So how do you go from these thoughts and questions floating around in your head, to getting clarity on what this means for you (and avoiding a midlife crisis or ‘Purpose Anxiety’ in the process)?
Below are the three key ways to start:
1. Write it out
Many people get a lot more clarity when they get stuff out of their head and write it down (rather than ruminating on the thoughts or just allowing them to float around in your mind).
To do this, just write about the questions. The nagging feelings and what they’re telling you. What you want. What you don’t want. Write it all.
You can do this in a stream of consciousness way in one long narrative, write key words or themes, mind map it or draw it – whatever feels best for you.
A bonus of writing is that when you write, there’s no audience (and therefore no need to consciously or unconsciously censor what you are saying in any way) and so you are more likely to get to the heart of the matter, the truth, the nub of it.
2. Talk it out
When people come to me, a lot of them tell me they’ve been thinking about things for quite a while but they often haven’t made much progress or figured out what they really want. They often feel a bit stuck.
For a lot of people, getting things out of your own head and voicing them out loud to someone else helps them clarify things. This could be with a friend, a family member or trusted colleague or ex colleague. It’s a good idea for it to be someone who will listen to you and draw you out rather than telling you what you should do!
It’s often preferable to start by talking to someone who won’t be directly affected, as their reactions can get in the way of figuring out what you truly want. Once you have clarity, it is of course important to see how this fits with other parts of your life like other people, your financial circumstances etc. But done too early – it can block your thinking.
It’s also best to avoid thinking about or looking for solutions at this initial stage. Jumping to solutions too early can bypass getting to the heart of what the real issue/s are. It also brings in the voice of judgment like “That wouldn’t work” or “That’s too risky” which – done at this early stage – reduces our creativity and ability to look at a range of possibilities.
3. Listen to your gut
We all know a time when we found ourselves saying “I knew I shouldn’t have done this”. Or conversely, when we followed a course of action or made a decision with a deep certainty that somehow it was right for us, even if it wasn’t clear why. Our gut or intuition is like a wonderful inner sat nav guiding us to what is right and wrong for us.
So my advice is to listen – truly listen – to what your gut, your heart, your instinct, your soul is trying to tell you. Most people in the business world can be quite logical or rational and are ‘up in their heads’ a lot of the time. So consciously doing something to still your mind will help you access this part of yourself more easily.
This could be doing some breathing exercises, meditation, sitting in silence for a while, going for a walk or sitting by the sea or somewhere else in nature, taking a few minutes to reflect or write after getting exercise – whatever allows you to go to that quiet, calm, knowing place within your own mind.
Once there, you can ask yourself a couple of questions you would like answers to – directing those questions directly to your gut/intuition/place of inner knowing. I’d suggest you allow these questions to float gently in and be curious as to what comes up, rather than forcing answers to come or overthinking things.
You might ask things like ‘What is this nagging feeling trying to tell me?’, ‘What do I really want from my life?’ or ‘What do I know deep down is most important for me?’ etc.
The information you get may come in the form of words, sentences, an image in your mind or as a reaction in your body like a feeling of tightness or heaviness or the opposite – lightness or excitement. Pay attention to it all.
Reaping the rewards
In order to reap the rewards of this midlife questioning, the first stages are recognising the importance of midlife questioning and what it can bring to you. Then it is about actively listening to the whisperings of your gut, your intuition, your heart. You cannot change what you are not aware of.
The final stage is learning to trust and act on what you are learning and hearing – something I explain in my blog ‘Questioning things in your 40s or 50s? How to benefit from this’.
In the meantime, keep writing about it, talking it out or listening to your gut and be open to and curious about what you find. Just because you discover something, doesn’t mean you need to act on it. Not yet at least!