Years ago, in the context of telling me how his wife was switching careers from being a litigator to working at a biotech company, my then-boss said, “Everybody gets to an age where they realize that what they really want to do with their life is do the same stuff that interested them in high school.” “Oh,” I thought, “another midlife crisis thing. Sure glad I’m 25.” And then my eyes glazed over.
Well, I’m not 25 anymore, and I now see that he was absolutely right. And I was wrong. It is not a “midlife crisis” thing. Yes, I know that there are people out there having midlife crises, keeping the sports car companies in business and acting out a second adolescence, but I am not talking about them.
I see it all around me and am experiencing it myself. People get to an age – could be 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or beyond – and they rediscover what made them tick as a child. It’s not a midlife crisis – they’re not trying to relive what they once were- but rather a renaissance of their true inner self.
I think it is because what you choose to do in your free time as a child is so pure. You are (generally) unfettered by obligations and expectations, so when you have a free afternoon, you fill it with something you like. When you ask your parents if they will sign you up for an activity, it is for no reason other than you think that activity will bring you joy. Amidst a childhood backdrop of freedom and endless possibilities, you tend to seek out interests that reflect your true inner passions.
Then life intervenes. Relationships, societal pressures, the harsh reality of bills that must be paid. You need to spend a lot of time doing something that hopefully you enjoy – hopefully, you LOVE , but also will fulfill certain expectations and pressures. That’s life, for most. And sometimes you get too busy doing Life to do the things that once brought you nothing other than joy.
But like my wise boss once said, for many of us, there comes a time when a little voice inside reminds us of what we used to love. Maybe we hear it because we simply hate our job so much that we are willing to risk a huge change. Maybe we hear it because, although we are happy with our job, we find that our evenings and weekends are wholly uninspiring and we have lost some of our spark. Maybe we hear it because the kids are grown and we realize that we can be a little more selfish with our free time for the first time in years.
I have friends who are now rediscovering a passion for art; taking classes at a local guild and producing some beautiful things. Others are making career switches – a former IT expert is rediscovering her childhood love of science by enrolling in school to become a nurse. Friends are finding dance classes for adults, local theatre productions open to amateurs, volunteer opportunities to work with animals. My 25 year old self might pity them for having a midlife crisis, but my 43 year old self understands. They don’t want to be kids again. Nope. They just want to be themselves again.
My inner voice made itself known when my youngest started preschool and has become increasingly vocal now that my kids are all in grade school and I have more “free” time on my hands. “What do you REALLY like to do?” It asked. And I answered. Slowly at first, but with increasing confidence, joy and certainty. When I was a kid, any free time I had was spent playing sports, reading or writing. Period. Other than hanging with friends, those three interests composed the trifecta of a Perfect Day. And I realized that I had spent far too long without those three interests being a regular part of my daily life.
So, during the past few years, I have rediscovered sports – not “working out,” a term I hate anyway because it seems to set you up for hating it, but sports – running, of course, but also pick-up soccer leagues , road races, golf tournaments, kooky things like the Warrior Dash. I have set aside time for reading every day (maybe I’m reading while waiting in the school pick-up line instead of curled up in the branches of a tree on a lazy summer afternoon, but the joy that reading brings me hasn’t changed). And now, since Colby and I started this blog in October, I have found an outlet for my writing and an opportunity to write almost every day. It’s wonderful and energizing and I feel more in tune with the “real me” than I have in years.
So I ask, “What did YOU like to do as a kid?” Figure it out, and then, if at all possible, do it again. You won’t regret it.