I had a fascinating talk the other night with a young friend who is a singer songwriter. She was describing her desire to use her passion for music for some purpose beyond her own pleasure. In particular she was talking about how she might use her songs to encourage young women to be aware of their own strengths, particularly those at risk of depression. You can visit her site and hear some of her music her at SusannaOLeary.com.
I was thinking a lot about this discussion on my walk this morning. In refocusing my life from being fully engaged in work and family, I’ve been aware of wanting to follow my dreams, write in areas I’m passionate about, live a more mindful, creative authentic life. I’m also aware that I want to continue to contribute to the world in some way, to try to make a difference in other people’s lives, in ways that matter for them. I often find myself thinking about these dual directions as opposites; either I hide away in a forest cottage to read and write, or I throw myself into community work or caring for others. It’s like the dichotomy I’ve felt most of my life between looking after my own health and wellbeing and taking care of my family, friends and colleagues. Eventually I found after bouts of illness that looking after myself was essential if I was to continue to care for and about others. It was necessary rather than narcissistic.
I think the same applies to being creative and making a contribution; they need not be separate. A lot of us want to lead a life at this age of passion as well as purpose. As Howard Thurman, philosopher, theologian and mentor of Martin Luther King, says ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive’. So many women of my age, including myself, have lost touch with the things that excite them, that ‘light them up’. With their head down in work and family, they rarely looked up. One of most common regret of dying people, reported by palliative care nurse Bonnie Ware, was ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’. The main reason why people may leave work or seek alternatives to full-time work at this age is a sense of mortality; that the time left alive is infinitely less than life experienced so far, that some unexpected whisperings from their heart begin to surface, or that their bodies remind them through illness that this life will be over all too soon.
A group in America has been built around the idea of Encore Careers, combining purpose, passion and a paycheck. This idea, that those over fifty have so much to contribute from their years of experience as their own responsibilities lessen, has grown like wildfire. There are funding opportunities for Encore fellowships, awards, and start up funding for good ideas that bring experience and need together. It’s only for citizens of the USA at this point in time. Let’s hope it spreads more widely. Where is the Australian Encore organisation?