It’s been many years since most of us asked, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
Now, at the grown-up age of 50 and more, it’s time to ask, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”
It’s much easier this time. Just think of all you’ve experienced: successes, failures, loves, losses, joy and sadness. You’ve learned a lot in those 50+ years that will help you focus on what you’d like to do next. As you ponder, it’s important to remember what John F. Kennedy said about aging: “It’s not just about adding years to life. More importantly, it’s about adding life to those years.”
Your first question should be: “What would I like to do for an additional 20-30 years?”
Then, after you’ve pinpointed a few options, you need to determine if your talents match your aspirations. Inventory your talents. We’re not talking about tuning in to the blitz of bizarre “talent” shows on TV today but, rather, that you consider the parts of your essential make-up: the gifts, passions, interests and natural aptitudes you were born with and which have been fine-tuned through years of experience and skills development.
As one of our favorite bloggers, Joanna Maxwell, says, “If you want to find long-term satisfaction and success, it’s helpful to identify your talents (and equally, your non-talents).”
She recommends: “Start by listing everything that comes easily to you, areas where you just ‘get it’, where you’re a ‘natural’. No matter how big or small, whether work-related or not, all these talents have a place. Maybe you are known for your sense of location, or your ability to read IKEA instructions, or your singing voice. Are you the one with no sense of rhythm, or a talent for saying the wrong thing when meeting with the boss? Are you the one who everyone relies on to soothe a disgruntled client, or organize the Christmas party, or wrestle with a problem til it is solved? Don’t include things at which you’re competent, but have no passion for… if it’s not something you would do just for the pleasure of it, then leave it off your list!”
To help get you into the nitty gritty talent analysis, you might, as Maxwell also suggests, look at Howard Gardner’s eight core intelligences, and identify which ones relate to your natural talents and which do not.
1. Linguistic: words, spoken or written, including foreign languages. Adept at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words along with dates.
2. Logical-mathematical: recognizing abstract patterns, reasoning and numbers and critical thinking.
3. Musical: this goes beyond core musical talent and includes those who use underlying rhythms to structure a film or a teaching program, a book or a public event.
4. Spatial: ability to visualize with the mind’s eye and to use those images to conceptualize actions in the ‘real’ world.
5. Kinesthetic: excel in physical activities such as sports or dance; learn best by doing something physically, rather than by reading or hearing about it; good at building and making things; and keen sense of timing.
6. Naturalist: skilled in relating information to one’s natural surroundings; recognizing similarities and differences; detecting patterns; making distinctions; and categorizing things.
7. Interpersonal: knowledge of and ability to understand, anticipate reactions, work, connect, lead and influence others.
8. Intrapersonal: in-depth knowledge of yourself, what makes you unique; being able to identify your own goals, fears, strengths and weaknesses and use them to be effective in your life.
After identifying your unique talents, you should create a profile, including such Maxwellian nuggets as:
“I instinctively see the patterns in things, but struggle with too much fine detail. I love being with other people, but not too many at one time; I am good at one-on-one discussions or listening. I love the chance to do creative thinking in my work, preferably alone. I have a real green thumb and a way with dogs (but not cats!). I have a good ear for music, but am hopeless playing an instrument, let alone singing. I make a mean curry but have no hand for pastry, it’s too finickity for me.'”
Inventory and profile in hand, it’s essential to focus on that key question, “What would I like to do for the rest of my life?” for, as Henry James said, “It’s time to start living the life you imagined!”