Feeling stuck, lost, or in a rut? You’re not alone. Millions of middle-aged women struggle with these feelings. Whether you are a mom with a newly empty nest, a working woman ready for a new challenge, or a retired woman wondering what to do with herself, finding purpose later in life is a common and natural phase of aging.
Google the subject and you will find enough reading material to fill your hours for weeks to come. Blogs, books, and motivational speakers love to talk about finding purpose, as if it is some magical light at the top of a mystical mountain, and once you find it all will be well with your soul.
They have it wrong
Nope. Not even close. Purpose is really a poor choice of word. It implies that there is one thing you are meant to do, and that with enough prayer and yoga, it should suddenly manifest before you.
It might be better to replace “purpose” with “path,” for life is a journey after all. Finding your path again– takes some pressure off, doesn’t it?
Has your life always been on one path? Did you never change majors, partners, jobs, or homes? Of course not. Many changes led you to your current crossroad. You are simply at another intersection, and, fortunately, there are many roads to choose from.
Just do something
Rabbi Marc Gellman, who, with Monsignor Tom Hartman, hosted a television show and wrote a syndicated newspaper column for many years under the name The God Squad, once wrote that the secret to finding your purpose is to try something. It’s that simple. Pick something and try it. If it doesn’t work out for you, try something else. Keep trying until you find what feels right.
His point was that there is no one job, career, or service we are each supposed to complete. Our purpose is to give love to the world. How you choose to do that is up to you.
So many women sit at home, frustrated, saying, “I don’t know what I’m meant to do.” How do you know before you put yourself out there and try something? You must take some steps; put a little energy out into the universe.
When it brings you joy, that is how you know you are on the right path.
Just because you find your flow doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy. If you decide you want to go back to school and get your master’s degree or become an acupuncturist or a chef, you will have to do the hard work. But if that is your dream, you will. Don’t worry about the time it
will take to finish. As a wise professor once told his students, the time will pass whether you finish or not. Do you want to arrive in 2024 at your dream job or still daydreaming about it?
Navigating to your path.
Start by making two lists. The first is a list of what energizes you. What are the skills or ideas you are drawn to? What do you like to do? Do you enjoy organizing or creating spreadsheets? Do you have a passion for photography or horseback riding? Are you good with numbers or words? Are you at home in front of an audience or do you like to work with people one-on-one?
Now list things that drain you. I’m not talking about paying your bills and going to the dentist. This list should be things that you know you wouldn’t keep up with or that would make you feel pressured. Your list may include keeping a budget, posting on social media, public speaking, being confined to a schedule, or being away from home at nights or on weekends.
Hopefully this exercise will help you start thinking about paths to try and paths you should avoid. For example, if you love to write, but you hate the idea of marketing yourself, then writing your own blog may not be the right type of writing for you. You may find joy in writing newsletters or blog posts for businesses. If you love to work with children, but don’t like being out at night, you may be better off helping at a school than trying to babysit.
Another exercise you can try is to create your life resume. It’s like making a work resume, but list every talent, award, accomplishment, job, and adventure you can remember. Your life resume is for your eyes only, so don’t hold back. You may be quite surprised at how many skills, talents, and experiences you recall. Creating your life resume may help you identify things you are passionate about and can be a huge confidence booster.
If you have a special hobby or skill, consider sharing it with others by teaching lessons, giving demonstrations, or joining a group where you can do your activity with others. Getting involved and nurturing relationships with people that share your passions can open doors that you didn’t know existed.
Teaming up with others may be the answer. Many women go through life with the motto “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” That may have worked for loading the dishwasher, but when it comes to making dreams come true, partnering up may be both practical and fun. Do you have a great idea for a business, a podcast, or a non-profit but don’t have all the skills needed to make it happen? Bring on a partner! And don’t be discouraged by competition; find your edge and ride it.
Volunteerism is another pathway where many women find great satisfaction. Food pantries, hospitals, museums, animal shelters, schools, conservation groups, political committees, and helping at charity events are just a few examples. Many volunteer positions don’t require your physical presence. You can help with making phone calls, sending emails, entering data, or mailing brochures.
Businesses that rely on volunteers are used to having a lot of turnovers. They understand that volunteers often have the best of intentions, but sometimes the schedule doesn’t work out or the volunteer gets burned out or it didn’t turn out to be the right path for them. Don’t let the fear of disappointing the agency keep you from trying.
When it’s not right, leave.
If a job, whether paid or volunteer, isn’t right for you, then give yourself permission to take another path: retirement. While you may celebrate reaching retirement, whether from a career or from being a full-time parent, it can be a difficult adjustment. Often women used to being in service to others or being the one taking care of all the details, find that putting themselves first feels unnatural. It may help to talk it out with friends, your partner, a therapist, or coach. When you’re ready, go back to that list of things you like to do and start carving a new path.