How do I get fired up about life again?

I want to be fired up about life again. Any suggestions on how best to do this?

Brandon – California

Dear Brandon,

If I were a motivational speaker, I’d tell you to set your sights on the stars and believe that you’ll get there. But I’m not a motivational speaker. At heart, I’m a pragmatic-cynic. But I will answer your question anyway!

To best answer your question, let’s deconstruct it. There’s a lot of truth in what you ask and it’s relevant to all of us middle-aged guys.

“I want…” Great! Having that desire is the starting place.

“…to be fired up…” You’re going to have to spend a bit more time deciding what this means. Do you want to jump out of bed, throw open the blinds, and sing across the rooftops? Let’s not worry about the intensity of the emotion but instead the object of your firing up.  

“…about life…” This is the point where you need to get specific. Life? That’s ambiguous. I doubt you mean that you want to be super-excited simply to exist. Drop that word and replace it with what you really mean: your career, health, finances, or your relationship with your spouse?

“…again.” And here I’m going to stop you in your tracks. You’re suggesting that you can return to a time and a place where you were fired up. Raw truth: there’s no going back. You’re never going to be fired up about things in the same way that you once were. All that stuff about not being able to step into the same river twice, well it’s true.

The past, and whatever goals and dreams we had, no longer exists. Now that we are older and wiser, we can identify reasonable vs. unreasonable goals. These weren’t so obvious in our twenties. Let’s start a band and go platinum. I’m tired of being an accountant and think I’d be an awesome neurosurgeon. We now know those aren’t reasonable to start in our middle years.

In your second sentence you use an important word: do. Reasonableness depends on that simple verb. Let’s look at two examples.

First, let’s say that you are disappointed with your finances and want to get fired up about earning money. You want to be rich. Spend a bit of time with that. How rich do you want to be? (And why? Don’t forget to ask this because there’s no reason for us to be rich as an end in itself.) Is there a reasonable way for you to attain your financial goals? Lottery tickets do not count as attainable means to achieving financial goals. If you dream about being rich, then you are going to end up feeling less than fired up about becoming rich, because it’s never going to happen. But if you do something about it — setting (and attaining) monthly sales goals, for instance — then you’ve got every reason to be fired up.

As a second example, and one relevant to all of us middle-aged guys, is being fired up about our relationship with our spouse. Simply wishing that you had a better relationship will lead to absolutely nothing. Sit down for a few minutes and come up with some reasonable things you can do: weekly date nights, a weekend romantic getaway, reading a book together, joining a tennis club, whatever. You’ll find that if you invest into the actions, rather than the dreams, you’ll get fired up.

I should be honest and say, and my wife would echo me, that this has been a challenge for me for decades. I love planning and dreaming and hypothesizing. But I often fall short in the doing. That said, little by little I’m getting better.

I’m convinced that for many of us, our midlife crisis happens when we’re face to face with the unreasonable dreams and goals of our youth. These fired us up before we knew better. We then navigate that crisis by admitting that our personal satisfaction and, more important, our personal worth, do not depend on those pie-in-the-sky goals. Let’s not be dreamers; let’s be do-ers. Set new goals, but make sure that they align with the important parts of our lives.