In what may be a stroke of benevolent synchronicity, the emergent field of positive psychology could not have come at a more opportune moment for midlifers. Though its roots lie in the 50s, in humanistic psychology’s emphasis on healthy adult development rather than mental illness, it was given new life by Martin Seligman, who coined the term just a decade ago. Positive psychology focuses on what makes life fulfilling, and on the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. And, as a crux of midlife challenge is coming face to face with unanticipated feelings of limitation, failure, and sometimes consequent despondency, these are just the questions we find ourselves asking … ourselves.

Or we would be well-advised to, as Fortune 500 business consultant and coach Julie Jansen suggests in her book, I Don’t Know What I Want, But I know It’s Not This: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Gratifying Work. While midlife can be a time of confronting limitations, it can also be a time for new beginnings. The outcome may depend on how you manage the transition.

The limits we face may originate from a number of sources. Real changes in biology affecting our energy and motivation, financial issues decreasing our options, or recognizing that the gap between the dreams of youth and the reality of now will never shrink. You may suddenly realize that you’re never going to be a full professor or get that job as VP, so where do you go from here?

Whatever your particular situation, Julie Jansen’s book is a no-nonsense guide that asks you to answer key questions, through exercises designed to uncover clues to motivation, the meaning of success, what brings satisfaction, tolerance for risk, etc. These factors contribute not just to work satisfaction, but also to deeper life values of purpose, meaning and contribution that are of central concern to midlifers. The subtext is the suggestion that limitations can be limiting - or they can be fashioned as a springboard and opportunity for defining new possibilities for yourself. The first steps are to identify where you are now, where you want to be and how you’re going to get there.

The self-assessments identify where you with regard to work, in the following categories:
o What’s the meaning?
o Been there, done that, but still need to earn
o Bruised, and gun-shy
o Bored and plateaued
o Yearning to be on your own
o One toe in the retirement pool

“Meaning seekers” are those of us who look for a different kind of reward and satisfaction from work. “Earning a living employees” need and want to keep earning at the same level, yet the prospect of staying in the same job for the next 10 years feels positively stultifying. “The gun-shy” feel victimized by the changing workplace. If you fall in “The bored” category, it’s likely you are ready to make a change. “Entrepreneurs” generally are in the yearning category. “Retirement workers” either want to go part-time or retire completely from their current jobs.

It’s a handy little test. Once you’ve identified where the majority of your answers fall, you can begin to seek opportunities. Presto change-o! Your limitations are turned into a new frame that you can leverage to guide next steps in your search.

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