Ask Dr. Debra
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Dear Dr. Debra,
I'm past 40, and my career hasn't panned out the way I'd hoped it
would. I think most people expect to achieve greatness in their
lives, but few of us do. What can I do to come to terms with the
likely fact that I'm an ordinary person who won't leave much of a
mark? I see a mid-life crisis looming on my horizon.
Dear Getting Older,
There is no such thing as an ordinary person. We are all special. We
all come to this earth with gifts only we can bring to the ones
around us and to the larger world. If you are feeling ordinary,
perhaps you need to see yourself as God surely must see you - a
unique, special creation. There's only one you, and life still has
infinite possibilities. It's what you do with those possibilities
that makes you special.
I remember being in my early twenties, and my mother talked about
how many people hit middle age and realize they aren't going to
accomplish their hopes and dreams. She mentioned it as being a time
of discouragement for many people. At the time, my parents were
involved in a business that helped people revitalize their lives,
and she took a lot of pleasure from opening people up to new
opportunities. I was lucky to have parental role models who
continued to change, grow, and create new challenges throughout
their lifetimes. If you are missing those role models, it's easier
to become discouraged and believe that your life is ordinary.
A time of re-evaluation is a normal part of the late forties and the
fifties - especially if you have children who are leaving, or have
already left, the home. If parenting has been a large part of your
focus, now there is emptiness in your head and in your life that
needs to be filled. The question is, with what? The answer
might take some soul searching.
For some people, it's plain to them that their careers have stalled.
Maybe you need to continue to work hard and be patient, and things
will still work out. Maybe you need to meet with a mentor in your
field and map out your career goals and opportunities. Perhaps they
can give you advice or steer you in new directions. Or you might
want to think about switching jobs, beginning a new career, or going
back to school.
I often hear people throw up a roadblock when it comes to making
changes and working for long-term goals. For example, they say, "If
I go back to school, it will take me five years, and then I'll be
fifty years old." I say, "In five years, you'll still be fifty years
old. You might as well spend the next few years in working towards
something you want." It's never too late to make changes in
If you want to stick with your job, it could be time to take up a
hobby, or do volunteer work to make up for the disappointments in
your career. Many people find satisfaction in becoming good at
something new or helping others.
What do you want to do with your life? Take stock of your
hopes and dreams. You might have to go back in time a ways to
remember what your dreams really were. You might not be able to
become that astronaut you wanted to be when you were a kid. But what
could you do that would approximate your dream? Could you take some
courses to learn about space? How about attending Space Camp? Or set
a big goal and save up to take a ride in those passenger space
shuttle flights that may happen as early as ten years from now.
Maybe it's time to turn to new dreams. In the second half of our
lives, we often begin to look at how we are making the world a
better place or making our mark on society. The most important
question you can ask yourself is what kind of mate, parent, child,
family member, neighbor, and co-worker are you? You have the most
impact on the people around you. Are you doing your best to make the
world around you a better place?
At the end of your life, what do you want people to say about you
at your funeral? Will people give eulogies about your great
accomplishments, or will they share moments of how you touched their
lives? Perhaps both. I personally would like both, but what's most
important to me is how I can be of service and offer love to others.
I don't think people realize how small moments of love, support, and
service to those around them really make an impact on others. Every
time you encourage rather than criticize, reach out a helping hand,
or offer love and support, you are making a difference. And I doubt
the people to whom you reach out consider you ordinary. No. They
will know you are special. If they compliment or acknowledge you, I
hope you take their words to heart. Others may have an easier time
in seeing the good things about us. But we often brush aside their
positive feedback instead of absorbing it. The biggest defeat to
ordinariness is holding on to your own specialness.
On a different note, do you exercise regularly and keep yourself in
shape? I've noticed a big difference in how I feel, depending on my
exercise routine, eating habits, and weight. If I'm taking care of
myself, I feel (and look) much younger than if I lose my
self-discipline and let myself gain weight.
I hope you take the time to make the positive changes that keep you
feeling good about yourself and give your life meaning.
Feel free to
me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who
specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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