Moment of Awakening: Time to Fish or Cut Bait

Moment of Awakening, © Konstantin Sutyagin - If you prefer to listen, click the link below:

Moment of Awakening: Time to Fish or Cut Bait

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.

  • elizabeth

    I agree it was a rude awakening to know that we will not retire at the time we really wanted to but one thing is certain life is ever changing! Love your tips and remembers to get ready!

    • Yet once we get “through” one of those moments, there’s real clarity, isn’t there, Elizabeth?

  • SO much meat in this blog post! I’ve had several “moments” in my life. And, they always made me sit up, stand on my head, and take notice. The first was when my husband and I realized if we wanted more than the gold watch at the end of the j.o.b., we had to become entrepreneurs. And of course, after becoming entrepreneurs, you have that moment of “oh my gosh, if I don’t set up my own retirement, nobody else will!!” And yes, I know that feeing of wondering how much is enough for our final years. You are doing great things for women and their money. Keep spreading the word!

    • I know, Martha, it’s actually a full chapter in my (yet unpublished) book that I condensed down to 1,000 words! I realized when I reread it that it was pretty packed … but hope it’s still meaningful! 😉

  • I love this! I have had a moment, maybe two in my life like that. And it was quite an awakening. It’s funny how things shake us and make us realize we are not as “ready” as we may have thought or just make us pay attention! Thanks for all your great advice, your blog posts are always full of super helpful nuggets!

    • Thanks, Angie! I remember the wake-up calls I got too, going through that “Stage of Productivity” in my 20s through 40s. But wait ’til you get to the Big One … usually in your 40s or 50s … where the floor drops out from under you and you do the grand calculation: what have I done with my life, what can I still do and what the heck am I going to do it with … 😉

  • Oh, I’ve had several moments like this in my life. I’ve learned that even though I could not retire early, as planned, it was not the most important, my health was. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this post, Sharon. It is truly helpful!

    • I would guess that your health challenges in the last year would have set off the big-time awakening for you, Alexandra. Think of how many ways that changed your life. And look at all the great things you’ve been doing since!

  • Moments of awakening can be a time to refresh and renew. Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom Sharon.

    • Those aha’s can be a time to refresh and renew, as you say, Meryl. But the big one — and there’s generally just one — is what shakes everything up. You’re doing major life calculations. Once you’re through it, talk about “refresh and renew!”

  • As always – there is so much here, Sharon! I especially love your concluding line, “this second adulthood is when we will get a second chance to
    play out our core values and fulfill our dreams, maybe slightly
    This has certainly been the case for me and my gosh is it wonderful!

    • Sort of separates the wheat from the chaff, doesn’t it, Lisa? 😉

  • Barbara Becker

    Yes Sharon, the moments of my awakening have been occurring throughout my life and I look forward to more! I love my life, including the most difficult challenges.

    • Those moments are beautiful, Barbara, as part of our growth and evolution. But what I’m talking about happens only once, rarely more than that, and leads you to question everything … including things you were never conscious of. And it’s beautiful, too!

  • Tom Holmberg

    I really enjoyed reading your post Sharon. I really appreciate your perspective, my generation has a lot to learn from your generation’s awakening.

    • Thanks, Tom. Every time I hear people say they think life should be lived in reverse, starting with the knowledge and wisdom of age and growing into the greater energy of youth. I disagree! I love the journey I’ve been on … acquiring that wisdom through lots of bruised shins. I just wish I had listened to more people like me (today); it might have reassured me now and then! So pick and choose the nuggets that add perspective to your journey, and enjoy the bumps and bruises. 😉

  • Important points especially with my move to entrepreneur instead of job with pension plan 🙂

    • That leads to a pretty big reassessment, doesn’t it, Catherine? 😉

  • Yvonne Heimann

    I really must be and old soul, or just plain wired 😉
    It seems like I am about 20years faster than the standard *hehheehe

    • It could be, Yvonne. The only difference with one that comes when we’re in our fifties is that it tends to have the overlay of the end of our reproductive phase, so we’re redefining our role as women as well. Boy, it sure helps to be an old soul as we’re doing that! 😉

  • I’ve had a few moments of awakening in the past few years, and am loving the fact that I can now live my dreams and do what I love!

    • Isn’t it liberating, Lena, to be focusing on what REALLY matters? 😉

  • I have to say that I’ve experienced a few of these awakening moments throughout my life… I think it’s important to recognize our own abilities to get through things that may at first seem insurmountable or like a *spanner in the works*

    • The ones that take place in our fifties or so have the added element that we’re moving out of our reproductive phase … and we tend to want to redefine ourselves. That challenge at 53 is what made me reassess everything, and let go of what no longer mattered … so I could focus on what did.

  • daniele holmberg

    I have to say this post somewhat scared me of what is to come. I mean..I know life goes on,and I am always a happy positive person, but it made me wonder what my “moment of awakening” will be. I am 36, so I guess I still have some time according to your age brackets.:)

    • Daniele, there’s really nothing to be scared of. We all have challenges as we go through life … and we get through them fine. Then one day, as we’re going through one of them, it strikes us differently. It simply causes us to stop and assess what’s gone on before and what’s important to us as we go forward. Mine was pretty life-shifting (lost my business, my house, just about everything). And yet it was actually the most liberating thing I’ve experienced; as a result I let go of what really didn’t matter. (You’ll be just fine!)

  • This post so resonates with many of the hurdles I have faced over the years, but in particular 2012 and all that my family endured. Yes, I have had many ” Moments of Awakening”..I am however grateful for the journey and the blessings that come from it all!

    • Actually, you are one of the people I thought of as I wrote this piece, Anita. I know a bit about what your year was like … and it epitomizes that big “Moment of Awakening” when we realize our life is going to be totally different going forward. Here’s to a smooth journey …

  • Your description of the stages in our financial life are so spot on Sharon. My Moment of awakening came when I had lost it all and realised I would have to start over. But this time around I am so much better prepared and I’m glad that I have woken up to reality because it gives me a chance to take action.

    • Carolyn, I go back to something I quoted from my friend Carly a few posts back: “I have lost everything and nothing. All things LOST served their purpose. If we all looked at loss like this, we would realize what we have gained – we actually haven’t lost anything – for without those experiences we wouldn’t be who we are NOW…” That sets us up perfectly to rebuild from scratch … prepared!

  • Leslie Yerger

    I believe that I have had the moment, and the ages you give (I am 50) seem to fit. Still working on how it is all going to play out, but I am so loving the journey where as before I am sure I would have totally frustrated!

    • “…loving the journey …” or leaning into the flow. What’s best is that we look at our options differently, and realize we have choices. Here’s to a smooth ride, Leslie!

  • Shari

    I had that moment the year I turned 40 and realized I needed to refocus my life to prioritize my family. Nothing’s been the same since then, and I mean that in the best possible way. Life is very rich now!

    • It’s somehow very liberating, isn’t it, Shari? Almost as if we remove lots of extraneous stuff off our plates and just focus on what really brings us joy …

  • Sharon you are awesome at showing us how to be wiser with our finances. I love your insights, they always make me take more small steps. Liberating too.! Thanks.

    • That’s the whole idea, Norma … giving you new glimpses at possible decisions and directions you can take. As you know, having choices is liberating!