Moving to more intentional life-- do I need to?
March 28, 2022 8:14 AM   Subscribe

As I hit 40, I'm starting to think about living more intentionally, having longer term goals, etc. My life is pretty good without having much of a plan. Have a solid, high paying career that I kind of not tried too hard on steering, loving wife, loving baby, a house I could live in the rest of my life, lots of friends, good relationship with family, pretty solid health. Do I need to change anything? If you shifted from something solid but somewhat directionless to thinking about macro life more intentionally, how did it go?

My only real long term goal is going to semi retirement in ~15-20 years, which should be financially doable, but otherwise, I'm kind of living day to day, no farther than a couple months in advance. I'm starting to think of things like legacy, meaning of life, and setting intention for my children.
posted by sandmanwv to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
One thing you could consider thinking about is how you can help personally fight climate change for your childrens' sake, from political involvement to donations to personal choices. When you said "legacy," the first thing that came to my mind was buying forested land to donate to a conservation group.
posted by pinochiette at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2022 [9 favorites]

Few things I'd mention from a point about 10 years or so on from you...

1. Make those semi-retirement plans in enough detail with near-term concrete steps that you can follow over the next few years, so you're working incrementally towards something real & achievable and not just an abstract goal.

2. Talk together with your spouse about what's most important for your kid(s) to have in early life, and make sure they get it - I'm talking on a hierarchy-of-needs level - is it more important for them to be safe & happy & loved, or to be high achievers in academia or sports or career, or... what else? You don't need to pick just one, but what order do you put them?

3. All of your physical & intellectual capabilities are on a use-it-or-lose-it basis from middle age onwards - whatever abilities that you have that you want to keep, make sure you're using them & continuing to develop them.

4. Don't get smart. This happened in earlier life for me, so it might not be relevant for you - but when I was about 30 & doing relatively well by my standards, I wondered: what if this is it? what if I've felt all the feelings, and the rest of life is just a series of variations on what I already know? Spoiler alert: it's not. Remember that stuff will fuck you up that you didn't see coming.
posted by rd45 at 9:36 AM on March 28, 2022 [13 favorites]

I'd think about what supports your current way of life - could you keep going with your job if your wife were suddenly not there but the baby was? How would they manage if you weren't there? Then take steps to insure against that - with actual insurance, or by supporting your wife in her goals, or a combination of both these things.

I'd also make a conscious effort to be grateful for what I had (not saying you're not grateful! I also have a lot, and am not always grateful for it). It's easy to get swept up in GOALS and in striving for something else, without stopping to appreciate what's already there.
posted by altolinguistic at 10:26 AM on March 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you are doing better than many, and your approach has brought you to a place you enjoy being. The advice to think about your long term contributions, and the things that underpin the conditions you want to see continue, is very wise. This will probably lead you to both gratitude and a realization of how much of a role privilege and luck, which can both be fragile, have played.

I’m older than you and ironically, my goal now is to live more like you, with less steering and more flexibility, while trying to help others enjoy their own versions of the good life.
posted by rpfields at 11:02 AM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Time to do the intense visualization of your life on forward until your vivid death, like as life force is leaving your eyes, lungs, heart, brain. And notice what comes up at death, “but I still didn’t” “I realize now that X was the most valuable thing.”

Next exercise: ask your self what you were born here to do. The one thing. It may take a few hours of writing and self assessment (your values and skills) before it comes out.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:09 AM on March 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Based on the experiences of my friends and me (I'm in my late 40s), I think there starts to be, around 40, the realization that you can't do everything in life. Maybe you know this intellectually earlier, but you really start to understand it when you're getting older and it's clear you're not part of youth culture anymore. So, I'd say... start to talk to your other friends who are the same age about all this.

You won't go wrong if you spend tons of time with your kiddo and cultivate a love for activities that they can do with you. That can be hiking or biking (baby in a backpack or in a bike trailer) or something more cerebral... but something you love and that your kiddo can eventually do with you will go a long way towards growing that relationship. Let me be the parent of teens who says what we all say: those early years go really fast, even though they can feel like a slog at the time. But you only have about a decade before your kiddo starts to have some of their own real strong interests and inclinations.

In the bigger picture, related to your kiddo: what is the life you want them and their friends and their kids to be able to have when they are adults? Now, what can you do to help make that world possible?
posted by bluedaisy at 11:26 AM on March 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: "how did it go?"

Honestly, bad!

I felt like I wanted to do this during the pandemic. I felt a bit directionless, a bit stagnant, and I could feel the rest of my life yawning before me, every day at the core the same as the last, getting a little older each day until I died. Is this it? Am I satisfied?

I feel like I had a midlife crisis caused entirely BY me, by trying to force me - a laissez-faire dilettante multipotentialite who drifts through life (usually happily) - to try to think of concrete things I wanted to achieve, the person I want to be in contrast to who I am, the legacy I want to leave behind, what makes me happy and what isn't serving me: it was, frankly, a mistake.

Here's the thing: I have a nice life. I AM happy. I have managed to end up with a great marriage, a house I love, a job I enjoy, some friendships that are important to me, and the financial and time freedom to pursue within reason, whatever I am currently interested in. This is empirically, a great life I have. But when you start delving into Big Questions, they start to butt up against the walls of my life, and make little holes, letting some weird darknesses in - my inability to feel PASSION about things. My uncertainty that I ever made any choices in my life and I didn't just trip along a path until I ended up somewhere that seemed fine. The potential I had in many skills that I don't feel I lived up to because I don't really like trying that hard. a willingness to settle with something that makes me content. Could things be better? Should I be more ambitious in every way? Should I be constantly trying to improve myself and my circumstances until every day is literally heaven-on-earth? Have I settled for GOOD instead of AMAZING in every aspect of my life?

These turned out to be bad questions for me. The kind of questions that make me imagine divorcing my really great spouse. Leaving my job that pays the bills and doesn't stress me out. Considering having children I have never really wanted. GOALS are something to work towards but they are also something to fail at, to not try hard enough for, to beat yourself up about not achieving. For me, when I was trying to change things to some perfect ideal I thought would be "better" than my life now, it made every aspect of my life worse, and made me feel like I had built my house on sand. Maybe I have, but maybe that sand foundation would have held up my house forever if I hadn't started poking finger holes in every inch of it to see how solid it was.

Make a little more effort with your health, wealth, and important relationships so you can keep them all. Be mindful of what you have and actually appreciate and take care of it. You and I probably DID make choices all along and do make choices every day to get us to somewhere that IS happy. Maybe we were just so good at knowing what we wanted that it never felt like a conscious choice and we were lucky that it never felt like a struggle to get here. (looking back, of course things were struggles and felt like struggles but because they turned out okay I have dismissed that effort I guess.)

Maybe you'll love the introspection and process of looking at yourself and your life and your future like this. Some people really do, so I'm not knocking it for everyone. I just wanted to chime in and say that if you're not actually unsatisfied or unhappy with your life.. this can open up some strange thoughts that maybe you don't really need to have!
posted by euphoria066 at 12:09 PM on March 28, 2022 [38 favorites]

One of the most important things I learned was to let go of some expectation to be exceptional. Do I have a great family of choice, stable housing, and enough to not worry about the bills? Yup. So baseline, that's fine. Now, I think about what brings me joy. Everything else is other people's expectations of me based on some silly hustle culture. That's not to say I need to turn self centered, I find a lot of joy in helping lift people up. Is that some noble things others might praise? Sure. maybe, but I do it because it makes _me feel great_.

Internet stranger, you are enough, and it sounds like you have enough. Now find a way to make sure you and your family find some joy.
posted by advicepig at 1:33 PM on March 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

FWIW, previously I found this blog post from February entitled "A career ending mistake" and tag line "If you don't change direction, you may end up where you're heading" to be similar to what you are discussing.

In my own current semi-retired situation, my employer let me spend too many months driving 75 minutes back and forth between home and work. It gave me too much time to think of ways out of the rat race. So one day I went to them and said that I can work from home when it snows, why not every day? I am just as reliable and more productive when it snows. Their come back was that they didn't want to establish a precedent. So the compromise was that I could work from home part time, so I semi-retired. Note that all this happened BEFORE pandemic. It was in the before times.

I save a ton of money in tolls, gas, auto maintenance and have more time to smell the roses and see my grandkids. And I'm not allowed to work more than a set number of hours per week (what a concept).
posted by forthright at 5:04 PM on March 28, 2022

I'm kind of with euphoria here. This sounds like the seeds of instability that are going to screw up your stable life and maybe destroy it all if you let it. There's no such thing as a "legacy". Life has no "meaning". Even if they build a statue of you after you die, you're just as dead. If you start chasing these deep yet unsolvable abstract questions you will do it at the expense of the important things like cooking and cleaning and loving your family and sleeping 8 hours a night. Think very carefully about your priorities.

One thought... if you have spare hours in the day and spare energy... why not invest it in your wife? Learn more about her, do special things for her, support her in her endeavors, take more of the load off of her? It's pretty hard for women to be primary childcare providers and also have their own careers and hobbies unless their partners really invest in making that happen, I don't know what your dynamic is like, but since you seem to be kind of bored and looking for something to do, I bet your family could benefit from that energy.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:49 PM on March 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

P.S. Every time I have thought about "macro, intentional" questions and thought about my "legacy" and the "meaning of life", I have done so at the expense of my actual life and the relationships and responsibilities in it. You can only invest in one at a time. If you get all philosophical, you neglect the physical, and you neglect the people you love. The philosophical path spirals into obsession and narcissism. It's a degenerate option that I'm convinced humans are not meant to take. Some kind of bug in our mental software. Your legacy will be the things you do every day that improve the lives of the people around you, nothing more and nothing less.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:59 PM on March 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

This is a really interesting question. I'm a similar age but in a very different life situation: single, renter, no kids but also a career I love (less money but lots of stability and time off) that I can retire from in 16 years (should I want to!), great friends, good family connections, etc. I have accepted that my situation is partially by choice, partially by chance, and that I'm grateful for all the good stuff. I've also dealt with some big challenges and took a sabbatical abroad but that's really less important: I have achieved what I wanted as did you, and now it's about where we go from here.

First, I super second the suggestions of really working hard on maintaining/improving your happy relationship with your wife and child, both separately and together. Second, I'd save money for college and the like to make sure all of those needs won't be stresses, since it's a privilege you can afford; that's great.

Third, I'd work on cultivating some interests and hobbies that could be pleasant pastimes or even develop into wonderful passions. I love to travel and learn languages, so I look for cheap(er) flights and study formally and informally. I anticipate those trips, then savor them during and after. I try to read 50-100 books a year (35 so far in 2022!), and I get into new fitness classes and set personal wellness goals. I sew quilts and make zines; I enjoy sharing and connecting on social media with my network of online and in-person friends. I love my balcony garden and DIY home projects; I've decided to start the master gardener program so I can learn more, have fun, connect, and eventually give back in that way. I am very involved in my community through my career (teaching) so volunteering is less of a focus these days but I always like helping with specific campaigns or initiatives. I live near tons of great museums so I try to visit as many as possible, including the same one every few months as a ritual and chance to mark the seasons. I look forward to trying fancy new restaurants occasionally with friends and love cooking new soups at home; I bake a cake every week and share half of it. All of that is random but adds up to absolute joy for me.

I set smaller and bigger goals and intentions, be it for a few years out (Master Gardener plan) or a few weeks (current exercise classes.) For me, my greatest middle age solo pleasure is setting and achieving goals -- with some tweaks or updates or jumping ship -- while exploring my interests and connecting with others. Maybe you'll also find exploring hobbies would bring you a similar joy?
posted by smorgasbord at 8:00 PM on March 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

If you are living a life aligned with your values, you are happy with your approach to decision making and roughly where you look to be headed then I don't think you should change anything fundamental. Change will happen and you will deal with it.

It's a good point to check in on your retirement funding and make sure it's likely to deliver what you need. Adjusting now will be cheaper in the long run than adjusting later.

Otherwise, maybe make sure to have conversations with your wife about how the kids are doing, and what they need.

Not all of us are made happy by having a grand strategic plan. Some of us just like a vague direction or approach (such as "only take jobs which pay enough and sound interesting). Neither is better than the other.
posted by plonkee at 3:49 AM on March 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm starting to think of things like legacy, meaning of life, and setting intention for my children.

This language gives me the impression that you are already thinking in terms of giving, or "giving back," as they say. I think that is a really good pattern to establish for your family.

How to accomplish this, exactly, can take a lot of thought. If you have a financial planner, it's worth bringing up with them. I'm not sure how I feel about private family foundations in general. But the one close friend I have who participates in one comes from a middle class family and their foundation is a huge asset to the community they live in. For the past several years, most of my modest giving has been to them. It gives me a sense of structure and being able to see results. To be clear, I'm not talking about huge amounts of money; I don't have those. Rather, it's about making giving a part of one's life.

My own family of origin has been somewhat embattled, but I think one thing we all agree on is that our parents set an example of giving. My sister once said, "As messed up as our family was, at least when I think of my ambitions, I think in terms of setting up a scholarship, not owning a fancy car." At this point, the way my family has done it seems a little old-fashioned and today, maybe "service" is a more relevant concept. It can be on whatever scale you want, but I think it is good to have some sort of plan.
posted by BibiRose at 5:47 AM on March 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

« Older Webcam issues: next step   |   Chill European seaside gems for a young family of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.