I befriended someone recently who is at a crossroads in his life. He describes it as feeling as if nothing turned out as it was supposed to. He believes he took many wrong turns and is wondering whether it’s too late to go back to some of the junctures on the path, and choose again.
“Time somehow ran away and I don’t know which way to turn. It all looks scary.”
I too had a similar experience a few years ago and described it as having a nervous “breakthrough”. Mine was age-’n’-stage-related, his is more about the loss of a relationship that ended abruptly, leaving him in frozen shock.
During a recent coffee together, I found myself sharing the advice that was given to me when I came undone: “Find an end point.”
Most of our lives we spend opportunistically jumping on this bandwagon and that, as the time ahead seems endless and expansive. It doesn’t much matter if we pursue one profession, then change after five years, it doesn’t matter if we live in Sydney, New York, Byron Bay or — like me — all three. One kid, or two, or none. Yes, this partner is good enough — why not? Everything is flexible, movable, divorce is possible, reinvention almost mandatory.
But suddenly the world starts contracting as time closes in. And then if something happens out of the ordinary — the loss of a job, death of a close friend, break-up of a relationship, sudden empty nest, or health issues, there is a sense of alarm and the look I can see on my friend’s face. An almost comical “WTF, how did I get here?”
So what is finding an end point about? It’s about starting at the end, creating a vision, and working backwards to the present in one’s mind. Many of us are in the last third of our active lives. We’ve been perpetually ADHD, making spur-of-the-moment decisions. But time is not endless any more, and it’s no longer possible to just catch buses and trains that are passing every which way. From now on every step my friend takes has to be meaningful, and considered.
It’s about standing in front of the vast emptiness and asking: “What do I want to be doing in 10 years’ time: 2026?” The questions I was advised to ask include: “What am I doing? Who am I friends with? Which country am I living in?” Even to the last detail of “What am I wearing? and: Who is my partner (current or imagined)?” And most importantly: “What was the passion that drove me here?”
And this is where my friend fell in a heap. I watched his face crumble. “I don’t know what my passion is,” he said. So I put it another way: “If the wish fairy came down tomorrow and you could have anything, what would you love to be doing? Dare to dream.” Most people shut down at this point, swamped with negative self-talk: “I can’t because … it’s not possible because …” I quoted Muhammad Ali to him: “Impossible is an opinion.”
Over that coffee, my friend let himself dream. And slowly the sparkle came back into his face. The break-up seemed to make sense. He could see how he had unknowingly sabotaged his relationship because he was on the wrong path. We brainstormed his end point, what did he want for the next decade, and then how to go about getting there.
Whether we are at peace, or in transition, it’s an excellent practice to set an intention for our lives — at least once a decade. To make everything we do from that moment count towards a greater vision. Every word uttered, every friend made, every career decision or that of the heart, should flow in harmony and synergy like arteries spilling into a great and vibrant river, carrying us on.