When you repot your life, you can start being happy NOW.
Time to realise: Your old approach may not work
By the time you reach midlife, it can be disconcerting to accept that much of the training and many of the assumptions, beliefs and behaviours that have worked so well for you thus far may now be totally unfit for purpose. That what got you here won’t get you there.
You feel full of hard–earned experience and wisdom and are still enthusiastic to contribute, but you’re stymied by the lack of opportunities designed to help you make the most of your second act. You feel frustrated at being shunted up the sidings when there’s still plenty of juice left in the tank.
Give up your old PIP status
You might still be clinging desperately to the receding wreckage of your previous status or to your position as a PIP (Previously Important Person). Stuck in a partnership that no longer works. Spending your evenings talking to a bottle of pinot grigio and his friends Ben and Jerry. Terrified of what the future holds. Like a moribund bizzy lizzy, your life has become ‘potbound’. Stuck, with no chance to grow.
I understand this feeling only too well, I have been there and come out the other side and I am here to tell you that the solution is to ‘repot’ yourself into new fertile ground and give yourself a chance to bloom. To say goodbye to old, destructive habits. It isn’t simple, there will be those keen to maintain the status quo, but there will be many more of us urging you to dig deep and grow.
Susannah Constantine’s story of being potbound
Recently, the writer and broadcaster Susannah Constantine, wrote poignantly about her struggle to uproot from her own potbound pattern of alcoholism. In an open letter designed to help others extricating themselves from the same predicament, she spoke movingly of feeling demotivated, directionless and depressed and of trying to numb these classic, tell–tale potbound signs with increasing quantities of booze.
Her children were becoming more independent and one of her parents was nearing the end of her life, heralding a period of disquieting change that further exacerbated Susannah’s feelings of discomfort. Although she clearly managed to hide the situation well, she gradually found that this potbound existence was making her feel isolated and totally exhausted. Despite feelings of shame and guilt, however, it was only when she blacked out, fell and fractured various bones in her back, resulting in physical agony, that the emotional impetus was strong enough to make her change direction and repot for a healthier life. So why not start your own journey and choose to grow…
The steps to repotting your life:
FIGURE OUT WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
For most of us, this is one of the hardest challenges. When the 80-year-old parents of a friend of mine decided to divorce, their entire family was left feeling totally sandbagged. None of them could understand it. They had seemed so content. In such a gentle and supportive companionship that they even finished off one another’s sentences.
And yet, when my friend talked to her mother about the divorce, she belatedly came to realise that this wonderful woman had been feeling potbound and clinging onto a moribund marriage. It was only when the last grandchild, whom she’d been helping to look after, went off to playschool that she finally found the courage to ask herself what it was that she wanted. And, as it turned out, this did not involve spending the rest of her life with the man she had married to for over half a century. For women in particular, the repotting process might be the very first time in your adult life that you are asking yourself what it is that you want to do. Not what you can do. Not what you should do. Not what your parents/partner/children want you to do. And not what society expects you to do.
BE OPEN TO A NEW YOU
Try reading, listening to and engaging with ideas from as wide a range of different people as possible. In other words, get out of the filter bubble where your own preconceived ideas are endlessly reinforced. If you never extract yourself from your echo chamber of Mini-Mes, you’ll find it impossible to assess and reverse the effects of what’s left you feeling potbound. And if you don’t spend some time coming to terms with that realisation, you’ll end up making the same old mistakes.
AVOID THE PASSION TRAP
Many repotters try to find something to do with their lives that they can feel ‘passionate’ about. Indeed, it’s the perceived ‘lack of passion’ in their current lives that has often left them feeling the need for change. Personally, I think the way we define ‘passion’ has led us all into a terrible trap. It’s a concept so laden with connotations of heightened emotion that few folk feel that they could ever aspire to its dramatic extremes. I believe that it’s high time to expand the common understanding of this damagingly restrictive concept so that everyone can participate in life’s passion play. How about reframing the concept of ‘passion’ and considering it instead as the attitude that informs your less grandiose and glamorous actions and endeavours? Once you do that, you’ll realise that the attitude you bring to all the ancillary aspects of it that can genuinely add up to ‘passion’.
WATCH OUT FOR AN ATTACK OF ‘THE NEVERS’
I was in my 60’s when I first recognised I was suffering from an acute dose of what is sometimes called ‘The Nevers’. Common symptoms of this malaise include the sudden, incandescent insight that if you don’t do something pretty smartish, then you’ll never do it at all, and for some reason I found myself focusing on the fact that I’d never had a gap year. So, I Googled ‘Gap Years for Geriatrics’. I now realise, of course, that I was making a common mistake. A gap year is just a temporary break from normality. Like having your hair restyled or rearranging your living-room furniture – the difference may be obvious to others, but the reality is that it’s only superficial. Relaxing as it may be to drink daiquiris while diving with dolphins at dawn – or whatever the latest marketing mash-up is promoting – such temporary respites have limited long-term impact. I swiftly realised that I didn’t just want a gap year. I didn’t want to set sail and go gentle into that dark Costa Geriatrica night. I needed to find a new purpose.
FIND YOUR NEW PURPOSE
- Think of a period in your life when you felt truly enthusiastic and engaged. What were you doing?
- Can you think of any missed or wasted opportunities that you now regret and that you’d like to revisit or redress?
- What are you waiting for? A star from the east? If not now, when?
EMBRACE YOUR CURIOSITY
Planning to repot can sometimes make you feel like one of those soon-to-be-released long-term prisoners who’ve become so institutionalised that they have no idea how to exploit their new-found freedom. The trick is to look at this new start the same way that a two-year-old would – not with fear but with unalloyed wonder. Spending some time in the company of one of these tiny adventurers with their insistent questions of ‘Why?’ may be enough to test the patience of a saint, but it does make you appreciate how dramatically our own capacity for embracing possibility and opportunity has shrunk as we grow older. It’s time to start asking questions again!
BUILD YOUR JAR OF LIFE
Try thinking of life as a jar to be filled with a combination of rocks, pebbles and sand. The rocks represent the fundamental, non-negotiable elements of your life; the pebbles, the significant but less crucial issues; and the sand, the more trivial, ‘nice-to-have’ non-essentials. To put together a well-organised jar of life, you have to put the rocks in first, followed by the pebbles, and then pour in the sand so that it can arrange itself around any remaining spaces.
- What are the current rocks in your life? These key elements may well change over time but will probably include your most important personal relationships, your work and the attention that you need to devote to maintaining your overall health and well-being.
- What are the current pebbles in your life? These secondary concerns may include, for instance, your circle of good friends; your network of close colleagues; pastimes or interests that involve serious commitment.
- What is the sand in your life? These are all the tertiary activities such as shopping, casual socialising, entertainment, undemanding hobbies, travel . . .
MAKE YOUR CHOICE!
When asked the question ‘What makes a good general?’, Emperor Napoleon is reported to have replied, ‘A good general is a general who makes a decision.’ Once you have pulled together three or four possible directions for your repotted future, it’s vital that you don’t spend the rest of eternity agonising over making the ‘absolutely right’ decision. Despite its endless peddling by popular music, romantic literature and the movie industry, there is no such thing as an absolute ‘Mr or Mrs Right’. Likewise, there is no one single plan that will afford you a fulfilled and purposeful repotted life. There are always multiple options on offer. The key is to decide on your best option and then move on. Don’t keep endlessly rehashing the issues
To give yourself the final push, try experimenting with the following exercise:
- Is this plan consistent with my values and priorities?
- I recognise that I’m feeling unsure about some of the details, but do I feel right about the key features?
- I’ve done the due diligence to the best of my ability. Can I now promise to give this plan my very best shot?
- Can I also promise not to beat myself up if things don’t work out? If things go pear-shaped, can I promise just to reflect, learn the lessons and move on.
The simple truth is that you can never eliminate all the risks associated with repotting and you can never foresee the final outcome. What you can do, however, is actively decide to liberate yourself from your buried irrational and atavistic emotions. Find yourself a quiet place. Pause and consider the three options that you have outlined for yourself.
Each one offers a well-informed, rationally determined destination for your future life. Three possible futures – all of them better than your current life. Pick one!
Now start figuring how you’re going to get yourself there.