By Beth Johnston and Maria Sylvester
I, Beth Johnston, am 61 years old. I thought I had purpose in my life, but the coronavirus quarantine and its effects have left me feeling a bit lost.
Family gatherings are my jam. A family dinner once a week is very important to me, especially since I became a nana. Travel is also a passion of mine. Seeing new places, experiencing new adventures, meeting new people — anticipating the next trip is part of my DNA. Both of these bring me immense joy, but both of these were put on hold during the quarantine, causing a roller coaster of up-and-down emotions. I was feeling everything.
Path to Life in Between
My travel entrepreneur journey began in April 2016 after my 2015 retirement from 30+ years in elementary education. I went into education to make a difference in the lives of children. I began with organizing destination weddings and honeymoons, but soon realized that wasn’t my true passion. I was missing something. I read an article about family travel and realized that my quest to make a difference in the lives of children could be attained through travel. I was dedicated to opening children’s (and families’) eyes to the wonders of the world through travel. I wanted to expose children to other cultures, teach them about conserving our planet, and help them become more compassionate, kind, and better global citizens. That vision became my passion in planning transformational trips for families.
In March 2020, as we entered into a worldwide coronavirus pandemic, travel came to a screeching halt and so did my travel business. At the beginning of this year, I made a decision that I would give myself until my birthday in April 2021 to reach the “tipping point” of being a viable, profitable business. I was confident that I was almost there.
I could have pulled up my big girl pants and figured out a way to weather the storm called COVID-19, but after a lot of torturous deliberation, I decided to surrender and let go. At the end of this year, when my contract with my host agency is up, I will close Orenda Travel and this chapter of my life.
Other Coronavirus Casualties
In December 2019, my first grandchild was born. What a gift! There’s something so incredibly special about the bond you feel when your child has a child; it transcends anything I have ever experienced before. I felt an instant love that was almost overwhelming.
My daughter-in-love Ali was scheduled to go back to work in March. I had decided to help out my son and daughter-in-law with childcare several days a week. I was excited that I could still do my travel business and form a deeper relationship with my grandson. It was a win-win situation.
I was scheduled to begin watching my grandson on Monday, March 16th when my husband and I returned from a trip to Florida. That never happened. The pandemic unfolded while we were on vacation, and because we had flown home, we had to quarantine ourselves to make sure we hadn’t picked up anything on our travels. In the meantime, Ali’s work decided all employees would work from home. My son was also laid off, so both of them were now home and my services were no longer needed.
I was crushed. I had been looking forward to this special time with my first grandchild. I would’ve been helping his parents out, but the truth be told, I wonder if I would’ve been helping myself out more.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy that his parents are able to have this extra time with him to bond and watch him grow and change during these critical developmental stages, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it left a hole in my life, especially after I made the decision to close my travel business.
I have also been the primary caregiver for my mom, who is 82 and has Alzheimer’s. She lives at home, which is about five minutes away from me. I check in on her, manage her medications, take her shopping and to appointments, and help her when she calls. During quarantine I didn’t see her quite as often because I was trying to protect her from unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 due to her age and risk factors. My brothers and I had been in agreement on her care, but things shifted with coronavirus and now I feel less valued and underappreciated.
It’s been the perfect storm, the trifecta of disruption. Where do I go from here? I‘m hoping to eventually be able to watch my grandson at least one day a week. I also still need to have some flexibility in my schedule to help out with my mom. I know she’s not going to get better and that her disease will progress, I just don’t know how rapidly.
People say to find what you are passionate about and figure out a way to turn that passion into a purpose. Ha! We all know that’s easier said than done.
So what are my true passions? I would say children, education, and travel are high on the list. I also volunteer at the Humane Society of Huron Valley because I love animals. Early in 2020, I took a volunteer class there to assist in their education programs for kids. Right now, all of that is on hold.
I’ve also toyed with writing a blog because people have told me I’m a good writer; but what should the blog be about? Can I make some money doing something I love? I thought that would happen with my travel business, but it never did. So, how do you reinvent yourself when you’re in your 60s?
Reflections on Beth’s “in Between:” Life Coach Maria Weighs In
Midlife is my jam too. I’m celebrating my spot here in the life cycle, as well as offering Midlife Magnificence programs and coaching for women. Indeed, my heart resonated deeply with Beth’s dilemma. Midlife can be a time of massive upheaval, struggle, and painful transitions, as well as a time of glorious fresh starts and new beginnings. Add a pandemic to the mix and challenges get even more interesting. Yet I’m still convinced that my mantra — “Older. Wiser. Wilder” — can help guide us through.
I’ll explain what I mean using Beth’s story to illustrate. This beautiful woman’s ambition, compassion, intelligence, strength, and passion practically jump off the page. Don’t you agree?! Her determination for living a fully-expressed and meaningful life is fierce. Beth demonstrates some of the sacred motivational juice that comes with living life well. Her challenge now is figuring out how to best harness her multiple superpowers in crafting her next magnificent chapter.
Acknowledge the Loss
First, I believe she must grieve. She’s suffered a number of recent unexpected losses — her entrepreneurial dream, her ability to visit her family and new grandson, and her ability to be the primary caregiver for her mother. Our sense of self is greatly influenced and empowered by how we can offer our gifts to the world. Several of Beth’s key ways of doing so were momentarily thwarted. No wonder she’s “feeling everything.”
It’s best if she can let those feelings be, and let those feelings out! A vessel must be emptied before it can be filled. If Beth can continue acknowledging and grieving the losses in her life, she’ll then open up more easily to fully embracing what’s ahead. If, however, a person resists loss and pain — by bracing against it, ignoring the sadness, or trying to distract oneself from these challenging feelings — the capacity for future joy and vitality become limited. When your mind tries to push down sadness, happiness gets walled off as well. Beth seems determined to mine the gold of her passions and potential. This will happen with greater ease after she grieves what has been lost.
Connecting the Dots
Once one has faced the emotional upheaval that unwanted changes bring head-on, it’s more possible to register new possibilities. Beth’s question of how she can reinvent herself in her 60s could take her in multiple directions. At junctures like this, I often remind coaching clients that we do anything in our lives in order to feel something. So, in contemplating next steps, it’s essential to first reflect on how one wants to feel, before choosing what one might do.
For instance, if Beth notes what rich, meaningful feelings occur for her when living out her four passions — children, education, animals, and travel — she’ll have key information to guide her next decisions. When we set an intention for how we want to feel, we empower ourselves. Honoring our feelings allows us to live in our truth.
Living from what feels most important automatically puts us on the right paths. This is where the “older and wiser” part comes in. Beth is on a pilgrimage of sorts, intent on gathering up all the parts of herself that she knows make up her best self so as to live out her purpose. These parts — who she really is, as well as who she’s becoming — manifest in the strong positive feelings she gets when using her unique skills and abilities. The delicious feelings she embodies when she’s in her flow and happy are actually her roadmap for what she chooses next.
Manifesting that Wilder Self
Midlife typically brings the gentle falling away of old routines, along with new vistas of time and possibilities. Midlife graces us with the opportunity to take our finely-tuned innate abilities and talents and ease them into new adventures or career paths. On the other side of the painful changes Beth has experienced lies a brilliant opportunity for her to have significant impact in the lives of her loved ones and the world.
Older. Wiser. Wilder. If Beth can take the essence of what makes her heart sing, and focus her imagination there, I’m betting she’ll discover a deeply satisfying, fun new direction for herself. This is where the “wilder” part comes in. We typically feel expansive, confident, and free when we’re in our element, offering the world skills and abilities that flow from our authentic, best self. True empowerment happens when we’re able to weave something fresh and unique out of the old meaningful threads of our life.
So, Beth — it’s time to spin yours into gold!
This article was also published in The Brick Magazine.