Money feels like background noise until one day when it takes center stage. That’s what I call your “Moment of Awakening” when you’re left trying to figure out what to do next.
What’s a Moment of Awakening?
Well, let me put it all into a timeline for you.
Our lives are divided into three major stages, interrupted by a Moment of Awakening:
- Stage of Preparation: Birth to Twenty-Something
- Stage of Productivity: Twenty-Something to Fifty-Plus
- A Moment of Awakening
- Stage of Values: Fifty-Plus and Beyond
Stage of Preparation: Birth to Twenty-Something
From the time you’re born until you reach your early twenties, you’re in an absorption period, where you suck up all the knowledge, experience, bruised shins, life lessons, boundary-testing, schooling and forced discipline you need to prepare for the next stage of your life.
This is when our parents put their greatest imprint on us. It’s also when, despite whatever good intentions they might have, they unknowingly plant ideas and beliefs in our little brains—with no clue to what damage they might be doing.
So much of what we absorb from our parents (or parent) can be good. It can protect us from danger and prepare us for adulthood. But so much can just be them passing on their misperceptions—which they got from their parents—and on it goes.
But we’re not just affected by our parents. All authority figures—whether it’s other relatives, friends’ parents, teachers, neighbors or religious leaders—are busily putting their mark on us.
All that’s important now is to realize how much “forming” was going on in your younger years, whether formally or informally. All that accumulated learning and imprinting was preparing us for the next stage, the one in which we applied all we learned.
Stage of Productivity: Twenty-Something to Fifty-Plus
Once the preparation stage is over, our core productive years begin. This is where we start putting into practice whatever we’ve learned up until then. It’s where we start working and adapting our learnings to actual job requirements. It’s where we become parents ourselves and launch into the preparation stage all over again, this time with our own children.
Each of us moves through these years making decisions based on good or not-so-good information. If you think of each decision you’ve made (and not just the major ones) as a fork in the road, you’ll see that some seemingly minor decision made one day sent your life down some path that you would never have imagined. When you look back from where you are today, in hindsight you can find those crossroads or forks. And if you fantasize how your life would look today if you had made a different decision, it’s mind-boggling.
So we go through these highly active, productive, decision-laden years earning money, spending money, raising kids, losing jobs, buying houses, marrying, divorcing or staying single, sharing expenses or carrying the burden alone, hoarding pennies or frittering dollars away, being a sensible investor or turning the financial markets into one big crap shoot.
For about 30 or 35 years, we move through the Stage of Productivity, or what is like a first round of adulthood, almost on automatic pilot, almost lost within the process of everyday living.
And then one day … it happens.
We have a Moment of Awakening.
Your Moment of Awakening
Everyone’s is different. It might be the day your husband asks you for a divorce. Or the day your boss announces the company is going bankrupt and your pension just imploded. Or you have a health scare when you find a lump in your breast—regardless of the outcome. It might be the day you realize you’re fully in menopause and you mourn your body’s reproductive magic.
Or maybe something has just been bothering you, niggling at the back of your mind, and tonight you sit bolt upright in bed and say, “Good God, where have the years gone? I don’t have anything saved for retirement. If I don’t do something, I’m going to end up like a bag lady pushing a shopping cart through the streets!”
Whatever the trigger is for you, after your Moment of Awakening nothing is ever the same.
It’s the moment when you suddenly go from believing that life stretches to infinity, with no end in sight, to where you see that life is finite. You’ve faced your own mortality, perhaps for the first time.
But you also know that times have changed, and that women born when you were are expected to live easily into their eighties or nineties. This means that, while you’re looking at your “end game,” it’s not arriving for another 30 or 40 years. And the question is whether or not you’re financially ready to deal with this new reality.
At this time you have the power to write the storyline of the next stage of your life: the Stage of Values.
Stage of Values: Fifty-Plus and Beyond
In the past, as we looked beyond our working years, we used to think in terms of retirement. That definition came from what our parents experienced, what I call “The Old American Dream.” It was based on life-long employers and pension programs.
But the American Dream has been redefined over time. And, with our easy job hopping and love for instant gratification (hence, less savings), we helped redefine it.
Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves, look at creative ways to take what we have (or have left) and redefine our later years as well.
We started out with so many hopes and dreams. (And I believe we still carry many of them within us.) For many, this second adulthood is when we will get a second chance to play out our core values and fulfill our dreams, maybe slightly redefined.
The question is whether we’ll be able to afford to do so. And much of that depends on how we reacted to that Moment of Awakening.
Let us know in the Comments section below if you’ve had that Moment of Awakening and how that changed your life.
Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace of mind.