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Navigating Thresholds of Big Change

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

– David Whyte, excerpt from “What to Remember Upon Waking”

Merriam Webster defines ennui as “a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction.” I feel like we reach this point in our work lives or careers if we are an alive and growing human. It can hit us at any age, really, from 22 to 50+. Whether it’s our quarter-life crisis or mid-life crisis, there’s a point at which we begin to see where our work doesn’t fit quite right with who we are. That discrepancy can be painful. Depending on what we bring into the situation, we can cope with the discomfort and dissatisfaction, or we can let it wear us down until we barely recognize the person in the mirror in the morning. 

When it comes to placing our whole selves into the world and finding work that is meaningful and enlivening for us, we can forget that it is even a possibility to reach for and imagine into. 

I ran across these lines by Mary Oliver recently:

I wouldn’t mind being a rose
in a field full of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.

These lines made me think of the topic of work, a life’s work, and all of the mind-body-heart tension that arises for us humans around the topic of work and our jobs.

We have fears that we won’t pay the bills, that we’ll never find a fit for us, or that work will always feel awful. We reason and think our way around the issue, trying to find a workable solution. We have all kinds of foolish questions about our worth, what’s possible for us, if we can actually have what we really want, and who we are without titles anyway. 

Taking a pause to consider or reconsider where you are, who you are, and what’s next is a natural occurrence in the growth of human roses. It’s a time filled with big questions of identity and meaning, purpose and love. Often we forget that there is a place on the other side of this threshold filled with questions that is a safe landing connected to what matters for us now at this juncture in our lives.

As author Glennon Doyle recently posted on her Instagram: “I am using this midlife moment as an intermission between the two acts of my life. And I have a hunch that living Act 2 well is going to require letting go of everything I learned during Act One. How can we use midlife to prepare for a beautiful, powerful, peaceful Act 2?” 

My colleagues Jim Marsden, Marty Janowitz, Ray Foote, and Jerry Colonna sit down together in this extra podcast conversation to talk about their own career transitions at midlife. They speak to what came up for them, what was happening for them at the time, and what helped them get to the other side. 

As they note in this episode, if you’re approaching career transitions at midlife here are some questions to sit with: 

  • What are the current misalignments between your inner life and your outer life? 
  • What are the themes that matter, now and looking ahead? 
  • What happens if the house of cards you built falls apart? Or even worse, what if it doesn’t? 
  • Who was the person who set out on the path that got you here? What did that person value? What was driving them? 
  • As you take in the perspective of where you’ve been from where you are now, what is it like to take that all in? What are you grateful for? 
  • Who is the person who is here now? 
  • What is the reorientation that’s happening for you here? 
  • What matters to you now? What do you know about what brings you alive?
  • What might you dare to ask for? 
  • How can you head towards what you love?
  • How might you want to move forward?

Here, we’re stepping into new ground rooting in what we believe to be true now, not what beliefs have been driving us up to this point. It’s important to remind yourself, should you find yourself here, that leaning into what you love and letting yourself imagine what you’d like are some key moves to navigate this time. It’s a time we can’t rely on our rational thinking brains alone. We need to rely on other parts of ourselves and other ways of knowing to move forward on what can require a big leap of faith with clarity and grace. 


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