Revitalizing Your Life at Fifty-Plus

The truth is, I’m depressed. I feel like I’ve not achieved my career potential and I don’t see anything in my future of much interest in work or at home.

Those were the sentiments expressed by Steven, a 58-year-old supervisor of a maintenance facility at a large military installation. During his career Steven served as an officer in the Air Force and then had a series of civilian jobs before transitioning to the federal government. Steven has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is a bright, low-key, competent guy who accomplishes what is expected of him. He gets good performance evaluations and is well liked by his supervisors and subordinates. He has a good marriage of 35 years and is a proud father of two attractive and college-educated daughters. All of these things seem to point to a good life. Why then was he depressed?

During our coaching session he revealed three primary sources for his melancholy. First, he believed that he had never really achieved his career potential, feeling his talents had been undeveloped and underutilized. Second, his wife was about to retire, but she had no vision for this stage of her life other than waiting for him to retire. Third, his daughters, having graduated from college, were now living at home again as they tried to launch their careers in a tough economy. He was understandably distressed when, after financing his daughters’ education, they had no job prospects. Their situation, however, confronted him with a much deeper psychological issue. He couldn’t help but contemplate how much more he might have done with his career had he been more self-aware and farsighted at their age.

It’s not uncommon in the senior stage of life to feel unfulfilled in having failed to achieve specific goals. Less apparent but equally unsettling is the feeling that you have not lived up to your potential. For Steven, it was the latter that seemed to be at the source of his gloomy self-appraisal. While he had never developed clear career goals, he still had generalized expectations of success, and these vague expectations exceeded his sense of personal accomplishment. Now, approaching age sixty, he felt that life was quickly passing him by and he had little of real interest on his horizon. When you experience a generalized depression along the lines of Steven’s, it is imperative to take action to prevent the malaise from deepening and consuming your vitality. As a remedy Steven agreed to the following:

  • Re-framing: He would stop considering his work a failure and identify at least three things that he felt particularly good about in his career to date.
  • Legacy creation: he would, before retiring, identify and work to achieve a lasting legacy. It could be anything from mentoring younger staff, or leading a worthwhile change initiative, to starting a volunteer project in the community. This involved committing to specific and achievable goals so he could identify and appreciate a real sense of success.
  • Professional Assistance: to relieve his worries about the career future of his daughters, he elected to pay for the help of a professional career counselor.
  • Vision Generating: together with his wife, they would develop an enjoyable vision for their future. Creating an interesting new vision is an antidote to depression, as you can’t feel down when you’re focused on an interesting new future rather than obsessed with what you missed in your past.

As a resource for vision generating Steven purchased two copies of the book The Joy of Retirement: Finding Happiness, Freedom, and the Life You’ve Always Wanted (AMACOM, 2008), one book for him and another for his wife. He intended to use the book’s content and activities as a key reference for planning an enjoyable future together.

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