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Navigating My Middle Passage

From Chasing the Almighty Dollar to Finding Meaning and Purpose in Mid-Life

When I was in my 30s I had a well paid sales and sales training position.  I worked hard and made good money. In fact, most of my waking efforts were devoted to increasing my sales and commissions and supporting a life style that was keeping pace with my earnings.

During this phase in my life, I dreamed I was imprisoned in a desert surrounded by a brick wall and chain link fence, guarded by a somewhat arrogant and surly middle-aged man.  On the other side of the wall was beautiful lush country and hills.  I later realized, this dream was a metaphor for how I had trapped myself, felt confined and unable to be in a place I wanted to be.   This insight inspired me to make major shifts in my personal and professional life.

Sigmund Freud was asked in a lecture “What is needed for a successful life?”  Surprisingly, he answered in only two words: “Lieben und Arbeiten.”  To give and receive love – and to do work that is right for you.  What was the right work for me?  The lush countryside in my dream offered a tantalizing clue.

With therapy, extensive reading, numerous workshops and being coached, I found that by not living my values, or my purpose, and not doing what I was passionate about was a major part of this malaise.  I was living other’s expectations of what I should be.  This is a good definition of Neurosis – having to be someone you are not.  Psychologist James Hollis says “the task of midlife is to find out who you really are and to claim your life.”

I asked myself, what is a life that is worthy of me and reflective of who I am, what I am naturally good at, passionate about and where there is a real need in our society?  For me the answers that came were that I am a natural teacher, coach, facilitator and motivator.  As I looked back at the major themes of my life – the light bulb went off:  almost everything I had instinctively done was that of teaching, training coaching and speaking!

I realized that to be truly happy and fulfilled, I needed to connect to my passions, utilize and develop my natural strengths in the service of a need that made me feel my work was meaningful. Once I got this, the map and next steps were clear.  This is how I made the shift from focusing on external rewards to what was intrinsically rewarding.  It hasn’t always been easy financially. There have been tests, trial and tribulations.  I do believe that when I aligned with what is right for me: doors opened,  opportunities arose and people I needed to meet came to me and me to them in often unexpected ways.  The price of not shifting to my vocation would have been too costly to my health, emotional well being and happiness.

Peter Metzner is a blogger with JenningsWire.