Finding Joy and Meaning Through Life’s Limitations

A generation of baby boomers has reached mid-life. Most of us have made the life-defining choices -– jobs, spouses and even, on a deeper level, outlooks and philosophies -- that have become the stuff of our lives. If we have worked hard, been wise in our decisions, and, perhaps more than we would like to admit, been blessed with a bit of plain old good luck, our lives hold many rewards and satisfactions.

We have also, however, become acutely aware of the paths we have not taken, of the costs that accompany even our most rewarding choices. What once felt like life-expanding opportunities now feel, more often than we would like, like life-narrowing obligations. Where previously we thought in terms of what could be, now we are faced with daily reminders of what will probably not be. And where before we imagined an unlimited future, now we ask the questions that come with the awareness that time is finite: what must we concede as being unattainable? What will we look back on as having really mattered? And what will be the most rewarding and meaningful way to spend the precious, and hopefully not insignificant, time that remains?

Over the next twenty to thirty years we baby boomers will need to answer these questions. They are, however, questions that our generation is uniquely ill-equipped to address. Products of a “we can have it all and if we don’t somebody is to blame” culture, we hold tight to our already over-extended adolescences. We imagine that all gratifications are possible, that all losses are avoidable, and that all constraints are negotiable. As a result, we experience life’s hardships and complexities as unnecessary inconveniences rather than defining, meaning-making, aspects of being human.

The result? Perhaps more than any previous generation, we will struggle with the inevitable reckoning with reality that comes with middle and older age. Bluntly speaking, we risk becoming the first generation to die before it actually grows up.

We can, however, live fully and creatively even as our private hopes and expectations meet the immutable realities that come with our advancing years.

At its best, middle age and beyond can be a time of seeking. In this talk, Dr. O’Connell shows us how the most life-expanding possibilities imaginable can be found in the lives that we already have. How we can find freedom and meaning through the very constraints and limitations that are the hallmark of growing older.