Do you ever wonder what your mother was doing at your age? This is a question I often ponder. When my mom was in her early 50s, she and her younger sisters recorded an album and did some touring, calling themselves "Designer Genes." I sang and played with them some. It was an exhilarating season.
[Pictured left to right: Aunt Linda, Aunt Sherry, Betty (my mom)] Now, like my mother then, I'm in my early fifties. I feel like I'm at a crossroads. My step-daughter is adulting, working full-time, and ready to find her own place for her final year of university. She's taking her 3-year-old Golden Retriever, so except for an old white Shepherd and a couple of old cats, we'll be empty-nesters. My decade-long day job finished at the end of April, and I've gone publishing full-time, but there are still so many questions about what that should and will look like. Some other obligations are also open for negotiation. As Eugene Peterson puts it in Romans 8:15 of The Message: "What next, Papa?" In his book, Start Finishing, Charlie Gilkey writes, "let's consider Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand's idea that significant, impactful ideas will require at least five years of focused action to complete. Subtract your current age from eighty-five and divide by five -- that's how many significant projects you have left to do" (chapter 3).
Sobering. By that math, I've got about 6.6 projects left. (Of course, a lot of my family members on both sides have lived to 90, so barring dementia and/or infirmity, I've could have 7.6 projects.) Either way, it doesn't feel like a lot. I've done so much already -- international travel, even living overseas: , education; a couple of different career paths -- but there's so much I still want to do. How does one decide?
Decade age markers feel like hinges, don't they? Mom was feeling a similar reflectiveness in her early 50s, penning these lyrics:
Roses 'round the door
Babies on the floor
Who could ask for anything more
In Sleepy Valley?
Sometimes dreams would come a-knockin'
We couldn't let 'em in, 'cause we were rockin'
Rocking chairs and lullabies
Saying prayers and hushing cries ...
When there are children at home, so many of a mother's priorities are automatic, dictated by other people's needs and wants. But one day, the rocking chair and the lullabies stop, and the cries and prayers change. "What next, Papa?"
Charlie Gilkey advises to "pick an idea that matters to you" (chapter 3), and recommends brain dumping everything you might ever want to do: "Think beyond 'professional' ideas and projects -- yard and house projects, community initiatives, events with your community, traveling to Nepal, sorting your finances, or getting a puppy all count. It can be items on your bucket list, but they don't have to be bucket-list level." In a blog post called "Why Strategic Planning is So Hard for Creative People," Gilkey explains, "I know I'm making progress if I'm sad and frustrated. That's not a sign that something's wrong with the process or me, but rather a sign that to be human means to be bounded by space and time. ... Everything we do comes at the cost of something else we could've done."
Do I feel wistful as I consider what five to seven big projects I might be able to tackle in the second half of my century? Indeed. The process of choosing also involves releasing. Truthfully, it's a relief to release the dream of getting a doctorate, recognizing that the impulse to study and teach can be satisfied in so many other ways and there are other ways to accumulate credentials without paying an arm and a leg. It's not just a process of asking what's next, but a question of why I wanted to do a certain thing in the first place. As I write my list, I see how many things fit into others. Some items get crossed off with BTDT (been there, done that), because I don't feel an urge to do them again. Other things get crossed off because they're not necessary. The list also helps me connect dots: I have a few lines and arrows that show how some dreams and goals are connected to others.
When my day job as Bookstore Manager at Ambrose University was winding down, I knew I wanted to go publishing full-time. Even so, I looked at a lot of job boards, wondering if I should get another day job. There's something appealing about showing up and doing what someone else initiates, something restful in not having all of the responsibility for every aspect of a business. However, Gilkey's decision making matrix asks important clarifying questions:
Imagine that you're celebrating with a friend or loved one the most important thing you've done over the last year. If you could only pick one of the items on the list, which would it be?
Which of the items on the list causes the most gut-level anguish when you consider cutting it from the list completely?
Which of the items on the list are you most likely to wake up for two hours earlier, stay up for two hours later, or steal time elsewhere to create two hours to do?
Which of the items on the list, if finished, will matter the most in five years, in terms of having one it or how it sets up your future self for thriving?
Which of the items on the list is worth claiming one of your remaining "significant project" slots. Recall from the section on displacement regarding your number of significant project slots."
I'm not sure if I'm defining project correctly. Some of my projects seem more like themes. On one hand, a theme is not terribly specific. On the other hand, it can also provide a grid for decision-making. So I've narrowed down five areas to start:
Siretona Creative (publishing business)
Colleenie Dahlin' (this blog: personal and family writing; blog, newsletter, songwriting, music recording)
InScribe Christian Writers (influencing and equipping Canadian writers)
Home & Family (marriage, homemaking, decorating, landscaping, gardening, maintaining, cleaning, hospitality, pets)
Church (music/worship, Bible study, women, children/nursery)
For big projects, the one that answers three of Gilkey's questions (1, 3, 4) is Siretona: establishing a profitable and sustainable publishing business that equips and blesses authors with resources to prepare, polish, produce, promote, and profit from their writing. But two things answer question 2: my personal writing on this blog Colleenie Dahlin' and Home/Family. These would cause "the most gut-level anguish" if removed from my list completely
About 11 years ago I did a short winter tour with by friend Dara. My set list included a song that Mom wrote around my age and recorded with Designer Genes: "Love Survives." It takes some serious work, but with patience and warmth, love can survive and thrive. My Mom has been loving people all of her life and that's what I want to be doing at every parallel age along the way.