Most of us don’t love challenges when they appear. We may have eaten our way into obesity, or the humor has evaporated from our marriage, or one of our children has been arrested for shoplifting, or we have a cold we can’t get over, or we dread going to our dull job, or our neighbor’s dog is pooping on our lawn every day. We tend to wish that our challenges would go away. Meanwhile, we don’t feel that our life is ideal—in other words, trouble free.
I’ve been just like everybody else in this regard: I’m happiest when my life is trouble free. But I am trying to figure out how to continue to be happy when the inevitable challenges show up. So I have been experimenting with a strategy that can turn my challenges into great adventures—in other words, my challenges become a source of fun, excitement, and growth.
I’ve chosen my biggest challenge to work with. My strategy to turn my most persistent problem into a great adventure has worked wonderfully well, so I’ll share with you how I’ve approached this shift in perspective. Maybe you can use this process to address a challenge you’re facing right now.
My biggest challenge
The problem I face is aging. Finding myself in the last quarter of my life and facing the difficulties and problems that go along with moving into advanced age, I am experiencing a new major challenge.
I never thought about aging until I got here. I have always enjoyed enormous energy and good health, pretty much free of sickness, injuries, and contact with the medical world. But now, as a person society views as retired (a word I never use to describe myself), I lead an easy life, doing what I please most days. In spite of this undemanding life, I feel fatigue, a slowly growing lethargy. I don’t always fill my days with meaningful activity.
The phone doesn’t ring very often anymore. There’s been a lot of tv, an activity that sometimes leaves me feeling that I’m wasting my life. There have been a lot of doctor appointments as my body slowly declines in various ways. My lower back hurts if I sit too much. I work out regularly, but I don’t run on the treadmill anymore because my knees won’t have it. I have to pay a lot more attention than I used to to what I eat and drink. Intellectually, there’s been in the past couple of years a drift of purpose, a lack of clarity about how to live life fully at this stage.
So I’ve decided to turn these challenges into a new adventure. No longer seeing getting older as a cascade of problems, a set of difficulties to be endured, my new frame is The Great Adventure of Aging.
I’ve never been this old before, so I’m scouting out the new territory. It’s a new world to discover and explore every day. As a first step, I’ve summarized the assets I have to invest in this adventure
- I’m poised almost all of the time and haven’t felt sorry for myself for a long time.
- I have practically full time to devote to the adventure.
- I have financial assets that allow me to invest in a big adventure.
- In spite of the fatigue, I’m in pretty good shape, so I have enough energy for a new adventure.
- I have mastered skills from a lifetime of work that allow me to be a potent advocate for social justice.
- My values align with adventure—love of excellence, curiosity, learning, courage, and humor.
- I’m fearless, willing and eager to enter new worlds.
- I am lucky to have a loving, brilliant, supportive wife who is creating her own adventure through music.
If you’re thinking of your biggest challenge right now, list the strengths and advantages you have as you decide on a great adventure. What have you got going for you that could address the challenge?
What is a great adventure?
The most conscious people on the earth are living a great adventure. They are vibrantly awake, loving life, living in awe. They are pioneering on the frontiers of human emergence. We see these people on tv everyday. We read about them. There are plenty of models for us if we look.To live at this wonderful level, we need to remember how living an adventure wakes us up. Remember what your adventures have been like?
- Adventures are exciting because we can’t be sure how they will turn out. Adventures are only partly predictable, somewhat risky, pushing us into unfamiliar territory.
- Adventures are fun: we choose an adventure because it appeals to us. we want to do it to pursue some form of pleasure.
- Adventures open growth opportunities. True adventures present a new world to explore, a world without a clear navigational map. We will discover some new aspects of ourselves with each adventure.
- Adventures fit each of us perfectly. One of my friends likes to travel to third world countries like the Philippines, meet poor people, and live with them in dirt floor huts. One of my grandchildren, seeking perceptual breakthroughs, traveled to Peru to ingest ayahuasca with a shaman. Some scientists are living an adventure looking into microscopes to discover new cures for diseases. Maybe you created an adventure when you quit your job to pursue your life’s dream, or when you decided to move to a new place to live, to new employment, and to new relationships.
You will tailor your adventures to your needs right now. Maybe you need to create an adventure to address a problem you have and, at the same time, to pursue a potential you have. And your adventures may change as you move into different stages of your life because your challenges are changing.
Our challenges call out to us to change, to learn something that we must learn, to wake up. Your great adventure will be designed to to do all that.
Any ideas yet about the shape of your great adventure?
My great adventure of aging
My great adventure of aging is designed to stop focusing on the negatives of aging and instead focus on what is possible for this stage of life. With this re-framing, some wonderful developments are unfolding already, letting me know that I’m on the right track:
I’ve discovered how to dance alone. Too inhibited in earlier stages of life, I now—with great joy and freedom—can dance alone to just about any music that’s playing. I’ve become a really good dancer after a lifetime of mediocrity. I dance to rock at bars in front of other people, and I dance at home by simply turning on some music. This is some of the best excitement and fun I’ve ever had. I hear music and respond to it at a deeper level than before. Dancing alone, I feel like a different person, a surprising person whose behavior can’t be predicted. Dancing alone, I feel youthful.
Another exciting element in my adventure of aging is playing the piano for the first time. Our electric piano has been moved from Mary’s music room into the living room to be part of my life now. I have taken several months of lessons from a passionate, brilliant teacher. When I sit down to play, I have the fun of playing music. Creating my own tunes, once again I feel like a different person, and I am a different person. The tired older person I was worried about would not be playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The advocate in me has been reawakened and refined. Framing this stage of life as an adventure has opened up a surprising new commitment and growth opportunity. I spent much of my career as an advocate for the poor, leading an anti-poverty laboratory and training leaders around the nation. But I left that work behind a few years ago and have assumed that I was finished with it, giving way to the next generation of leaders.
But I have recommitted to advocating for people in poverty and have got myself back into a position of leadership. I am astonished that I feel excited every day about this work and what I can do now. I’ve reconnected with some brilliant national leaders and begun catching up with new anti-poverty strategies around the country.
I have a great opportunity to learn how to contribute as a volunteer rather than as a paid professional. My first volunteer activities have already exposed my ego and the need to stay poised as I re-enter the worlds of government and human service professionals who don’t always welcome a potent volunteer into decision-making. As I once again lead social change, I will have plenty of growth opportunities maintaining my poise and finding a pathway for service.
Let’s stop living only part time
Rejecting the aging process as loss, sadness, and fatigue has required a mental discipline. It’s easy to fall back into negative patterns.
But I love adventure, and I love the idea that my life can always be a great adventure. Each of our lives is an adventure if we decide it is.
Where to begin? One of our challenges may be a door to a great adventure.