Most of us spend our 20s and 30s trying to figure out who we are and what we want. We often search for that through our relationships with other people, how they view us, how we want to be viewed by them. We compare ourselves to others as a way to determine how well we are doing at life. But a shift occurs as we mature, and we start feeling a tug to find meaning and the desire to live a life of purpose becomes stronger.
While this shift may feel like it is coming out of the blue, we are following an established pattern that we all experience. Erik Erikson, an ego psychologist, developed a well-known and influential theory of psychosocial development that identified stages that we go through as we age. In each stage we experience a crisis or conflict that will help us reach the next stage of our development.
At around 40 years of age we enter Erikson’s seventh stage of our psychosocial development, middle adulthood, and the conflict or crisis of generativity versus stagnation. We exit this stage at 65. Erikson defined generativity as a “concern for establishing and guiding the next generation”. It’s the engine behind our concern for the future or our desire to leave something behind. It’s why we even ask ourselves the question “what is my purpose?”.
According to Erikson, if we successfully negotiate the stage we’re in, we develop strengths and skills that will help us as we enter into the next stage. If we do not resolve the crisis successfully, we won’t develop the set of skills the conflict is intended to develop and we will struggle with succeeding stages. Finding a purpose in your life after 50 sits squarely in the middle of the generativity versus stagnation stage.
What is finding your purpose anyway?
We hear about finding your purpose all the time. You can find hundreds of books and articles that can give you multiple ways to search for and find your purpose. A Google search of finding your purpose in life had 926,000,000 results. I am not saying there are 926,000,000 books about finding your purpose in life but there are an awful lot of people talking about it.
Yet, for many, there is confusion about the topic and some who struggle with finding their life purpose after 50. Not just with knowing what it is but also with knowing why they should care. But here’s the deal, even if you think finding your life purpose is some New Age gobbledygook, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still feel some compulsion to do it and you know that there is something missing when you don’t.
So what if I am happy not having to find meaning in my life? What if I want to just be on my own, minding my own business? Good questions! Well the other side of that psychosocial crisis I mentioned earlier is stagnation. Stagnation is failing to find a way to contribute, resulting in you feeling uninvolved or disconnected from your community and society as a whole. You can end up becoming self-centered, have no interest in producing anything meaningful, not even wanting to improve yourself.
Having a sense of purpose has been shown in research to be critical to our well-being. It impacts our health and helps us live longer and happier lives. We are more hopeful about our future and we can go with the flow more easily, not getting dragged down by challenging circumstances. We have better coping skills and have a well-developed social support system to turn to when life difficulties arise.
So why do some struggle with finding a life purpose after 50? Perhaps because you feel lost or hopeless, maybe you start to feel that things won’t change and life will always be hard or boring or without any prospects for the future. Maybe earlier failures have made you lose your belief in yourself and your abilities and you have stopped trying. Maybe you believe you will never be happy.
Feelings like these make it hard to be hopeful, something that discovering a life purpose will demand.
What can I do if I am struggling to find my life purpose and I’m 50 already?
First, understand that life after 50 is not the end of the road. Far more than our parent’s generation, we can reinvent ourselves and start new ventures and pursue new opportunities. Your age is not your biggest hurdle if you are finding that you’re stuck, sometimes the answer is how you feel about your age.
Try one of these 8 ideas to challenge yourself immediately to find your purpose
Being 50 today means something totally different than it did for many of our parents and grandparents. It's not a time to give up and wait for the end of life. You're not at the beginning of the end, you're in the middle of the beginning. Finding a purpose in your life after 50 is figuring that out at a time when you know yourself the best. It's a time when you have embraced who you are the most. Stop struggling with that and just embrace the possibility of living the life of meaning that you are biologically impelled to live.
If you are struggling to figure out your purpose in life after 50, Schedule a free 20-minute consultation call with me, Melissa Watson-Clark, by filling out this form.
Melissa Watson-Clark has been practicing as a psychotherapist since 2010. Working primarily with clients suffering with anxiety and depression she focuses on the power of nature to bring healing and restoration to her clients.