Most of us who are past the first and second chapters of life are not ready to go into the final chapter yet. The first two chapters involved going to school, building a home and family, and striving to achieve at work. In the final chapter, we go quietly into that “goodnight.” The third chapter is when we get to focus on the present, on finding meaning and enjoyment in every day. That does take some intention and planning, though.
In the past few years, I have slowly transitioned into the third chapter of life. I sold my veterinary clinic and retired after 28 years of practicing medicine. I completed coursework and became certified as a life coach and a nature therapy guide. My traveling has increased and I now write articles about my travels. I also spend time in nature and exercise more regularly and am starting to pursue some volunteer opportunities. As I moved into this stage of life, I learned many lessons about how to dream, plan, and enjoy myself.
1. It’s A New Beginning
Back in my early school years, I dreamed about what I could study and choose as a career. I imagined what type of house I would live in and what fun things I would enjoy when I was older. Midlife gave me another opportunity to pursue my dreams and create the life I wanted to live. As I approached my 50th birthday, I realized that I was burnt out and not enjoying my work or life very much. I peered in dread at the next 15 to 20 years of the same grind.
I started reading books and doing some exercises such as exploring which parts of my work I loved and what I enjoyed doing in my free time. I tried to envision what an ideal day and week would look like. I thought about what knowledge and skills I wanted to learn and sharpen. I realized that with extra time and energy, my daily life could be much more intentional and fulfilling as well as more fun.
2. A Therapist Can Help You Rediscover Yourself
Over the previous 20 years, practicing medicine, growing the clinic, and taking care of my family and home consumed all of my time and energy. My therapist helped me to realize the toll that the stress of being a veterinarian took on me. She helped me to move from feeling burnt out and trapped to being proud of what I had built and able to see options. Through therapy, I grew to feel that I deserved to live for myself and not just for everyone else. I never had much lack of confidence that I could succeed in school and be a good veterinarian. Now I also have the confidence to pursue the work and activities I enjoy that may be outside of what others may think I “should” do.
3. You Decide When Your Third Chapter Will Start
Typical retirement age is considered 65 years old. To me, that sounded like working full-time until I reached 65, then just relaxing after that. When I turned 50, I couldn’t imagine continuing to be exhausted and stressed for another 15 years. I also couldn’t imagine not doing meaningful work and learning new things after that. If I could find work that I enjoyed and I had more time for traveling and hanging with friends, it would be okay to earn less money. I could continue this work for a longer period and not need to rely on retirement savings alone.
Over the past few years, I gradually reduced my hours at the clinic and transferred more responsibilities to others. I started building other skills in order to do different work. I also began exploring how to sell my clinic and when would be a good time to do it.
4. Financial Awareness Leads To Freedom
When I first started thinking about my third chapter, I did not have a good grasp on whether I could reduce my income. I had been saving in retirement accounts but my largest asset was my veterinary practice and building. Once I began having discussions with colleagues who had sold their clinics, and with potential buyers, I realized that I could sell within a couple of years.
I had assumed that I would have to wait another 5 to 10 years to move into less stressful and more enjoyable work. Four years later, I have fully retired from my veterinary practice and now I work part-time to have extra money to travel.
5. You Need To Preserve And Enjoy Your Health
For me, the third chapter means traveling, hiking, walking through museums, and enjoying activities with family and friends. When I was working full-time, the stress impacted my health. I often had joint and back pain and usually felt worn out. It was more difficult to exercise regularly and eat healthy meals. I now have more time to focus on exercise and eating well and more flexibility in my schedule to do all of the activities that I love.
We never know what life holds, and I didn’t want to regret not taking full advantage of the good things in life while I was healthy enough to do them.
6. It’s Okay To Start Slowly And Let Things Grow
When I start something new, I tend to throw myself into it and expect success quickly. Over the past few years, I have learned that it is okay to learn something new merely to enjoy it. Success also has many forms and can be gradual. After I finished each of my certifications, I was disappointed with the difficulty of finding clients. This gradually changed and now I have enough work with coaching and nature therapy guiding. I have also experienced many rejections with pitching travel articles to write. The publications I am writing for have increased over time and I am enjoying traveling and writing more and more.
7. People In Your Life Will Support You
When I first began taking coaching courses, I was hesitant to tell friends and family members who all thought of me as a veterinarian. Now everyone knows that I am coaching and asks me how it is going. Few people have heard of nature therapy guiding (also known as forest bathing) and I have to explain what it involves. Most people, however, find it very interesting and express the need for it in life today. When I discuss travel writing, the general response is envy and support for my pursuit of it.
Transitioning to a new way of life in my 50s may have seemed drastic to some, but I have received so much encouragement and support.
When I was approaching my third chapter in life, I didn’t have a blueprint for how to create the life that I wanted to live. I talked with others at the same stage and researched how to go about it. By visioning what I truly wanted and trying some new things, I gradually found my way. There was much to learn and, hopefully, I will continue to grow and find more enjoyment and fulfillment in my life.
Editor’s Note: Want more inspiration? Consider Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life and Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey, both by 80-year-old author and analyst James Hollis, Ph.D.