In my friend and partner’s last blog, he highlighted the lost American dream of a carefree retirement and the difficulty of “letting go” of the security that comes from a career and years of work. He shared his concerns about being that rhesus monkey (with the fist caught in the coconut), unable to let go of the “goodies” from work, unable to find a new direction. He also shared how he and his wife Cyndy have discussed the risks of moving away, but worried that if they abandon security, “what are they abandoning it for?”

new guideNow, do those concerns and worries sound familiar? With 74-77 million baby boomers, and with a huge percentage of them dissatisfied with their jobs, I think my friend’s concerns likely reflects your own concerns. So, what is my recommendation for all of you? I think you have to approach this challenge from a different angle. The focus should not be on what you are giving up. Rather, the focus should be on what do you really want from the rest of your life. That seems like a simple question, but for any individual (and for any couple) the answer is often complicated.

So, what do you say we try to simplify the process? Before we start, do you know the 80:20 rule? That 80% of your happiness comes from 20% of your activities? For many of  us, there is a hidden unpleasant realization. As we go through our careers and lives, that “20% of activities” (which gave us so much of our earlier happiness) shrinks smaller and smaller. So, you need to ask the correct question. Don’t ask about the 20% of today’s activities that give you the most happiness. That list would overlook too many important activities from your past. Instead, ask yourself: Over the entire course of your life, what activities have given you the greatest joy?

Let me explain. In the pursuit of work and in the quest of security, too many people give up their talents, their passions, and their dreams. Can’t even remember them? Then think back to your early years between 7-13 years of age. That’s when talents, passions, and dreams tend to surface. What were yours? What areas gave you joy in those early years? Then do that review for every decade of your life. That’s right. Then make a list of the most satisfying activities (and moments) throughout your entire life. Ask your spouse to do the same – without sharing. Then, when each part is done, compare your lists.

Hands are Holding EachotherSo, what is my central point? I do not want you to be caught by the trap of thinking about what you might lose. That’s the thinking style that prevents the rhesus monkey from letting go of the coconut goodies. Instead, ask yourself what do you want to do? In which direction, do you want to head? And in that context, what are the activities that would give you (and have given you) the most joy in that future? And here’s the hardest part for any couple. Do you two still have a similar list? A compatible list? Do you want the same “20% activities”? Do you want the same journey? Or have you drifted apart over the years? If yes, can you utilize this exercise to spark a new dialogue, develop new “shared” dreams, and create a real change in your current direction? It worked great for my wife and myself. It can work for you! Want to give this exercise a try?