'What do I want to do with the rest of my life?' This question is asked and answered, pondered and cursed, reconsidered and avoided - over and over again - often causing great anxiety, which is understandable. It is, after all, a pretty big deal to consider what one will do with the rest of one's life.
My daughter, a high school Junior, who has a very long rest of her life to consider, is being asked to ask herself this question as she contemplates which college might prepare her best for that next phase of her life - the rest of her life. And at the ripe old age of 16, she doesn't have the answer. Some of her contemporaries do - or at least think they do - which is helpful, given that it allows them to select a college that caters to the particular career in which they are interested. And yet, should we expect that a child of 16, who has not had much exposure to the many career choices available, to know at this stage of the game how he/she wants to spend the majority of his/her time over the rest of his/her life, which may last another 70 years? I know I didn't know at her age.
I find myself asking what do I want to do with the rest of my life at the ripe old age of 50, which may sound silly; however, I hope I have another half life in me, necessitating something meaningful to fill it. After earning two college degrees (again, not knowing what I wanted to do when I went off to college), enjoying a successful career in the investment business, "retiring" to devote my full attention to raising my children, moving back into the working world as a writer and financial analyst, I continue to wonder what I will do with the rest of my life. While I enjoy my work, I also make time for things that bring me joy and meaning outside of my paid profession, things like playing my piano, studying languages, learning to cook, gardening, traveling, etc. As I learn and do more, I wonder if my next "career" might involve something I'm just learning to do now.
Pondering the question 'What do I want to do for the rest of my life?' at any age can be paralyzing, if we allow it to keep us from taking the first step on our life journey while we search for the definitive answer. Perhaps we should instead focus on doing something that brings us joy and that brings good in the world, in the present, and be willing to make a change when that something no longer suits us or the world, or when we are fortunate to find something new that brings more joy and good. The rest of one's life is a very long time, no matter how young/old one is, so focusing on the present seems an appropriate place to begin to ensure it is a joyful long journey.
"Am I about to faint?" is what I was wondering at about 2:00 pm exactly eight years ago today. Like today, it was the first day of school, and the first time both of my daughters were in school all day. I had gotten them up and ready, prepared breakfast, made lunches, took the obligatory first-day-of-school photos (obligatory photos because they make me smile every time I look back on them, marveling at how much things change over the years), and sent my girls off to school. I had a good cry, as I do each year, and then busied myself with the many projects that were awaiting my free time.
Around 2:00 pm, I began to feel faint. I sat down to rest a minute, and then it hit me - I hadn't eaten anything. And then it occurred to me - no one came home at lunch time that day, so I never bothered to sit down and eat. And then it dawned on me that all of my days going forward would be like this - no one would be coming home to have lunch with me.
And so it will be today, again. No one will come home to have lunch with me. While I've gotten used to this pattern, something new is occurring in my household this year. My oldest daughter is beginning to look at colleges. It's early, and we still have two years of her living in our home; however, given that the half life of time seems shorter than that of carbon, the day she doesn't come home for lunch, dinner or bedtime will be here in the blink of an eye. That thought makes my head feel faint. It also makes my heart feel faint.
Over the years I have worked to fill my time with endeavors that bring purpose to my own life, and hopefully, to the lives of others. It has been a gradual process, as extra time and mind space creep into my life as the years go by, which is good, because it allows me to grow into my new role, and because my primary role as parent continues to evolve. It has also helped me to nurture my heart and to allow for my inner joy to grow, even as some of it is let out, as those who bring me the most joy walk out the door every day.
As I look toward my daughters' walking out the door for what will be days, weeks, months, and eventually years at a time, it will be my inner joy that sustains my heart and allows my head to take me toward new purpose - for myself, for them, and for the world.
author of "JOY"