Who doesn’t remember having a childhood dream? Maybe you wanted to be an astronaut, maybe a scientist and win a Nobel Prize, maybe all you wanted to have was a simple married life. But somehow ‘life’ happened and overtook those dreams. You work in a company and your spouse is long gone. Now in your 40s and 50s as you sit surrounded by symbols of success — the car in your driveway or that vacation or that house — you are consumed by an emptiness of a life without a dream. You tell yourself reality is different, that ‘this is life’ and you try to sleep waking up to another meaningless day. 

Rewind a little bit to that dream of being a world class scientist on particle research. Why did you abandon it? Was it an idle dream of a daydreamer? Maybe you abandoned the dream well before you even made a serious attempt. Maybe you did figure that to become a top flight scientist you need to get into a top flight tech school and you did. But everyone was getting a job when you were graduating and so did you. Or maybe you figured during your school years that you just don’t have the aptitude, and drive, to make your fantasy match reality. There is a reason I am asking you this – part of getting off the thinking that you have peaked in your middle age is figuring out if you have a real gift that can flourish in the real world. 

Now in your middle age you are forced to confront the realities of your professional aspirations. It is by this time that your childhood dreams have long died. Maybe you always wanted to be really wealthy — but nobody does that by working for someone else and you just didn’t have the appetite for risk. Maybe you just lack the education, motivation, or resources that it would take to fulfill your earlier career dreams. Maybe you long to be CEO, but if you do not realize your not suited to a strategic management position — you can only find everyone else to blame. 

Accepting the fact of your current reality is the first and most important thing to move through the trials of a mid-life crisis. If letting go of the dream is not painful it was not a real dream to begin with. But if it is — what do you do? First you need to understand that the loss of a dream is the same as any other loss. And you will go through the stages of loss.

  • The first is denial. You may already be living in denial for years already. There is nothing to show but you hope that you will be the CEO someday when you know that hope doesn’t create realities. 
  • Then comes anger – and blame. So you blame office politics to have kept you back, or the management has a favourite person, or because your spouse did not support you enough through your career and you could not do more to show your competence. 
  • Then comes sadness, even depression. You somehow want to feel good and you enter the cliché of the mid-life crisis. You will have an affairs or affairs, go on expensive holidays, buy that farm-house you will never actually live in. Things that help cheer you up in the face of fading aspirations. 
  • Finally there is acceptance. 

What will you do next? Now in your middle age when you desperately want to feel strong, successful and in control but feel you’re not —  could you have a meaningful dream? You could and here’s how: 

  1. Define a new dream – Once you have let go of denial and anger it is not that difficult to create a picture of an achievable future. To start with first figure how you can best use your talents and passions. What gives you pleasure, what do you think are your accomplishments. In the middle of your life with some thought you will be able to consider your life and legacy outside of your paycheck and designation on your business card. You must have a vision that’s ‘useful’. Not successful – useful. Success is a trap – defined by others. Usefulness is easy to define. How is your life going to be useful for others, for yourself, for the world. You might find that the answer lies in art, or simply in investing more time with your family or giving your time and effort in charity. Or amazingly – you could have a new career dream. In my case I found both — I found what makes me happy and I found an new career goal. 
  2. Start on a new dream – start owning the responsibility of taking small steps toward realizing your current vision. The next step is to take control over what you actually can do. Starting at this stage is not easy and sticking to it even tougher but you can do that by finding a sense of purpose (ready here on finding meaning in life and work). Once you find the mindset to take on a new challange you see that being useful is not just possible it is fantastic. If a younger generation of technologists threaten your place in the company – you can either upskill yourself and stay ahead or you can become a mentor to them on the aspects they need help – on for instance navigating the company or just life. 
  3. Sticking to the new dream – I have found the path to excellence is actually made for people who can live with no visible progress for long periods of time. But they keep working at it. Grit is essential for being able to overcome setbacks and stagnation. Stop blaming others for my circumstances allowed me to overcome the resentment and assert control over what I could do (attend a Stronger with Rakesh Shukla™ program to learn how to Become the Toughest Person you know™)

That day you are waiting to find that life was worth it — simply isn’t there. If you’re not dreaming your childhood dream anymore, it is time to have an even better one — a midlife dream! While you may not achieve all of your new dream — with resilience & persistence you will come to a place where you will feel that you’re doing what you were actually meant to do all along. Not dreaming a dream is the worst legacy of your life.