Humans 101

Signs You Are Likely to Make the Most of Your Life

Or, what I learned from 100 people over 50

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‘Wisdom comes with age’ is not just an aphorism. Life experience is one of our greatest teachers. As we move through life, we accumulate wisdom about who we are, what’s really important, and how we can live productively and happily.

With this in mind, I recently polled about 100 people, all over the age of 50, for advice on making the most of life. I studied their comments, looking for the particular mental attitude or belief underlying each one. I found common patterns, used some reverse engineering, and distilled them into five signs that you’re making the most of your life.

You know you are a work in progress

As a business coach, I’ve had the privilege of working with some brilliant clients. In 2008, I met Larry Tesler, an iconic figure in computer science. Larry attended Stanford at the age of 16, joined Steve Jobs at Apple in 1980, and eventually worked with Amazon and Yahoo. He contributed significantly to early programming language.

When I met him, Larry was 62, and I was teaching a leadership development course at Yahoo. He was as curious and hungry to learn as the rest of the (much younger) people in the course. Even in his sixties, Larry knew he wasn’t done growing. He was open, curious, and humble, and his enthusiasm was touching.

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” —Aldous Huxley

Understanding you are a work in progress means you don’t find yourself saying, “That’s just the way I am, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Anyone can change and grow as long as they are intentional about it. If you believe you are a work in progress, you will seek out ways to grow and improve. And, if you want to grow, you must work to understand any blockages or wounds in your past. Healing them is an essential step toward change and transformation.

My serious work on myself started when I was 40 and continues today. I read Debbie Ford’s book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers and Robert Johnson’s Owning Your Own Shadow. I joined men’s groups, went to therapy, studied, journaled, meditated, did holotropic breathwork, and went on sacred medicine journeys.

I dealt with perfectionism, insecurity, guilt, shame, spiritual ego, and childhood wounds that were all playing out in some way in my life, hindering my ability to be at my best. I made progress, but there’s still work to do. The more I realize I’m a work in progress, the more I realize everyone else is, too. I judge less and accept more. Life is more enjoyable when it’s opened up by this perspective.

How you do the work is up to you — the important thing is to do it and keep doing it. You have to confront your darkness and limiting beliefs. As one respondent told me, “See reality as it is, not as you want it to be.”

You pay attention to your inner world

Paying attention to your inner world means observing your thoughts and feelings. The mere act of noticing frees you from being bound by them. The more you can notice your thoughts, the more you realize you aren’t your thoughts.

When you don’t pay attention, you go on autopilot — you sleepwalk. It’s impossible to notice the messages coming from your body, mind, and spirit. You’re too distracted by everything around you. It’s too easy to be preoccupied with the past and future, worrying about both.

When you do pay attention and manage your inner world, you can make better choices. You’re more resilient and can recover from difficulties more quickly. You can better manage your outside world. You make smarter life and business decisions. You respect differences, honor dissenting points of view, listen with empathy, and seek to be of service.

When you pay attention to your inner world, you “learn to be in the moment,” as one person I polled noted.

You live ‘above the line’

Think of the “line” here as a division between being powerful and being powerless.

Living “above the line” means accepting your power. When you live above the line, you know you have the ability to make choices, to choose your attitude and your behavior. You don’t blame others or seek out scapegoats. You’re forthright, honest, and direct yet avoid being rude or arrogant. You “learn to say no and have boundaries,” a respondent added.

When we live “below the line,” we complain, blame others, make excuses—and become powerless. We open the door to bitterness and regret. When our power isn’t our own, we do things to please others, to fit in and be liked. We wind up marginalizing ourselves and losing our sense of self. People who carry that over a lifetime wind up insecure, unhappy, and resentful.

Image by the author, with contributions from Insights L&D and the Conscious Leadership Group

Living above the line puts you in the driver’s seat of your life. It opens you up to a learner’s mindset — you’re curious and thoughtful, and you want to learn from your successes and mistakes. You take calculated risks. As one person put it, you “don’t settle for mediocrity.” You’re not afraid to fail — you live with your arms open, pursuing everything you are capable of.

You do the right thing — even when it’s hard

Doing the right thing is not always easy. Sometimes it’s painful. You might need to have a difficult conversation, fire someone, say no to a valued client, or walk away from a lucrative business deal because it compromises your values. I’ve had to do all these things, and after I did them, I knew I did the right thing.

When you’re clear on what you stand for, it’s easier to make the right choice. By honoring your highest values, what you stand for, you experience a sense of peace. Personal values are an internal safety net — supporting us when we are under pressure, flooded with stress hormones, and unable to reason. There is no second-guessing or little voice in your head nagging you when you do the right thing.

There’s nothing more liberating than when you tell the truth, honor your word, stand up for yourself, or voice your opinion even when you know it may be unpopular.

Doing the right thing can set you free. As one respondent said, “You listen to the whispers of your soul.”

You bring your heart with you

Bringing your heart with you means putting your full self into everything you do. You strive to be your best, no matter what the task is or who may or may not be watching. You care about yourself, your health, and your body, and you care about those around you. You seek to be proud of how you behave more than worrying about how you are perceived. People will remember when you live from your heart.

Your heart is curious — you know there is more than just how you see the world, and you trade being closed-minded to differences for being interested in how others think. Your heart yearns for you to be gentler and more forgiving to yourself and others. It wants you to take care of your body and health. Your heart says thank you for another day of life when you close your eyes at night.

In the words of some of the people I polled: You “enjoy the journey,” “find your passion,” “follow your arrow,” and “seize the day.”

Your heart is the best friend you’ll ever have.

Life is not always easy — hard times are inevitable. But when you live life from the inside out, you’re able to make better choices and live with your arms wide open, fully accepting what comes in return. Ekhart Tolle said it well: “If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.”

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10 years as a monk, 49 years meditating, 30 years in the shark-infested waters of corporate America | Connect with me on Linked In-

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