In the course of our lives we are likely to experience what’s known as a sweet spot—this is a place where everything comes together and produces the best possible result with minimal effort. A sweet spot can last for an extended period of time, resulting in deep satisfaction and fulfillment.
Many people reflect upon their youth as if it were the sweet spot, but generally that’s not the case, because when we were young we expended a great deal of effort to produce results. The sweet spot for most of us will be a stage of life known as the “old adult” stage. This typically starts around the time we turn fifty and can last until we are in our seventies.
If you are younger than fifty, there are things you can do now that will increase the depth and duration of your sweet spot. If you’re older than seventy, and haven’t experienced your sweet spot, it may not be too late. I’ll say more about both of these later. And if you’re in your sweet spot now, there are things you can do to extend it. So, although this article focuses on a certain stage of life, hopefully people of all ages will find value in thinking about this.
I just turned sixty
Turning a certain age does not guarantee that we will experience a sweet spot—several factors need to align. And for me, they have. I’m right smack in my sweet spot, and I’m celebrating this every day. I hope you can do the same.
The “old adult” stage is unique in that, hopefully, we have developed our emotional maturity, financial stability, clarity about what we value, and wisdom. And, if we are fortunate, we still have our physical and mental vitality. There is only one other ingredient needed to produce a sweet spot, and that is awareness that time is running out.
With this awareness I ask myself:
How many more times will I make love to my wife? How many more belly laughs will I have? How many more inspirations will come my way while I still have the ability to articulate and share them? How many more dogs will I own and love? How many great books will I be able to read? Or write? How many more snow angels will I make in my lifetime? How many more great ski runs will exhilarate me?
My answer to all of these questions could be, “Not enough.” In that case, I focus on scarcity and scare myself. Or my answer could be, “As many as I do.” And then I am aware that the number will be limited, but I don’t place too much emphasis on that fact, just enough so that I choose to be fully present and appreciate the experiences I do have.
I don’t have time to wait
I certainly don’t have time to be angry; especially with the people I love the most. I don’t have time to leave things unsaid. I don’t have time to indulge in blaming other people, endlessly processing my feelings and recycling previous disappointments. I don’t have time to chase rainbows; instead I chase things I believe I can catch.
During the old-adult stage, life invites us to replace distractions with deeper conversations. Some people miss the invitation—because they are distracted. Some people receive it, but don’t know how to respond. But that can be the starting point. Start exploring what it would mean to have deeper conversations. As I do this I may scare away some people, but I’ll attract others. And as I do this, as I go deeper, I am taking myself in the direction of the sweet spot.
And for those people who aren’t finding the sweet spot? Why not? There can be several reasons, but the two most common reasons I’ve identified are:
- They didn’t put in place the foundational pieces.
- They’ve pulled back from life and lost their mojo.
I mentioned the foundational pieces earlier, but now I’ll say more about them:
This is key. When I have developed a certain degree of emotional maturity I am no longer reactive to other people. I take responsibility for my own feelings and behaviors, no longer blaming other people or circumstances for my frustrations. I have a long time-horizon, which creates patience, yet paradoxically; I live mostly in the present. I am comfortable knowing different people have different points of view, so I no longer seek a singular Truth. And, I have learned ways to maturely express my emotions, even those that are immature.
The sweet spot in life is sweeter when I have established a degree of financial stability for myself. I don’t have to be wealthy, but I help myself greatly by knowing that I can survive and be comfortable. If I don’t have this security, I may still have the time to catch up financially, or maybe I need to explore creative solutions—downsizing, community living, or participating in the new “sharing” economy.
Clarity about what we value
If I know what I value I will be able to focus my intentions, increasing my chances of creating what I want in my life. And if I know what I value, I will be able to pay attention—attend to—that which I have, instead of focusing on that which I don’t have.
Wisdom comes as a result of learning from my life experiences and then applying all that I have learned to my current circumstances. When I continue to live in the past—projecting outdated beliefs onto new people in my life—I recreate my old patterns. When I use my childhood limitations as an excuse not to step up to my potential as an adult—I am not learning, I am hiding. When I embody my wisdom I keep asking two questions:
- What is an easier way?
- How do I want to conduct myself in this situation?
Okay, now let’s explore the second reason why people may miss out on their sweet spot, which happens when they pull back from life and lose their mojo.
I believe that people pull back from life and lose their mojo, in part, because they have outdated ideas about aging. They think that turning sixty means their life is winding down. Often, they stop working, pull back, narrow their focus, and become preoccupied with physical limitations and ailments. But, even more disabling, they lose their sense of purpose. Whatever that sense of purpose came from—raising children, job promotions—it may be in the past, but that doesn’t mean that life is winding down.
We all make meaning of whatever happens in our lives. As we gain in wisdom we learn better ways to make meaning of whatever happens. Instead of making meaning that life is winding down in the “old adult” stage, I rely on the following simple model.
The first third of our lives is for learning, the second third for earning, and the final third for serving.
“Serving” has to do with making a contribution. Yes, raising the kids was a kind of contribution (depending on your kids), and maybe we made a contribution in our careers, but as “old adults” we have a unique capacity to make further contributions—especially if we fulfilled the foundational pieces spoken about earlier. If we have some degree of financial security, emotional maturity, clarity about what we value, and wisdom—we can have a meaningful impact on our small slice in this world.
So, what is your slice?
What do you care about? If you could make a difference, what difference would you choose to make? Find people who value what you have to offer. And, if people don’t value what you have to offer, ask yourself what you can do so that they will. There is still time, but none to waste talking about how you have no sense of purpose.
And a sense of purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose. It can be taking your meditation practice to a new depth, working with rescue dogs, or loving someone well. When my mother was eighty-nine-years old, and pretty much in constant pain, she volunteered at the local grade school to read books to young children. I remember in one of my last conversations with her she was saying, “I think I’m getting a sore throat and I just can’t get sick because I have to be at school to read to the kids on Tuesday.” She had a sense of usefulness, purpose, and belief that she was making a contribution.
If you are younger and wondering about how to accelerate the starting point of your sweet spot and make it as sweet as possible, you can do four things.
- Individuate from your family of origin and/or your partner. Without doing this it’s unrealistic to develop emotional maturity.
- Create a financial plan for your life.
- Start a journal and write—write about the things you do to nourish yourself and write about the ways you exhaust yourself. Over time, this will help you recognize what you value.
- Continually ask the question, “How would I like to conduct myself in this situation?”
If you are older and you want extend your sweet spot, or squeeze one in before you die, you can do two things.
- Develop a meditation practice that focuses on two things. First, the practice should focus on not trying. This is necessary because you are at a stage of life in which it is no longer congruent to be “trying hard.” So learn what it feels like to not try. Second, the practice should focus on expanding the space that exists between the stimulus and the response. If you don’t know how to do this, let me know, and I’ll write about both of these ideas in a future article.
- Identify the three things you would like to do before you are too old to do them. They should all be things that you believe will positively contribute to the world—be it one person or many. Then, do them.
Some of us will be fortunate to be serving until the day we die. This can continue well past the “old adult” stage of life. When Hannah and I met John and Joyce Weir, our mentors, they were eighty-five-years old, and still conducting workshops. But as they approached the end of their lives, when they no longer had the energy to serve, there was a final stage they entered—observing.
Learning, earning, serving . . . observing
John spoke to me about consciously observing himself in the process of dying. He seemed to find it just about as interesting as he found everything else in life. He had no resistance, only curiosity. He believed that even dying was an act of growth, if we do it consciously.
. . . If you’re in the sweet spot in your life, please leave a comment, sharing your experience with us. And if you have questions about finding your sweet spot, also, please feel free to comment and I’ll respond.