(The) Nobodies Album: #A-Z Challenge

“I’ve always known that the best part of writing occurs before you’ve picked up a pen. When a story exists only in your mind, its potential is infinite; it’s only when you start pinning words to paper that it becomes less than perfect. You have to make your choices, set your limits. Start whittling away at the cosmos, and don’t stop until you’ve narrowed it down to a single, ordinary speck of dirt. And in the end, what you’ve made is not nearly as glorious as what you’ve thrown away.”

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

I have been reading a lot about this concept in art. Even in abstract art, where one might think that anything goes, the truth is that as you make your choices, there are fewer and fewer choices left to be made.

The arts mirror life. All of us are living lives that are a result of past choices. We have chosen to be married or not; have children or not; do one kind of work instead of another. Of course, some of these decisions may have been externally imposed and not our choice. Arranged marriages and couples unable to conceive come to mind. But for the most part, when we look back, we can see the patterns in our lives, how one choice led inevitably to another.

A New Opportunity to Make Your Choices

Transition times, like retirement or milestone birthdays, often have us thinking about our choices–the ones we’ve made and the ones still left to make. 

The opportunity to make new choices at times of transition can be both exhilarating and stressful.

Whether asking “What do I want my life to look like?” or “What do I want to do today?”, there can be a feeling of great untapped potential. Not infinite potential, not limitless, but still enough potential to have us soaring with excitement.

At the same time, there seems to be more at stake. We may feel that we have less time to make mistakes and less time to correct our course if we do.

Limits are Advantageous

And let’s be honest, folks. There’s a point in midlife where each of us calculates that we have less time ahead of us than behind us. Or someone we love dies and we become hyper-aware of time’s passing, of doing what matters before it’s too late.

Rather than worry that our life has a limit, or deny it and pretend immortality, maybe we need to hear Steve Jobs who called his terminal diagnosis “the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

Where do you stand on the topic of choice? If you’ve experienced a milestone birthday or if you’ve retired, do you feel freer to make choices, or do you feel more anxious that the choices you make be the ‘right’ ones?

Photo credit: PedjaP on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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67 comments

  1. As I am approaching a milestone birthday (still over a year away, but I am definitely already thinking about it), I am once again considering when to retire. And I alternate between anxiety and confidence in consideration of when exactly to do that. I will get out a spreadsheet after the A-Z and work through this properly. I also realize how fortunate I am to be able to have a choice in this matter. Timely post, for me! Thanks, Karen!

    1. Isn’t your milestone birthday this July, Deb??
      Good luck with that spreadsheet. Don’t forget to factor desires into it too, Deb, and priorities. It’s amazing how we can make the numbers work, or how unimportant they are, when we take priorities and desires into account.

      1. This year I turn 59, which means officially I enter my 6th decade. Which is the start of a milestone year for me, to be capped off in 2019 with my milestone birthdate. That is how I look at it, Karen. Very good advice, to look at desires and priorities too, not just the numbers. Thank you!!!

        1. Ah, thanks for clarifying that, Deb. I’m also turning 59 this year and I love your idea of a milestone year rather than a single day. It gives an additional 364 days for celebration and adventures. Do you think we could convince people that it also gives them a great opportunity to ply us with daily gifts?

  2. Yes, I feel freer to make choices, and yes I feel more anxious that the choices I make be the ‘right’ ones. I am excited each morning about the options ahead of me for the day, and I have anxiety I will ‘waste’ time or make ‘wrong’ choices. I don’t focus on morbidity all the time, but I am aware of an urgency about things, knowing which end of the life cycle I reside. With more free time, comes so many more choices which is wonderful and frightening all at the same time. And it can be overwhelming. Great topic, Karen. You are nailing this A-Z challenge, my friend!

    1. Thank you so much, Molly. Your comments so often make my day, and this one was no exception.
      I was reading a book this weekend about the “second half of life” which the author was applying to anyone 50+. I thought “Who is kidding who?” but I guess it would negatively impact book sales to refer to this stage of life as “the final third”.

      1. Haha! Yes, our society doesn’t like to admit that people’s lives end. Take the term ‘midlife.’ Such a reassuring lie, isn’t it, for someone over 50? Average life expectancy for females in U.S. is 82 so midlife is actually at 41 years old. I think highlighting this would put new meaning into turning forty, don’t you?

        1. Indeed.
          When I think back to my first post in this series, based on Thomas Moore’s ‘Ageless Soul’, positive aging requires a clear recognition of death. I’m tempted to do my part and make more references to our being in the final third of life. But my number of subscribers might drop even further. It’s an ethical dilemma I’m on the horns of, Molly. 🙂 I’ll let you know where I land.

      1. Some many of us can identify, Beth – both with the blah, blah, blah and with the boredom at the way our brains loop this stuff over and over. In her post today, Sue (sizzlingtowardssixty) quoted an author talking about the negativity ‘spin cycle’. I think it’s a perfect term for what you’re describing.

  3. This topic is one that is often on my mind since I retired 7 years ago. I am acutely aware of the limited timeframe I’m now working with. In some ways, it drives many of the things I’m doing – for example, the TransCanada Trail – and yet at the same time, it causes me to drag my feet on pursuing other things – like going back to school.

    Whenever I start pondering the choices I’ve made along the way, I inevitably conclude that in spite of various regrets, the good stuff more than compensates for it 🙂

    1. Amen to that, Joanne.
      Yay to the TransCanada Trail. As for returning to school, why not? Great for your brain, and you’d be a terrific role model for the ‘young uns’ in your classes.

  4. Even when choices are thrust upon us without our consent, we can still choose how to respond. I often think about how I will respond to my husband’s death. Will I lock out the world as I grieve, or push through the pain and continue to live? Even now, I am unsure. But it is a choice. Wonderful, thought provoking post.

    1. You’re so right, Heather – there will always be a choice, even if it’s just in response to a terrible event. And you are so brave. I admire you so much for talking about what you are thinking and feeling, and for continuing to reach out and share with the rest of us when so much is chaotic and difficult right now.

      One of the profound things my dad used to say was, “When someone gives you two choices, look for a third.” I wonder if maybe you will lock out the world for a little while, and then you will continue to live. Your blogging friends along with real life ones and family will be here to help you whatever choices you make.

  5. You will never know if the choice you make is the right one, so you have to make it and not look back. It’s like the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors”, you never know what path any choice, big or little, is going to be like. And you’ll never know what the other path would have been.

    1. I’ll have to watch that Gwyneth Paltrow movie, AJ. Along with many of the serial killers I’m on my way to read about on your blog, I hadn’t heard of this particular movie. But I’m fascinated by the topic of choice so it sounds like a good one.

  6. I definitely look at Midlife as a great pivot point – it’s given me a second opportunity to make some new choices – and they’re choices where I’ve actually placed myself somewhere near the top of the pecking order. I’m not paying a mortgage, or supporting kids, or trying to prove myself – it’s all about what contributes to me having a full life these day and I love it!

    Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
    N for Never lie

      1. Hi Karen – thanks so much for sharing this on #MLSTL – I’ve loved getting to know you through the AtoZ and I’ve shared this on my SM xx

  7. Another great post, Karen. I’ve always been the kind of person who gets sort of paralyzed by too many choices. But I’m finally starting to realize that most of the time, at least for the everyday stuff, there’s not one perfect choice. And moving forward is definitely better than spending too much time and energy on the process!

    1. Thanks, Jenny. It’s true that there’s rarely a perfect choice. And also true that one choice is often as good as another. And finally, if it helps, it is also very true, although often not recognized, that if you make a choice that doesn’t suit you, there is often a chance for a do-over, for a new choice.

  8. Me, I like the limits imposed by habits. I find comfort in doing what I’ve always done and knowing that’s a good plan. I do evaluate, now and then, but enjoy the mindless movement of repetition

    1. That’s interesting, Jacqui. So you actually prefer to have reduced choices? I’m guessing that’s because you made thoughtful, considered choices in the past so you’re happy with the routines borne of them. Am I on track or off base?

  9. I’ve always been a big believer in choice. So it’s been hard to ever look back on my choices with “regret”. Every choice has led me to where I am today…. and that is a pretty good place!

    In retirement, I’ve made lots of new choices. This transition as allowed me to explore myself – Know Thyself – and choose to be the Me I want to be and live the life I want to live. Not that it’s all been easy (or done). Choices in the past created habits – some conscious but some unconscious. Habits in thinking, habits in behavior. So while this is mid-life (the second half of mid-life anyway), I think I’m living more than ever before…and happier than I’ve been in a long time.

    Yes, there are still days where I wonder “will I really soar today or not” , but most days it’s been… yeah, with this activity/moment I will soar with enjoyment, if not excitement.

    Another thought provoking post!

    1. It will come as no surprise, Pat, that I feel exactly the same in terms of living more than ever before and, in my case, happiest ever.
      I suspect one of life’s goals for us, if I can put it that way, is to be comfortable with our choices since they have formed us. You can already check that goal off your list!

  10. Great topic, my milestone birthday (60) is still 3 years and 7 months away so although there is still lots of time before then I am fully aware that it is coming. I think about choices a lot as time goes by, which it seems to be doing faster and faster the older I get. When I was a kid in school summers lasted forever and time was slowed down to the extent I couldn’t wait to be older – what was I thinking? LOL 🙂 Anyway, I digress…I do think about choices and my past is filled with some questionable ones but as I have gotten older I have noticed my choices have become more thought out as to consequences and alternate outcomes of each of those choices. So, my choices have been more logical and wise in the past several years. I think it is important to me that the choices I make now are the right ones. I am very aware of my mortality now with all the health issues and changes in my body. I am not as young as I used to be – something I used to take for granted but don’t any longer.

    1. It’s a tough line to walk – that line between awareness and fear.
      Interesting point about choices becoming more thoughtful and considered as you age. I find the same.

  11. I love this. These thoughts go through my mind all the time, as I cross off, for good, things that were once on my list of lifetime goals or possibilities, that now will never be. The good news is that my desires have also changed, so it doesn’t seem like such a loss – more just a letting go – and that other – new – goals are there to replace them.

    1. That is good news, Cindy. I especially appreciate your comment because I’ve been starting to wonder lately if some of the items on my bucket list will need to be removed. I’m talking about the really physically strenuous ones that, while not totally impossible right now, are becoming more of a question as each year goes by.

  12. I was just talking to a neighbor this morning about the power of the choices we make. I accept I am responsible. Others blame others. It’s all in the choices we make in our lives.

    Good article.

    1. True, Jacqui. Those who blame others may not even recognize that they have choices and make choices. It’s that old saying about fish not recognizing the water they swim in.

  13. I feel free to make choices, with some life experience in the background. I also have to look at things from my teenage son’s viewpoint, and consider my choices as life lessons for him. That’s probably always going to remain a consideration, even when he’s an adult — teaching through choices.
    Steve Jobs had some of the best life advice. I particularly appreciate his stance on being true to one’s own passion and going for it.
    Great post, Karen.

    1. Thanks, Silvia. You make a really good point about the choices we make not only impacting others, but serving as role modelling for others.
      I know that Steve Jobs was apparently a bastard to work for and not a very nice man, but I was just saying to a friend today how much I appreciated his vision. It’s so apparent in his life lessons as well as his tangible inventions.

  14. A topic close to my heart, Karen. From the moment I read the quote… I so agree with all the potential we have in our heads, compared to what comes out of it “on the other end”. I have so much experience of writing complete stories, book ideas, blog posts and articles in my head on night watch when we were sailing long passages. But, never did I write them down, or did I manage to reproduce that perfect picture from in my head.

    And then, choices… Choices! You know, our first sailboat was called F/Our Choice/s. Do I need to say more? Life and the path you take is all about choices. It’s a main underlying theme of my memoir (or of me). I always saw every decision as getting to a fork in the road and needing to decide which direction to go. A new turn, a new adventure. Is there anything more exciting?

    As for time and running out of it… I’ve been aware of the preciousness of time for years. And, while I try to live the way that makes me happy, it isn’t always easy. Circumstances don’t always allow one to be happy or smart (about time and the future). 🙂

    1. I didn’t know, Liesbet, about either your sailboat name or your passion for choices. There’s a lot of energy in your comment and, as you say, choices are a major theme of your memoir and of you. So you’ve got two threads to your major theme – choices and challenges (that emerge from the choices? that create the choices?) It reminds me that the actress Liv Ullmann wrote a memoir many years ago, probably before they were called memoirs, and titled it ‘Choices.’ Just saying, and wondering, if there’s something here to help you further refine your memoir’s focus and make it easier to cut some of those pages?

      1. Thanks for the recommendation, Karen. I’ll check it out. I enjoy reading other memoirs and non-fiction books that entertain me and help me. I just don’t have much time to read extra books, since I’m looking at a busy summer traveling (meaning: no more writing), so I’m working hard on my memoir every day and have a couple of similar themed books I’m trying to read for structure and help. And, all the other projects and hoping to sightsee during the weekend and… 🙂

        1. I wouldn’t rush to read Ullman’s memoir, Liesbet. It’s okay, but it’s dated and nothing really special. I was just hoping that realizing that your theme seems to come down to the two prongs of choices and challenges might help you with the structure of your work.

  15. I turned 60 last year Karen and yes I do find that I am making more choices with how I live my life. Yes I struggle with some of the issues I’ve written about in my AtoZ but for most part I’m happy. My Mum passed away at 63, my Dad at 66 and my brother at 65 (2 years ago). All from various forms of cancer. I could choose to dwell on the fact that now I am 60 will I reach past 66?, will I get cancer? but I choose to live my live being as healthy and active as I can. It really is a matter of choice and the choice is for the most part within our power.
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    1. Hi Sue,
      I can sure see why this decade would be an uncertain question mark for you. I’m so sorry that you lost three family members at such young ages.
      Good for you for making the choice to live healthy and active, and for daily making the choice to respond positively to each of life’s challenges and changes. You are a strong and brave woman.
      Karen

  16. I am heading towards 61 this year and sometimes feel life is galloping away without me. certainly I appreciate that the span ahead of me is shorter then behind. does this inform my choices yes it does. I am finishing projects turning over notebooks and keeping the stories that will see the light of day acknowledging the medicine and insights in others and letting them go . at the same time I am slower and take the time to Be just feeling into the glory of this living life business. . in the morning I say if this is the last day of my life how will I be this day and I find this is a great catalyst. the last 60 odd years have been a blessing and I am very grateful.

  17. Hi Sandra,
    I appreciate you sharing the choices you are making at this stage of life. The question you ask yourself each morning would definitely focus both mind and heart, and daily expressions of gratitude (I read them on your blog) is another fitting way to live each day.

  18. Interesting post Karen. I really had never thought about the fact that over half my life is over until a couple of things happened. The first one was when my mother died of cancer at age 43. I remember desperately wanting to get past this age. Once I did, my mindset changed. The second one was when I returned to Canada last June. I ran into old colleagues who told me all about which ones of my former colleagues had passed away over the last couple of years. And then one of our closest friends whom we knew from high school days died. Those passings all made me stop and think things like-“this could be the last time I go up these stairs”. This was all a stage I went through. I think I am over it now and have returned to my former self of exploring new things and making those choices you talk about. Yesterday, I roped Walter into going downstairs to clean off our bookshelf. I always worried about someone else having to clean up my things for me when I die. I mentioned this to Walter and he said well someone else will just have to clean up the stuff you don’t organize.I kind of liked that idea!

    1. Hi Fran,
      I’m going to risk talking about thoughts of mortality in the ‘Y’ post. I say risk because there are some tribe members who find it gruesome, but I do think it changes how we think and behave. These thoughts seem to have had quite a positive impact on you, although I’m glad you’re past the “my death is imminent” stage. I went through that one too – still do occasionally – and it’s not fun.

  19. Hi Karen, Very interesting post! I make choices with how I spend my time. I focus on enjoying the present, as opposed to worrying about how much time I have left. Sometimes when I’m interested in several things, I do hope that I’ll live a long and healthy life so I can explore them.

  20. Karen, what a heartfelt post. We may all be mortal, but yes, we do – almost always – have the power to make choices about how we maneuvre each day.
    It was my milestone 60th that sent me for a loop – and I didn’t even see it coming! (the loop, not the 60th 🙂 ) My silver lining was a direction to my business and a passion for what I do, and the realization that every minute counts, no matter what the percentages ahead and behind are.
    So glad I found you at #mlstl!!

    1. Hi Agnes,
      Delighted to meet you as well, and thanks for visiting Profound Journey. Do you talk about these ideas on your blog? I’ll be over to check it out very soon. Your teaser about the silver linings of your 60th sound fascinating.

  21. What a thought-provoking post, as you can tell from the number of comments it prompted. I think I am probably more decisive now than ever before. But as has always been the case for my adult life, finances can limit or restrict the decisions I make. I just turned 60 a week ago and have been retired for four years. Want to make the moments of this chapter of life really count. So making decisions on that basis.

    1. Thanks for visiting Profound Journey, Leslie, and for leaving a comment. You’re just a bit ahead of me in terms of age and number of years retired. I’m turning 59 this summer and have been retired for three years. When I first retired, I made some bad financial decisions. I think it took me a while to clue in that I was actually retired and there wouldn’t be any more big cheques in the mailbox from my speaking engagements.
      I’m with you about making this chapter really count. Heading to your blog now to read more about you.

  22. It seems we cannot always plan ahead nor choose our life as we get older. I fully retired at 65 after doing part time transitioning from a lifetime in education roles to none. Then, after we moved house and we had a lot of uncertainty in our lives thanks to renting again after ‘owning’ I found all kinds of future anxieties bothered me.
    Until almost a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer in my upper gums. That sure does set you on a path not chosen but one I must take. It has been, for the most part, a year of self-care and self-growth as I learn to manage quite a bit of change that was ‘out of the blue!’.
    Joining in from #midlifesharethelove link. Denyse

    1. Hi Denyse,
      Thank you for visiting Profound Journey, and for sharing some of your experiences. I too had a lifetime of roles in education. For me, it was my entire life – didn’t marry, no kids – so this transition to retirement has also been a transition to getting a life.
      I am so very sorry to hear about your cancer diagnosis. That feels very unfair after a lifetime of giving to others. I am very glad to hear that you have been taking good care of yourself this past year.
      I’m off to read your blog, Denyse. It’s so good to meet you.

  23. At 67 and retired I feel more pressure to make the right decisions. Plus my husband has cancer and it feels like we need to make perfect decisions on everything so we get things right. I know this isn’t true but I still sometimes feel this way.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you’re in a challenging time, Victoria. I can certainly understand why you would feel that every decision counts so much. I don’t have any sage words of wisdom to offer you. I’ll just say that I appreciate you stopping by and that I care that you are struggling. Oh wait, there’s a blogger I’ve come to know through the A-Z challenge. She is younger than you but she too has a husband who has been diagnosed with cancer. She has an excellent blog site for caregivers called Facing Cancer with Grace. Here’s the link – http://facingcancerwithgrace.com/ I hope that it might be of some help. Karen

  24. I enjoyed your thought provoking post and as I’ve recently lost my father I am more aware of time passing and making the most of what I have left.

    1. I’m sorry to hear of your father’s passing, Debbie. My dad died a few years ago; I certainly understand and agree with the sentiment that it makes us much more aware of time zipping by and the need to make good use of it.

  25. I love the quote by Parkhurst that you used in the opening of this article. I suspect this factor is where writer’s block often comes from. As soon as you start creating a thing, it has imperfections which make it less than the imaginary ideal.

    But these characteristics are also what makes a thing interesting and unique in the material world. In fact, often as things approach an ideal, they actually become rather uninteresting. In art, I have learned to not overwork a piece. Unresolved areas in a painting draw the viewer’s eye and add interest. Similarity, the ambiguity of a word with multiple definitions can make a poem multilayered and intriguing.

    I used to have an art instructor who, when she saw a person hesitating in front of their canvas unable to start, would exhort them to “Get in trouble.” As soon as you put a mark on the canvas, you have created an issue that you then need to respond to with the next mark and the next.

    Jude

    1. Terrific direction from your art instructor, Jude. I like it better than the version I’ve read in online art instruction which is, “Make a mess.” I’d much rather see myself as daring and rebellious than as sloppy and uncaring which is how my brain interprets making a mess.

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