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Western Reserve Psychological Associates, Inc.Empowering change for over 40 years
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Fine Tuning A Meaningful Life

We expect teens and college age young people to struggle with identity and purpose. For example – young people struggle with what they've been taught and what their life purpose should be: career or marriage, balancing social life and obligations, college major and job choice, career or just a job.

In fact we all reexamine our identity and purpose many times. Gail Sheehy wrote a book called Passages during the 1970's that touches on the idea of adult developmental crises. These crises lead to decisions about who we are and what our purpose is.

Recently, I have seen a number of adults who have completed many of their life tasks. They got trained or educated for careers. They dated, courted and married. They bought a house and raised kids. Their partner may be ill or failing. Their career may be winding down and retirement doesn't seem like a desirable thing. Their dream of the future feels like it's vaporizing. These adults, 50 plus must rethink who they are and what their purpose is.

The good news is, there are lots of things that can be done by the able bodied and the physically impaired, as well. For example, when my mother retired, she felt an attraction to literacy training. Her own mother was illiterate and was afraid to fail at learning and therefore, didn't try. My mom had students and a sense of pride as she helped others open their own doors to their improved future. In addition, my Grandma Alyce was limited by her age and poor mobility, but she called shut-ins on a daily basis and was part of her church's prayer chain. To think through identity and purpose as a 50 plus adult we need to ask ourselves some questions. The answers guide us to what we need to do for ourselves.

What have you put on hold/given up to be a husband and father/a wife and mother? What part of what you gave up can you do now? (E.g. singing in the choir, riding a bicycle)

What is important to you? (E.g. helping people who can't read, learn to read. Keeping up or repairing meaningful relationships.) How can you put your values to work? (Is there meaningful volunteer work you'd like to do?)

Do you need time with others or time alone? If you are surrounded by family and friends you may need to be alone for a part of your day or your week. If you are alone you may need to do something with others. (Call shut-ins, join a committee for the neighborhood picnic.)

Do you need to use your hands, your body, your mind or your spirit? If your work is mental, put your hands to work. (Make wooden toys, crochet or knit a baby blanket). If your work is physical do something using your mind or spirit. (Learn yoga, join an Artist's Way study group or help your Sunday School program.)

Talk to your pastor, priest or rabbi. What are the tenets of your faith? Consider growing spiritually.

If you don't know enough about yourself to answer these questions, consider therapy to develop your relationship with yourself. For many of us our "senior" years give us the time to finally put ourselves into the equation of a well-balanced life.

Barbara A. Buchanan, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist

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