Reflections on Making Hard Decisions in the Desert of Mid-Life

I know I’m not alone in being a forty-something male who is wrestling with the bigger questions of life. If you’re one of them, or you’re close to one, then be encouraged…

Because we don’t need to fear the unknown. But something is going to have to die if we are ever to move forward…

So is there hope as we head towards 50?

Where from here?

Early forties and nothing but questions…

How come I don’t have it all together yet? Have I failed or taken a wrong turn somewhere in the last couple of decades?

We want some answers; we want some meaning. We want to be appreciated. And we want to feel like we still have something to offer the world.

Six years ago I found myself in an uncomfortable place: one day was very much like another, I lacked purpose, and my life seemed to be going on around me. I sat and watched whilst it left me out of the equation.

It wasn’t that I was unhappy - I could look around me and find my wonderful kids and my caring wife close by. I had good friends, I lived in a beautiful part of the world. I certainly had things to be thankful for, and I’d achieved some goals in the last few years that in many ways had been life-changing.

Nevertheless I found myself staring into the future and wondering what it held for me. The questions began to come at me from all angles...

Were my best years behind me? Was it all downhill from here? Had I missed out on my dreams..?

In the Desert of Mid-life, as my doubts began to overtake my hopes, the battle for clarity had to begin.

It can be more than a little unsettling to feel the weight of life in all it’s bigness pressing down on you, as you find yourself in a wide-open space with nowhere to hide.

No going back, and the way forward is unclear. Naked, vulnerable and exposed, you stand at life’s cross-roads and can feel the universe at large staring in expectation and saying:

“Well then, what are you going to do now?”

Moments of Clarity

Maybe I have dramatized things a little, but there is no underestimating the importance of asking questions of ourselves, or feeling that life is awaiting our response.

Questions are good, and if we are to find clarity in all this we need to ask the right kind of questions to get the right kind of answers.

Even brief moments of clarity in all the fog can be life-changing.

I clearly remember a moment when I asked THE question, the question that triggered a turning-point in my life at the age of 42 and started me on an incredible new journey.

And it was simply this:

“If I don’t change now, where will I be in five years time?”

The question may have been simple, but the answers were weighty. Weighty enough to spur me into action and change the course of my forties for good.

(I write more about this in my Personal Growth book “Turn This Ship Around!”)

And out of all the undesirable scenarios I could imagine there was one word that put the fear of God into me…


Leaving it Behind

OK, I may be overplaying it a little there too, but the fact is that with mediocrity staring me in the face I knew I had to take some action and rise above it.

It meant decision time. If I was going to get out of this desert, then what did I want the next five years to look like?

I had read enough books about dreams and goals to understand that there was only one thing standing in the way of me living a bigger, fuller life and realizing my dreams.

Yep, it was me. And if anything was going to change, then it had to start inside.

This is where we need those little sparks to ignite our dreams again. Because mine where still there, buried deep.

And in the end it came down to two things: Deciding where I wanted to go, and deciding what I wanted to leave behind.

OK, I knew deep down where I wanted to go, but strangely it was easier for me to decide on what I wanted to let go of :— no more fearing the future; no more drifting through life hoping things would get better; no more just getting by.

Now this is the hard bit — if things are to change, then things do need to die. Maybe that’s what we fear the most, but moving into new things always means death to some extent.

Think of the butterfly. The caterpillar must die if the butterfly is to live…

The seed must die if the wheat is to grow…

The phoenix rises from the ashes…and us? We need to step boldly out of our comfort zones.

A New Birth

So there’s hope if I’m struggling?

Absolutely. You just need to be reborn. And that can happen when you decide to let go of the past, embrace today and move forward to a better tomorrow.

It took me around 5 years of figuring things out for myself before I…well, figured things out. It doesn’t need to be that hard, it doesn’t need to take that long.

As I steadily let old habits, mind-sets and attitudes die, I was able to embrace change. Only then could I set my sights on my future and start heading towards my dreams.

If you want the condensed version of everything I’ve learned, it’s this: Our Tomorrows are built on the foundations we lay Today.

It could be that the forties are really a time of rebirth. Die in the desert, let the past go, and awaken to a whole new life.

Whatever you want to make of it.

It wasn’t until I was 48 years old that I really learned how to make the most important day of our lives count — that day is Today, and you can get my…

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