Finding Your Place in the World

Mid-life is a great time to lean on your dreams

This is the fifth article in a ten-part series, based on Craig Nathanson's trademark "Ten P" model for vocational happiness.

By Craig Nathanson
The Vocational Coach™

Dream, dream, dream
I used to daydream a lot in grammar school. I pretended that my classroom was a spaceship that I could drive anywhere. Then I imagined that my classroom was a school bus that I could drive around town. (The bus idea probably came from Gus. He was the driver who was married to Mrs. Johnson, a teacher I had when I was eight years old. Each of them seemed passionate about their jobs.)

Other times, I pretended that my classroom was an elevator and I was in charge of directing it up and down, letting children off and on at different floors. (I suspect this idea came from my childhood trips to the dentist. In a very old building, I remember the woman who pushed buttons to open and close the elevator door. She always was smiling and I remember thinking that her job was cool. And, she had a pretty neat stool to sit on inside the elevator!)

On the playground, I used to drive my little red wagon all around, integrating the images of the people I had observed. In my imagination, I helped people get off and on my spaceship, my bus, and my elevator.

Forty-one years later, my imagination is still hard at work. Now, by remembering my own first daydreams, I'm helping people find their magical vocational bus or elevator.

Getting sidetracked
I remember Mrs. Johnson vividly. When the children came into the classroom, Mrs. Johnson would hug each one and say how much she cared about them. Her outward joy as a teacher profoundly influenced me, just like the images of Gus, the elevator woman, and others.

Who were your role models when you were eight years old? What do you remember about them? Do you ever dream about them?

Sadly, many of us get sidetracked in the space between dreams and reality. We end up doing work-related activities that we don't feel passionate about and have nothing to do with our dreams. Have you halted yourself in your own path? What are the real issues? Money? Support from a spouse, a sibling, or your parents? Support from society?

Mid-life is a time to drop the excuses and find answers. The rest of your life is, indeed, up to you. Think back to your earliest daydreams when you're choosing "what you want to do when you grow up." Paint pictures, sell fine china, do accounting, install software, design cars, teach children, etc., whatever makes you happiest. Go where your dreams go.

Three threats of mid-life
Most of my clients face major issues that typically involve relationships, finances, and a person's own emotional state. Mid-life is the time to take ownership over these matters, as they're the ones that matter most. The decisions are clearly up to you.

You could make excuses for why you cannot follow your passion. You could take the perceivably safe road. You could keep your current career and peer far into the future toward retirement. But then what? Death? How about grabbing life with both hands now and steering yourself in a new direction that makes the most of each day -- and your life.

No learning without hardship
Following your vocational passion should be easier. I wish a person could simply do what they loved and not worry about money, relationships, or self-permission. But in my research, my practice, and my own life, this is sadly not the case.

It wasn’t too long ago, in my post-corporate-America life, that I found myself standing in a farmers' market with just four dollars left to my name. I was faced with a tough choice. What could I buy to sustain myself? I bought a few apples, a few pears, and a squash. Then I went directly home to savor them.

My purchases that day were probably the most rewarding of my entire life. Yes, much better than the huge home, the luxury car, and the jewelry. The lesson I had learned was that the choices a person makes when facing life’s challenges become the defining moments in life. These moments are where real learning and meaning occur.

Life keeps on moving
Here's a reminder: Whether you take action or not, things will keep happening. Life is like a vacuum. The space will quickly be used up with other stuff if you are not careful.

I worked with a woman recently who was particularly unhappy in her work. She had a love and a passion for coffee, though, and applied for a job at a local café near her home. She is now starting a new role there, with management possibilities. What was her secret? When she was being interviewed, she allowed her passion to come through. They hired her on the spot.

When you move toward what you want, your excitement is catchy. Other people will enjoy being around you and will want to support your path.

Give yourself the go-ahead
Make a list of what you want. Make a list of what your Perfect Vocational Day™ would be like.
Pick a few small steps and take action now. If you don’t know yet what your place in the world might be, try on a few different roles. If these don’t fit, move on to a few more.

Start with your little red wagon. Drive around a bit with the imagination you had as a child. Give yourself permission to dream. Maybe it’s time to let a few people off your wagon and let a few new people aboard to share the new ride with you.

Most of all, give yourself permission to explore. You can experience more meaning and fulfillment if you expect that the choices that you make will be the right ones. I know you have it in you!

Author's Bio: 

Craig Nathanson is a coaching expert who works with people in mid-life. Craig’s systematic approach, the trademark "Ten P" model, helps people break free and move toward the work they love. Visit Craig’s online community at where you can sign for a class, private coaching, or group coaching. Or, you may read other stories of mid-life change and renewal.