I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflecting on the role of social media in the lives of mid-life adults-the age group of my coaching clients. Though there are multiple online networking sites, the two biggest ones being Facebook and MySpace, I’m focusing on Facebook because “older people” are the fastest growing users of this particular social medium, whereas MySpace continues to be dominated by teens.
According to online journal, ITbusiness, in the first few months of 2009, “Facebook gained more Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to its membership ranks with working aged adults (26-59) seeing the biggest age demographic boost of any in North America….” And, according to Paul Briand of The National Examiner, even more staggering is that since the first of the year, “the 35-44 category grew by 51 percent and 45-54 grew by 47 percent.” Wasn’t this medium something that teens lived on like we use to live on the telephone? What could adults possibly want from this vehicle? Do we use it to monitor what our kids are doing or to make sure none of their Facebook “friends” look older than 16?
A complaint issued to me by email from one of my coaching clients was this, she writes, “My friends never share themselves on Facebook, they simply take those inane quizzes and invite me to do the same. I mean, don’t they have lives anymore, don’t they have something to share with me that’s relevant or at least personal?”
Taking these inane Facebook quizzes some created by Facebook members themselves – may be nothing more than a search for identity in a way that’s more fun than some traditional personality profiler like The Meyer’s-Briggs or the 1930’s mental health test The MMPI. From my experience, there’s nothing a mid-lifer wants more than a combination of more fun and more clarity about what’s to come in this next phase of life. It’s no wonder Facebook has so many people taking these quizzes; many of us are as unclear about what’s next as we were when we were teenagers.
The difference is that now we have so many more experiences to draw upon when deciding “what we might be when we grow up.” If my hunch is right, these quizzes may not just be a fun way to “share” yourself on Facebook, they may be an impish way of inventing who you might be in a free-for-all forum where nobody gets hurt.
What I’ve discovered is that re-inventing yourself in a playful way has great appeal after a loss of some kind, i.e., the kids have left you with an empty nest, you’ve been asked for a divorce, were fired or are in desperate need for a different kind of work.
I’ve found there are at least seven key things that help you uncover “what’s next” in the second half of life and goofy Facebook quizzes can be an off-beat way to let your soulfulness guide you.
Lesson #1: Listen to Your Inner Guide. Take the quiz: “What are your five favorite ways to relax when you’re alone?”
My experiment with meditation began just after my husband left me, a doctoral student living in Princeton, in his newfound commitment to “find himself” on the other coast. I kept hearing this little voice inside my head say, “Slow down and listen to what you really want.” Like most people, I ignored this seemingly impractical request. After all, I had five jobs and was trying to graduate with my doctorate by May-just four months away.
As that voice grew louder, it became clear that I was feeling depleted of having anything creative to say and I didn’t know how I was going to pull off my commitments with integrity. I eventually became willing to take a free introductory course in Mindfulness Meditation-a Buddhist practice that simply fosters insight and compassion for self and others.
Lesson #2: Put Your Wildest Desires Out There. Take the quiz: “If I could switch lives with any famous person, I’d pick these top five.”
Some people know what they’d love to do with their lives when in midlife transition but many more of us are afraid we’ll be a laughing stock if we share this with loved ones and friends. This may be hard to believe but the biggest naysayers in are lives are often those closest to us. They don’t even have to be jealous or mean spirited, they just have to care for us in an unhelpful way, the way that conveys, “I just don’t want you to humiliate yourself and then live a life of regret.”
When you take these little quizzes on Facebook, they can be one way, a harmless way, to “get out there.” As Opera Diva Beverly Sills warns us, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
Lesson #3: Be Selective When Sharing Your Desires. Take the quiz: “If I could ask advice of famous experts, I’d pick these top five.”
Picking people who will join you in seeing your greatness can be tricky. As I said above, don’t look to your inner circle-they’re way too close to you and your own self-doubt and may even have contributed to it, indirectly, due to their desires for security.
Take my ex-husband (please!): a superbly brilliant professor of International Relations, speaks four languages, publishes about a book a year, but tends to avoid risks that might make him “look foolish”-any sport, dancing or other form of playing in public or alone. When I told him that I wanted a to be an inspirational columnist and life coach like Martha Beck, a monthly essayist for Oprah Magazine, he said, “Oh my God, Jennifer, you have got to be kidding me! You will never get another job in academia if you do that!”
Your experiences may be much different than mine-and I hope they are-but if not, reach for a mentor or life direction coach (like myself) if you want to really hear and follow your desires. Go to those who see your essence and believe in your ability to try, fail, try, fail and get up and try again. As the Japanese phrase nanakorobiyaoki says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”
Lesson #4: Have Faith or Find Someone Who Does. Take the quiz: “Among the super powers in Marvel Comic Books, which one are you?”
Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” I believe you can, of course, but if you don’t believe this, please find someone who does and borrow their faith in your capacity for self-invention. My mentors, authors Valerie Young, Barbara Winter and Barbara Sher, all believe that isolation is a dream killer.
Barbara Sher in her recent book, Refuse to Choose!, believes we can simply guess what we want to be and feel it out in practice. She says, be an investigator. Dream of at least 10 possible ways of earning a living, gather more information at a library, volunteer, check out any profession by interviewing others.
Sher was speaking at a workshop recently and saying how deep down inside we all know what we want. “When someone says they don’t know what they want,” she said, “what they really mean is they don’t think that what they want is possible.” We all need allies who believe in us.
Lesson #5: Never Give Up! Take the Quiz: “Which Greek Mythical
Hero/Heroine Would You Be?”
Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, Outliers, speaks of people who by a crystallization of circumstances became movers and shakers during their particular moment in history-people like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, Yo Yo Ma, and Tiger Woods. One thing these people have in common is their passion for mastery and, according to Gladwell’s findings, have given their particular love at least 10,000 hours of attention before they became famously proficient.
So where would you rather be, in your rut or onto what’s next? To step into the unknown it requires that you step outside your comfort zone. As my friend Patrick Snow says, “If you want what others have, you must do what others have done to get where they are.” Praying or believing in the “Law of Attraction” is fine but action is also necessary. If you are willing to take small steps, even try a new behavior that challenges you by just one degree, you’ll be building up what you want to see complete some day. I say, “Do things the way ants do things, one small gesture at a time.” Which leads us to our next lesson…
Lesson #6: Start Where You Are. Take the quiz: “What Does Your Birth Date and Time Say About You?”
My favorite teacher and Buddhist Abbess Pema Chodron wrote a book about 15 years ago called, Start Where You Are. After raising her kids, she felt bereft of purpose and confused by her husband’s newfound hobbies that often took him away from home. On one weekend, she came home only to find him in bed with a female friend of theirs. In shock and full of rage, Chodron threw a very expensive 14th-century Ming vase on the floor.
Within a few months she started studying with a Tibetan Lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He gave her techniques for cultivating compassion for herself and for her (now former) mate. He told her, “There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, nowhere to hide. Simply start where you are.” She responded by saying, “I just can’t wait for this transition period to pass!” He said with authority, “My dear, all life is transition.”
All compassion-centered meditation begins with the present-we breathe in that very thing we wish were not so. Befriending ourselves and actually feeling our emotions, versus just analyzing them, is the way through. Difficult or delightful emotions are always passing through us. Finally, and perhaps said another way…
Lesson #7: Receive the Gift of the Present. Take the quiz: “If the end of the world were near, which five things would you appreciate the most?”
In 2005, when I was in between jobs and without the label of “professor” or “psychologist,” I was bereft of purpose and felt like an oyster without a shell. I had no idea just how reliant I was on my “white collar” title until I was without it. I suffered many sleepless nights worsened by isolation and self-pity. One night, I sat straight up around 2:00 a.m. with the gift of this particular awareness: “Jennifer, unless you can be grateful for the first half of life, the second half will not be an improvement.”
Sometimes gratitude is difficult to feel, but the good news is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to feel grateful, you just need to practice appreciating what you have: life, friends, family, a working body, a roof and daily nourishment, etc. Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving. Tallying up the gifts within your present experience will make any future success all the more profound.
These seven habits are core practices I use myself and share with others. If you have ones you’d like to share with readers, pass them along to me through my helpful books blog.