While some refer to ages 40-60-ish in context of the “midlife crisis,” some of us like to think of it as “the age of enlightenment.”

Why? Well, all of the sudden, you wake up and realize you are probably about halfway (or more) through your journey – so you begin to ponder questions like: “what’s my role here, anyway?”

When we are young, the role seems pretty straightforward. We are pretty much the “stars of our own show”. As little ones, we want what we want when we want it. And we boldly (and often relentlessly) scream until we get it. Isn’t the world here to serve our needs? Isn’t everyone else’s life’s work to keep us fed and happy?!

As teens, we maintain that “star of the show” mentality, although it evolves a bit – we assume that everyone MUST be watching our every move. We blow off our parents when in public for fear that someone else may catch us conversing with them (or – far worse – showing them affection). After all, if someone were to witness such an exchange, it would surely put us on the trajectory to utter humiliation. Isn’t everyone awaiting our social demise?!

By young adulthood, we realize most people have their own dreams, their own challenges, and their own lives, so we begin to shed some of that self-focused thinking. BUT most of us still assume that friends and colleagues are probably scrutinizing our decisions. We are sure that if the water cooler could talk, it may reveal some unpleasant things it has overheard others say about us. Naturally someone revealed that we made a mistake during the big presentation, or that we mistakenly mismatched our shoes this morning, right? Of course they did. (Yup…still the stars of that show).

At forty-plus, we are, at long last, liberated from our younger hangups about what others may think, and we launch into our era of midlife enlightenment (screw the midlife crisis! Not having it.). We also realize the people who are paying attention are the ones in our closest circle, and we cherish that kind of attention because it’s usually coming from a loving, supportive place. By this point, we are finally comfortable in our own skin, true to ourselves…and oftentimes just too busy to worry about what anyone except that close circle is thinking about us anymore. Simply put, it’s the perfect time to experience the kind of enlightenment that sets the stage for decades of fun, joy, and FULFILLMENT.

And that enlightenment begins with the question most of us seek to answer throughout our lives – and although answers may change as years go on, we feel we must at least have some understanding: what, exactly, is my PURPOSE? 

Answering that question may seem tough at first glance, but it’s actually much simpler than you may think. In working with clients in my coaching practice, I have found that everyone has their own approach:

Some find the answer by looking to the past. What have you always loved to do? When do you feel most ALIVE? What are you passionate about? Do you get lost in performing music, painting, conversation, caring for animals, writing, hiking, spending time with family, caregiving? Whatever it is you have always loved to do…well, that’s probably pretty revealing. Go with it! Or, if it makes you realize you are ready to try on something new for size, go with that! And go a little further. Think about it in context of how it has served others.

Some find the answer by looking to the present. What is happening today that makes your spirit feel brighter? Have you experienced an exchange with someone in the street today that you think may have helped him or her? What projects are you working on? What makes your soul feel a little more joyful? Perhaps those are the things that bring your life meaning. And maybe they are fleeting – so enjoy them for what they are as you experience them. There is purpose in those moments. I bet many of those moments involve others.

Some find the answers by looking to the future. If you could write your own eulogy, what would it say? What do you want your legacy to be? When you are older and can choose exactly what you do with your days, how will you spend them? Typically these types of questions uncover an awful lot about what we want our lives to represent. In exploring these, we may find that we need to do more of one thing and less of something else, and that we are able to get more aligned with the sense of purpose that we are pursuing. No matter what, however, the more purposeful aspects usually connect us to those outside ourselves.

In looking to the past, present, AND future, we experience an exciting process of self-discovery. But the discovery is about how the purpose for our SELVES is actually connected to supporting OTHERS. 

Yeah. It’s that simple! While many think that we need to go all deep and philosophical to figure out the meaning of our lives, most of us discover meaning and purpose in simple moments all day long – moments that are not about us at all, but are about enriching life for other humans. That’s right – when we are no longer the stars of our own show, but see ourselves as part of that greater circle of humanity…those moments when we make an old friend laugh, listen for understanding when our kids are telling us something, help a person (or animal) in need, complete a project at work that will support success for our team, volunteer in a local shelter, host a party, find the perfect gift for someone special, call a lonely family member, paint a portrait for someone, start a nonprofit organization, launch a social justice campaign, pick tomatoes from our garden for someone else’s table – or smile at a perfect stranger in the street who really looked like he needed it today. 

You want a purposeful life? Of course you do. Who doesn’t?

Look big and philosophical if you’d like as you move through your own era of enlightenment to figure out how to feel more fulfilled, and go ahead and focus on YOU…..but know that you can just look to the simple moments when you are a star in someone else’s show for a real sense of purpose. 

Those are usually the moments that will power up your day, power up your self-confidence, power up your relationships, power up your joy, and power up your life. 


  • Marybeth Gallagher Cale

    Leadership + Communications Coach

    Estuary Leadership, a Division of Cale Communications

    Longtime writer, leadership/communications coach, and certified life coach Marybeth Cale loves to help people communicate and connect with confidence. Founder of Cale Communications + Estuary Leadership in Rhinebeck, New York, she uses her work as a platform to connect people to vision, ideas, causes, and ultimately, to one another. Marybeth has crafted scripts and helped produce storytelling videos, has written hundreds of op-eds, essays, and articles over the years, secured top-tier media placements for clients (who she's then prepped for interviews), and publishes a hyperlocal magazine called Living Rhinebeck. In addition, she works as a certified life coach - with clients one-on-one as they discover and clarify their personal and professional goals - as well as through group training and workshops she conducts for companies nationwide (specialty areas: self-confidence, communication, public speaking, and leadership). Marybeth lives in her hometown of Rhinebeck in the beautiful Hudson Valley region of New York State with husband and business partner Tom Cale and their two children. She cherishes time with family and friends, and loves listening to live music, playing tennis, watching sunsets over the Hudson River, hiking, and volunteering. She's a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland (1996), Institute for Life Coach Training (2016), and has received the Citizen of the Year Award (2019), Top 40 Under 40 Award (2006), and Service Above Self Award (Wappingers Falls Rotary, 2003). Learn more at estuaryleadership.com or calecommunications.com.