certain windows in life. There’s the lovely window that occurs between the unencumbered feeling of falling in love and the pressures of parenthood. There’s the window that appears when you share friendship, nights on the town, and travel with your adult children—before the grandkids come along and you’re the one left at home to babysit. And then there’s the window that I’m talking about now—the one between retirement and, gasp, seriously old age! You feel it? I know I do!
You can always switch lanes.
When a window is open, we need to act! We must put our signal on and get the heck out of our Life Lane! Hell, run a red light if you have to! Do not wait! Who knows when the wheels might come off again?
Find the wisdom in the musings of your youth.
Please don’t dismiss your early dreams and simple naïveté. Rediscover them! Now is the time to fulfill the musings of your youth! Who knows what wonders they’ll bring!