“The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment.” ~Pema Chodron
When I was twenty-seven, a wave of dread swept over my life.
As I looked to the future, all I could see was the beginning of the end. Pretty soon, it would all be downhill.
Why the doom and gloom? I was approaching thirty!
Like many young people in their teens and twenties, I regarded “The Big 3-0” as the end of the party.
I would become uncool (or perhaps more accurately, even less cool than I already was). I feared turning into my parents.
One day, I was expressing my anxiety to an older friend of mine (she was all of thirty-three).
She put her arm around me, looked at me with one of those oh-you-poor-clueless-thing expressions, and said, “Your thirties will beat your twenties hands down! You’ll have your act together more, earn more money, but still be youthful enough to do all the things you want to do.”
She was right, of course.
Soon after I turned thirty, I met the partner with whom I would share my life for the next twelve years. My career took off, I bought a house, and I was able to afford some vacations. Most important, I gained some maturity and focus on my life.
My thirties were terrific. They did, in fact, beat my twenties hands down.
Since then, I have never dreaded the approach of a “milestone” birthday—or any birthday, for that matter. Each passing year, and each stage of life, brings its own joys and its own opportunities to grow and adapt.
My forties brought plenty of opportunities to grow and adapt. I went through a break-up and numerous dating misadventures, my career took off in new directions, and I met my current husband. In spite of (or probably because of) all the change, adaptation, and growth, my forties were terrific.
We’re often reminded that we should live in the present moment, and that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow or hold on to regrets from yesterday.
That’s great advice, but I also believe that we need to maintain a positive focus on the future.
To me, this is not a contradiction. We can fully live in the present and plan for the future. To live only for today is to risk wandering without direction.
Our dreams, hopes, and goals keep us growing and moving forward. We are happiest when we are on our journey to reach a destination we have envisioned and are excited about.
I’m now fifty-seven and embarking upon a slightly early retirement. I’ve had challenges and adjustments, but that’s okay. So far, my fifties are terrific.
I’ve decided that it’s time to retire the word “retirement.” I prefer to think of my remaining decades as my “Renaissance”—a time for redefining, rebuilding, and rebranding myself.
You can embark upon your own personal Renaissance at any point in your life.
Regardless of whether your horizon is your thirties, forties, fifties, or retirement, here are some steps you can take to bring more meaning and enjoyment to your life today, while setting the stage for a terrific tomorrow:
1. Pursue things you don’t think you have time for.
Write down the things that truly make your heart sing. Include pursuits you don’t have time for now. Think about activities from your youth that have fallen aside due to the demands of adulthood.
You should find that one or two of these items will resonate with you more than anything else. Try to find at least one or two hours a week to devote to your passion.
I love jazz and playing my trombone. For much of my adult life, I’ve played in a band that rehearses one night a week. Sometimes I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to play any more than that, but at least I played once a week.
Now, I have time to play in more ensembles and practice as often as I like. If I had abandoned playing my trombone entirely throughout my working years, it would have been much harder for me to pick it up again. And I would have deprived myself of enjoyment for all those years.
2. Define your legacy. What do you want to leave behind?
What do you want to be remembered for? How do you want to make a lasting contribution to the world? It could be a book, artwork, music, a service organization you establish or contribute your time and talent toward, or perhaps the impact you have on the lives of others through coaching, mentoring, or leadership.
Even if you an hour or two is all you can devote to your true passion today, you’ll still be making a difference, and you’ll be setting yourself up for more fulfillment in your coming years.
3. Decide where you truly want to live, and make plans to move there.
Where would you live if you didn’t care where your job is located? Write down the possibilities that excite you the most.
Many people wait until they retire to move to where they truly want to live. Maybe it’s not practical to move now, especially if you like your job but not where you live. Can you shape your future to live where you belong?
As I approached forty, I decided that I had had enough of cold winters, heavy traffic, and the high cost of living in the Washington, D.C. area, so I decided to move to Arizona.
It was the smartest move I’ve ever made. I’m glad I didn’t wait twenty years to move to the warmth and sunshine I so enjoy now.
4. Travel to the places you’ve always wanted to visit.
While I try to live my life with no regrets, I wish I had traveled more in my twenties and thirties. I now know that exploring new lands and cultures is one of the richest and most memorable experiences you can have.
In addition to beholding the breathtaking beauty of our planet, seeing how other people live will enrich your understanding of humanity and expand your worldview.
You’ll also expand your range of possibilities for where you might like to live.
5. Re-examine your perceptions about aging.
When you think about reaching your next milestone birthday, what sort of feelings does that trigger?
If I could write a letter to my twenty-seven-year-old self, I would tell him that worrying about how miserable my life would be after I turned thirty only served to make me unhappy when I was twenty-seven.
If my friend hadn’t shared her wisdom and changed my view, my thirties probably would have been miserable—because that’s what I would have expected.
Replace your anxieties about getting older with an appreciation for all the possibilities you can create.
Is it time for you to embark upon your Renaissance?
That may mean making that career change you’ve been contemplating. It may mean eliminating unfulfilling activities to free up time to truly follow your passion. Maybe it means moving to that place you know you belong.
Whatever your Renaissance looks like, defining it and making it happen won’t occur overnight. It’s a process that will unfold over time.
Envisioning a brighter future and embarking upon the journey to make that happen will bring focus and happiness to your life today.
Running family image via Shutterstock
About Dave Hughes
Dave Hughes’ goal is to help you envision, plan for and ultimately enjoy the rest of your life. Dave writes about steps you can take throughout your working years to enable you to plan for and experience a Renaissance, not just a retirement. Download Dave’s free eBook Retirement Planning by the Decade and the Retirement Visualization Guide.