Wisdom//

Empty Nest like me? We need our own Commencement!

Our kids are looking out 30 years — why aren’t we?


Our kids are looking out 30 years — why aren’t we?

Let’s face it — when you picture a Commencement ceremony you imagine rows of college students just beginning their adult lives. But, what about their parent who made the choice to stay home and raise children (at least for 18+ years)? Or their parent who stayed in an unfulfilling job to make sure that college could be paid for?

I propose a Mid-Life Commencement — with all the same pomp and circumstance, personal reflection and professional planning. It’s time to mark this moment with a ceremony that propels us forward.

Commencement means beginning. After 50, that word rarely defines our life. In fact, every ritual in our future seems to be an ending: retirement, moving from your family home, saying good-byes.

And yet, I’m not ready to be sent out to pasture. Quite the contrary. In fact, I believe that those mortarboard graduates and we empty nesters share a few things in common.

Looking out over 30 years

Stay healthy and it’s likely you have an expected life-span into the mid-80’s. That’s 30 years from now. I repeat 30 years. At 22, can those college graduates fathom being in their 50s? I doubt it. They’re looking at tomorrow, taking their next steps very seriously. And so should we.

There’s no reason why our next 30 years should be filled with any less energy and awe than theirs will be. It’s time for us to consider what 30 years means — to consider all of the same questions that we did 30 years ago.

How did “30 years” feel to you when you were in your early 20’s? What is keeping you from imagining the same grandiose plans for the next 30 years?

Major life transition

I watched my youngest daughter process down the aisle at her Barnard Commencement two weeks ago. It was our third family college commencement in the past 4 years. Every speech, at each commencement basically asked the students to think about 3 things: who you want to be, what you want to do, and how to stay true to yourself.

After graduation, the structure of their lives — school from September to May — is forever changed. Even if they were to go on to graduate school, their lives would be pre-professional, independent and much more narrowly focused. And so at Commencement, they were asked to consider and reconsider the consequences of the decisions they were about to make as they would have lasting consequences.

The empty nest, too, forever changes the structure of your life. Even if your child lives with you after graduation, you have greater freedom. You’re no longer their care-taker. Making decisions based on your children’s needs and their schedules is now a choice, not a pre-requisite.

How will you take advantage of your new freedom? How would you answer these questions with all that you now know about yourself: who do you want to be? What do you want to do? How can you stay true to yourself?

An opportunity to reinvent ourselves

With respect for the fact that opportunities are not handed out equally among young adults, they do share a hope that their lives will be successful — however they define success. They’re inventing their future one day at a time.

Just as they experiment with options to invent themselves, we have the possibility to reinvent ourselves. Over the past years, we’ve learned so much from our experiences — about the types of people we are drawn to, about the topics that keep us up at night, about the work that energizes us and the work that deadens us.

What doors can you open that were closed to you before? What opportunities were you unable to explore before that you could now consider? What stories are holding you back? How can you find a community of like-minded companions? Online? Through your alumni networks?

Our health, our new freedom and our opportunities deserve our attention. It’s time! Cue Edward Elgar’s March #1!

I’d love to hear about how you are thinking about the next 30 years. This is how I plan to reinvent myself.

Originally published at medium.com

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