No longer living someone else's life

Midlife crisis is such a cliche. The countdown to my 5oth birthday started at 48 when I quit my job, bought a camper and roamed around the US national parks with my camera. By 49 I was nearly in a panic. Not because I was about to turn 50, but because I still felt like I was living someone else’s life. I couldn’t bear the thought of dragging the same old patterns and baggage past this important midlife milestone.

I sold everything in the US and boarded a plane to Europe a mere five days before my 50th birthday. Over the next four months, through France, Geneva, Morocco and Israel, the decision to continue working in business strategy remained unquestioned. Networking isn’t easy as a nomad, so I tried staying in Tel Aviv for a couple months to find a way, unsuccessfully, to ramp up a business.

The perils of should

That business success has eluded me while on the road is no surprise; it’s been something I had to make myself do, not out of passion but out of duty. Fact is, consulting fits me like an off-the-rack suit; while I’m good at it and occasionally enjoy it, the profession was designed with someone else in mind. I knew it. I’ve known it for years, in that way that we might know our lover is cheating or that our best friend has betrayed us. We think that if we don’t make a big deal out of noticing, it might just go away.

I couldn’t imagine what else I could do to earn a living. When my coach asked me last year, “what do you love to do?” I’d shrug my shoulders. Nothing came to mind that I could map to a real career. Even worse, I’d bought into the idea that it didn’t really matter what we love; grownups should do what need to be done when it comes to paying the bills and not chase silly notions.

There’s that “should” word again; I was a master at using it for self-flagellation when I failed to live up to expectations. But whose expectations? Well, that’s a good question. Now that I’m older and a tiny bit wiser, I recognize should as a flashing warning sign that I’m going the wrong way, or worse, that I’m actively rejecting part of who I am. The should applied to my career has been the last one standing; a barrier set up for safety, without which I might plummet over the cliff of irresponsible choices.

Our 8-year-old life coach

It’s so easy to get nudged, bit by bit, by our family, culture, media and friends onto a road that isn’t ours to travel. Until one day, some of us wake up, blink, and wonder where the heck we are. Hello midlife crisis! At this point, the only person who understands how far we’ve strayed is our inner 8-year olds.

Maybe you’re the lucky one who never banished your 8-year-old self to the children’s table. I suspect you’d be an exception rather than the rule. It’s easy to rationalize why there’s no room with the grownups; what does an 8-year old know, anyway? A lot, actually… not about business or mortgages or global politics, but about everything that really matters to our souls. The meaning and purpose of life. What brings us joy. Secret hopes. Play.

To banish our inner 8-year old is like a best friend’s betrayal. When we’re the ones doing the betraying, it’s easy to not make a big deal out of noticing. But it doesn’t go away, no matter how much we wish it would. This need for reconciliation with our younger, truer self is the incessant itch that wakes us up, or the narcotic that sinks us into a deeper sleep.

I think back now to my childhood, when all I wanted to do was write and draw and create. Even today, decades later, I’m a compulsive journaller. It’s not something I choose to do; it’s something I must do, whether in the quiet of home or in a busy cafe or bar. I write to understand myself and the world. To translate the swirling chaos of intuition and emotion into something my logical brain can comprehend. To problem-solve and make unexpected connections. To plumb the depths of the meaning of life in general, and mine in particular.

If writing is a compulsion, the visual arts are my medicine: my escape from an overly active left brain. Photography gets me out into the world and away from my computer; I’ll walk for hours in a new place with my camera, or sit patiently in a nature preserve waiting for the sunrise or a hawk in flight. And painting is visual problem-solving, something that sucks me into that third dimension called flow where I can stay for hours.

My 8-year-old coach, delighted that I finally asked her opinion, counseled me to get back to what feeds my soul. She reminded me that 20 years ago I journalled about my desire to move overseas, travel the world, and be a photographer and writer. Yeah, that desire, the one I buried in the name of impracticality, believing that path was for other people… surely not for me.

But hey, wait just a stinkin’ minute…. I’M DOING IT ALREADY! I’m traveling the world with my camera, and not even paying attention because I’m so damned distracted by this insistence on working at something I don’t even really like. How does this happen?

The heart is the source of our power

This was my big realization as I immersed myself this past week in the charming port town of Limassol, Cyprus. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” The people I met here — writers, artists, musicians, journalists, coaches — are who I call outsteppers: authentic human beings in touch with their inner 8-year olds, unpressured to conform to some idea of what success looks like. They find that balance between leisure and hustle, focusing more on quality and realness of life that had thus far eluded me. I felt welcomed here like I was already a local… like I was already one of them.

And let’s face it: I am one of them. This is the truth I tried to avoid my entire adult life. It’s not a tragedy to fail at something we don’t really want to do. But when we’re betting the farm on something we love — no, that we are, at our essence — the risk is real. We’re vulnerable.

But as my new artist friend Paris said to me yesterday, “the heart is the source of our power.” I’ve lived most of my life from my head; logic is safe. Logic is where “should” lives, our life choices calculated, pros and cons weighed. Living from the heart… well that’s crazy, right? I question my sanity as my 8-year old coach claps her hands with delight. Yes, this feels right.

Be wild and crazy and drunk with love

If you’re too careful, love won’t find you.

Rumi

Which brings me to this publication, The World Undivided. It’s my new baby. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do, but it’s totally ok if you don’t. It’s the process that matters. Every day I spend hours writing, followed by hours of walking around with my camera. It doesn’t feel like work, but it is. My low-level stress, like the ever-present hum of the refrigerator, is gone. I have full faith that when we combine hustle with our 8-year-old coach’s advice, the money will follow.

Am I scared? Hell yes. But it’s worth it.

What about you?

What has your inner 8-year old been asking for? What’s keeping you from listening? Let’s start a conversation in the comments section. Your comments and feedback help me focus on future topics and questions you find meaningful and interesting.

If you’re interested in hearing your inner 8-year old, head over to our Life Clarity Program page and enter your email to be notified when we open the program more widely.

28 thoughts on “No longer living someone else's life

  1. This is amazing. What courage you have (I sorta want to be you). I can’t wait to follow this.

  2. Hi Jen. I really enjoyed your writing and self examination. I write for the same reasons you listed. Been working for years on a memoir – not to try to get published but to leave something for the next few generations of family to understand why working to help us live more sustainably in our environment was important to me. But as you have discussed, life intervenes in a variety of ways to affect our plans. All the best to you in your search and journey of discovery.

  3. Inspiring! I too have gone through a “mid-life” crisis. Several times! Years ago, this past year, month, week, day and now. I often think about just letting go of what I think I “should do”. Of what’s expected of me. Of where I should be at this point in my life. In fact, just this past week, the thought of selling all I have and moving to Europe drifted through my mind like the ocean breeze here at my home in Maine. I’m here for the Summer. Going through a transition time myself.
    Please keep writing and posting your life. Your writing is prolific, inspiring and gives hope that we can all let go and let live.
    Keep on living your dreams!
    Diana Daniel

  4. This. Is. So. Beautiful. And it’s true, it’s real, it’s YOU. Jen, I can’t wait to follow you and experience your creative evolutions through this platform. You constantly awe me. Thank you for giving so many the strength to question the limits of their comfort zones. You’re the real deal, beautiful.

  5. I love this, Jen! Simple, yet eloquent. I love how your 8 year old self guided you to your passion(s). I can’t wait to read more and see more of your photos. Inspiring on all accounts!

  6. I love this, Jen! Simple, yet eloquent. I love how your 8 year old self guided you to your passion(s). I can’t wait to read more and see more of your photos. Inspiring on all accounts!
    What keeps me from listening? Let me think on that more…quick answer…all of the hate and rhetoric in US politics is a huge distraction. I find myself focused there when my energy could be elsewhere. Working on this.

  7. Jen! I love it!! You are so creative with your photography/painting/writing! Your amazing! You will always be be my sea monster green locker partner! And your shot gun partner in crime in your blue bug! All the best in your new adventure! Your always welcome to stay with usin Dallas!

    1. Ann! So good to see you name here, and thank you. So fun remembering those times; I kept a box of photos from HS when I purged everything, and sent to my mom. Anytime you guys want to make it over to this side of the pond, please let me know. I’d love to see you!!

  8. Fantastic! Truly inspiring. Must feel amazingly freeing. Was just in France and Italy and I really was nowhere near ready to come home to my fast paced life and job. Your courage and journey really inspire me!

  9. Jen, this is a great piece of writing. I hope This gets published. Feels very honest and present. Look forward to reading more of your adventure.
    Tracey

  10. Jen, love the reminder to check in with our 8 year old self – so important to listen to all the parts within us, not just the “should” part. Keep writing and sharing; good stuff xo Leslie

  11. Brilliant writing and inspiration! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I feel blessed to say that right now I’m living my dream like a tailored suit from a sexy, but practical, designer. Your post reminds me to be grateful and enjoy every minute. As the fable of the ring reminds us, “This too shall pass.”
    Keep blogging and sharing your journey, Jen – you are a gift for which I’m eternally grateful!

    1. Thank you my friend! I’m grateful for you too. And I love how you’ve framed up your “suit designer.” Great way to extend the analogy!

  12. I happened upon your photos through mutual friends, loved them and love your story. I have come to realize, in the last year, that it is all about joy, stay there and everything else just falls into place…
    I look forward to following you as your beautiful journey continues to unfold!
    Cheers!

  13. Thank you for this article Jen. Im a decade behind you but going through exactly the same emotions as you. I am lucky enough to have a job that i love and i live in europe which i guess makes it easy to travel a lot and not needing to leave my job. I did sell everything too 3 years ago and dont regret it at all! The freedom to roam anywhere i want is a feeling that nothing can replace. Will be following your blog as i have a few countries on my list you’ll be visiting. If im not mistaken, i will be in Vilnius at the same time as you. Give us a shout if you want to meet up. Keep blogging and kudos to your 8 year old life coach 🙂

  14. Wow! Thank you Jen. Going through a similar time in my life and its good to know that i’m not alone. Sold all i owned 3 years back and haven’t stopped travelling since. I now live back home in Malta however living in Europe makes it so much easier to travel somehow. I love my job so wont leave that to travel for months on end but kudos to you and your 8 year old coach for living life to the fullest and for following your dreams. If i’m not mistaken i will be in Vilnius for a couple of days when you are there before i head to Riga. If you wanna catch up, give us a shout. In the meantime happy travelling and keep smiling 🙂

    1. Hi Jen, i wrote 2 messages as thought I hadn’t pressed confirm on the first one on my phone so wrote another from my laptop. You can delete wither one 🙂

Leave a Reply