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Several years ago, I had the sudden, blessed opportunity to step off my hamster wheel – the success-oriented, fast-paced career where I put my work first and tried to shoehorn in everything else. Balance was a see-saw – when one side went up, the other went down. It was a life of sacrifice and compromise, and eventually unsatisfying. Things were missing. Important things.
I know I am not alone. Mid-life is a significant development phase in our life journey, when we often long to reshape our lives and careers, and do something more meaningful.
When I had the chance to remake myself, I discovered I longed to adopt some of the best qualities I see in millennials. Here’s how:
My life is a mission
I love the passion and search for meaning that many millennials integrate into their life and career choices. When I sat down to think about what came next for my career, I gravitated toward exercises that asked deeper questions about what is meaningful to me.
It wasn’t a career question: What did I want to do? It was a life question: Who did I want to be and what kind of life did I want to live?
What I learned is that I am, fundamentally, a mission-oriented person. I believe I am here to be of service to others. It is where I find my joy and my meaning.
Aligning my life with my mission
One of the most infuriating things about some of the millennials I know is their belief they can have it all. My generation calls that naive.
Now, I call that savvy. It turns out the world is binary only if you assume it is.
With my mission to be of service to others as my north star, I began to organize my life, priorities and choices around that. For me, it means dividing my time into three spheres. I have a consulting practice as a management psychologist where I focus on helping people and organizations realize their aspirations and potential. I devote time to philanthropy, serving on not-for-profit boards, and giving my professional talents to causes and people that resonate for me. I help myself along my human journey by carving out time to be creative, to engage in spiritual and personal development, to explore ideas, to play outside, to meaningfully connect with others.
Finding comfort in the compromises
My millennial friends know they are making compromises and they are OK with that. The rest of us just don’t really understand their value system.
We ask: Why would you choose to make less money to have more balance?
They reply: Why is money more important than quality of life?
Choosing to build my life around my mission requires compromises. For example, if I want to earn more money, I need to work more, and if I work more, I have to give up something else. Since I already have a lot experience giving up something else, I’ve decided that, at least for now, I’m going to give up earning more money.
I’ll be honest: because it’s a compromise I haven’t made before, it doesn’t always feel comfortable.
When things no longer work for them, millennials are more likely to change their circumstances.
I know I am responsible for my own equilibrium, which requires a high degree of awareness and engaging in regular reflection. So I start the day with yoga and meditation. I like to read some philosophy, often stoic or Buddhist. Sometimes I journal, particularly when I find my mind racing before I have even connected to the Internet. These are practices I have found to help keep me on course.
When I notice a situation is pulling me too far out of balance, I address it. Sometimes it means saying no to an opportunity or stepping back from a relationship. Sometimes it means putting down a good book. I am learning to operate with intention instead of by default.
These days when I tell people what I do, sometimes they say it must be nice to be semi-retired. I just smile. I’m nowhere near the end of my journey. I’m at a new beginning. I’m aspiring to be a millennial.
Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions.
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