Mid Life Regret

Mental Emotional Cycles

For many, regrets can be compelling. The treadmill of the mind repeats and recycles whatever painful feelings and thoughts we have about life. It says: “I should have thought more about saving for retirement; I should have taken that job; I should have moved away from home; I should have listened to my father or mother; I should have changed my major; I should have gone to college, or grad school, or not gone to college. It sings in our ears over and over again. It is, in reality, too late to make any of these changes. The time for choosing has past.

We don’t know if this other option would have improved things in life now or not. All that we do know, is that we made the choices we made. Maybe you know the reason for it, and maybe you don’t. I don’t deny there can be value in learning what happened and why you reacted as you did. Sometimes this knowledge can make it easier to let go. But, ultimately, it  matters most to move on from the tyranny of this mental and emotional cycle.

Sinking In

For example, Paul, a man in his mid 30′s, became an alcoholic after college. Upon graduation, he worked as a bartender at an exclusive New York Italian Restaurant.  He had the prestige and status of working in a wonderful place and he could maintain his habit. In the short run, it looked like the perfect solution to his problem of making enough money to survive and drink. He could have gone on forever, except fate had other plans. When he was notified that his 25 year college reunion was approaching, he decided to go.  It was held at a ballroom near his small rent-controlled studio apartment in downtown Manhattan. People arrived from Long Island and even as far away as California. But when Paul walked in, he was confronted with how young everybody looked. The women and men were generally athletic and healthy looking. Then, he bumped into a guy he’d roomed with for three of his four years in college. It was sobering to discover that Jeff had become a successful real estate agent, who earned well over six figures. Jeff was all excited about his recent trip to France with his wife and kids. The comparison was too much. Paul had no wife, no children, no house. He was just paying his bills.

Paul’s mid life crisis bloomed as he sank into regret. He replayed “the waste of his life”, as he called it. He recycled his bad decisions over and over again in his mind. His daily litany became, ” I should have gotten a profession. I should have become a banker or financial planner, like my father. I should have stayed in contact with my family. I shouldn’t have moved away from Long Island.” It just made him feel hopeless and depressed. He drank even more.

Breaking Out

A year later, the owner of the restaurant, brought his daughter in to waitress. She had just gotten her degree in counseling and couldn’t help listening as he talked about his hopeless life. Eventually, she got him to an AA meeting. It was a rough internal shift, but a little over a year later he quit the restaurant and started a program to be certified as a financial planner. He still regrets his lost time. But, he’s moved on. He is starting over again

What About You ?

Are you regretting some of your important decisions? What happens when you start thinking about them? What have you learned form them?

Midlife Opening

Opening To A New Life

In a previous post. My friend, Ellen, saw where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. She made an internal shift, that was reflected in her behavior and decision to open a knitting store.  She was aware of that light going on, but not everyone feels that. The shift can be subtle.

In contrast, our friend Mel, got up one morning and started experimenting with how to make a new unique coffee cake. His hobby was always to shop and make the family meals. The difference was that now, he was drawn, pulled, to experiment. He was never conscious of any internal process. When he finished the coffee cake four hours later, he was excited and motivated. He was so energized that he dove into the computer, to discover where and when he could start cooking school. Only then, was he was able to recognize the power of this new force. There is, in fact, always an internal shift, or we wouldn’t change our behavior at all. Without that shift, there would be no motivation to change or create. However you experience it, it’s like Ellen’s light being turned on. There is a new inner sense of readiness, a new awareness.

In my process of self discovery, I looked at my past, and wondered what  I would genuinely enjoy and feel excited about. One old interest I remembered, was to make jewelry out of antique beads. I had enjoyed doing that in high school. As luck would have it, my husband introduced me to a lovely women who made jewelry for a living. She was generous enough to teach me a lot about fasteners, stones and the styles of manipulating materials to create new masterpieces. We spent whole afternoons at her house creating necklaces, earrings and bracelets. She even took me to a high-end store that was displaying our creations.  When this teacher choose two of my pieces to sell, I knew I had made a big step. I couldn’t believe it. I  was excited, almost tipsy, from her recognition of my work.

When the success wore off, my teacher informed me it was time to pick up the pace. I had to move faster to build a supply of merchandise. I felt cramped and awkward. I froze inside. It was as if my creativity had died.  I didn’t want to work at her house anymore. I felt guilty because she had taken so much time with me.  I felt inadequate. I watched her generate one lovely piece of jewelry after another and felt worse. She was always stimulated and motivated. She liked what she created. It was clear to me, she was driven to do the work and I was not. I just didn’t have the fire and drive to do it as a job.  I didn’t have the interest to keep working to gain creative confidence. What stumped me, was that I usually jump into a challenge. I get excited by the difficulty. Yet, I didn’t want to work this problem out. I knew this wasn’t it.  Back to the empty stage for me.

It Takes Patience

Thinking about it, I discovered my mistake. I had made finding something to do, too important. I was really uncomfortable not having a direction. Being a truly goal-directed person was limiting here. To make this shift from one way of engaging with life to another, I had to be at ease with not knowing what I wanted, or where I wanted to go. It was hugely uncomfortable for me. Yet, I learned I need to be fulfilled, empowered and stimulated, but not addicted and needy about having a new direction for my life. I guess that process was worth it, because now I can share it with you. Be patient with yourself. It may take some time, but it’s worth it.

What’s your experience? Have you ever felt like you had to find a new direction, only to discover a dead end?