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Archive for May, 2009

What Have I Done With My Life?

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

“I’m getting old,” Shelley said as we started our coaching session.


“Aren’t we all?” I said smiling. “What’s prompting these feelings?”


“I don’t usually dwell on my age, but the other day when I got an invitation to my 20th high school reunion, I felt old. ‘How could this happen?’ I asked myself. And then I realize that my kids are almost in high school. Even though I don’t feel like I’m twenty years past high school, I know that I am. Where did the time go?” Shelley’s voice was full of concern.


“It sounds like a case of Reunion Blues,” I said and the corners of Shelley’s lips turned up slightly.


“So what do I do about this, doctor?” she joked, as though what she was describing were some kind of an ailment.


“In my professional opinion,” I began in my best impersonation of a doctor’s voice, “it’s important to identify the symptoms and determine the cause.” We had slipped into an easy space with the joking, but I knew that this was important to Shelley.


“What is it like to be old?” I asked.


“Old means time has slipped away, life is speeding by, and time may have been wasted,” Shelley said.


“Tell me about ‘time slipping away,'” I said.


“I’m 38 years old and don’t know what I have done with my life. I can talk about the big things – college graduation, my first job, getting married, having kids – but isn’t that what everyone does? What have I done that is special? What will I write for my ‘Reunion Update’ and what will I talk about?”


“What has your life been about over the past twenty years – deeper than the milestones you just mentioned?” I asked.


“I feel like I haven’t lived up to my potential. I hear about classmates who have these great careers and I wonder what happened to mine. I have an accounting degree, but am I doing accounting or am I a CPA? No. I am a part-time reading assistant in an elementary school. The only accounting I do is when I am figuring out which portrait packages to choose for school photos.”


Shelley hadn’t lost her sense of humor. Her sarcasm came out most when we were getting close to her real feelings.


“At our 15th reunion, I discovered one of my classmates was the manager for Jimmy Buffet. Of course, he won the award for the most unique career,” she said. “I can’t imagine what I will talk about that will be of any interest. I’ve had thoughts of not going to the reunion at all.”


“You could do that, but I am not sure that’s what you really want,” I said.

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“I want to go. I enjoy catching up with my friends. I love walking into the room and seeing how another five years looks on the people I grew up with.”


“Besides Jimmy Buffet’s Manager, what were some of the other stories at your 15th reunion?” I asked.


She replied, “Most were pretty normal. Their lives had been messy at times, exciting, sad, and thrilling. It kind of depended where they were in their own personal cycle when the reunion had happened.”

I paused for a second, allowing the wisdom of what she had just said to sink in.

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“That’s it, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s not that I am a failure. This is just a part of where I am in my life. Plus, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks – including my high school classmates. What matters is what I think about my life. And I like my life. Why would I feel embarrassed for putting my family priorities first?”


Shelley left that day with a little more hop in her step with feeling “old” the least of her worries.


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Coaching Challenge:

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When you find yourself comparing where you are in life to others and possibly feel inadequate, see if you recognize any cycles in your life. Where are you in the cycle? What are the benefits of where you are and what are the costs? Expanding beyond where you are today can help you gain perspective. This is also a great time to envision where you want to go.

Empty Nest – Endings and Beginnings

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

As high school seniors contemplate what to do after graduation, their parents are wondering the same thing. When kids are young, new parents can feel overwhelmed and have a sense that time is standing still. Yet many parents of older children say, “It goes by too quickly…a blink of an eye.”


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Katie came into my office with an air of sadness and disbelief. Her feelings started when she and her husband began to plan a graduation party for their daughter, Shannon. Although Katie was excited, there were also feelings of sadness at the realization that Shannon was taking a significant step out of Katie’s day-to-day routine.


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Shannon is the youngest of three children, which meant that after she left, the large home that had once held a family of five would feel a bit oversized for Katie and her husband, Joe. Granted, as Shannon grew older and more independent, the level of activity had already diminished. With each stage, Katie and Joe’s lives had adjusted, but something about having the last child move out felt empty and sad.


“I have watched each of my kids grow up and become independent from me, which is how it should be. I know that my job as a parent is to work myself out of a job. I don’t want my kids to need me; I want them to have the skills they need to survive and thrive in the world. Joe and I have talked about the freedom of not having full time parenting responsibilities, but as it becomes more of a reality, I can’t believe that we will soon be ’empty nesters.'”

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She continued, “Parenting is an all-encompassing job. At the time you ‘accept’ the position, you have no idea what you are committing to.” She continued, “I have noticed my parenting responsibilities shifting. For a while I was the care-giver, the playmate, the referee, the taxi driver, the parent who waits at home and enforces the rules, and now who knows what?” It is the hardest job I have ever done! Yet in some ways I am reluctant to have this stage end.”

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“If this stage is ending,” I asked Katie, “then what stage is beginning?”


“Wow! I was so caught up in the ending that I didn’t think about the fact that I could also be starting something new,” Katie said. “I’ve just given so much to everyone else along the way, that I am not sure who I am anymore. What will I do when my schedule is not squeezed in around someone else’s? And how will my relationship with Joe be without the activities and chaos of the kids? It was crazy, but somehow I found comfort in the midst of it all.”

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As we talked about each of the questions, we came up with some action steps that Katie agreed to complete before our next session. First, she would write a paragraph describing herself, as though she were the author of a novel introducing her main character. She also agreed to make a list of three major endings she had experienced in her lifetime and the accompanying beginnings – identifying the gift she had found in each. In addition, she would re-connect with Joe and explore together how they wanted this stage of their lives to look and feel. Each of these steps allowed Katie to re-orient and prepare herself for the upcoming changes – both the endings and the beginnings. By gaining clarity and communicating, Katie and Joe could prepare and create how they wanted their “empty nest” to look.



Coaching Challenge:

Whenever you are anticipating a life transition, think about the phrase, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Focus as much (or more) energy on the “opening” as on the “closing.” To recognize both the “ending” and the gift of the “beginning,” reflect back in your life and find three major endings you have experienced. Next to each one, write down at least one beginning and one gift that accompanied the ending. Each time you anticipate a transition in your life, ask yourself, “What is ending and what is beginning?” and “What opportunities can I embrace?”