Even if we may have trouble clearly articulating it, we each have a view and relationship with our lives, specifically how we go about thinking what we are to do with this stretch of time before us. We can break it down, I think, into two major approaches – the builders and the discoverers.
Builders, as the label implies, build with all the word connotes. Life is to create something, something tangible. You start with little or nothing perhaps, but then you plan and assemble and…build. In my view, America is very builder-oriented. You have roughly 40 years between 20-60 to make something of yourself. Ready, set, go!
Builders usually have clear objectives in mind, a concrete sense of where they want to be at the finish line: Make law partner and a million dollars or a be a judge; start their own start-up and reap the rewards of something grand. Or maybe not be work oriented, but be just a focused: a driven parent who wants to have 3 kids who will all turn out to be successful in their own way, a good home, a contented life. But it building nonetheless, with that same approach of taking aim, plotting a course, making sure you make the right choices and hit those goals by the finish line.
Builders can feel good when things are all falling into place. And when they don’t, the obstacles are seen as challenges to be overcome in order to reach those long-term goals. They can get excited and inspired, but at times also myopic, seeing only what is 3 feet in front of them and little else. They can also be self-critical and hard on themselves even when things are outside their control. They can get worn down from the continual burden of having to ultimately be responsible for achieving their dreams or not. And some would say they can get dangerously too caught up in running their lives than living them.
As these builders near mid-life or older and see that they may not accomplish what they set to do at the start, the dangers are that they can become depressed, realizing they are running out of time, or maybe have left too much of themselves out in the quest and have become too one-dimensional. In the worst situations, there may be resentment and regret that much of endeavor was ultimately for naught.
If life for the builders is a bit of the forced march with blueprint in hand, for discoverers it is more of a stroll along a path. They have goals, a direction that they follow at the start, but they are not averse to exploring side-roads, are curious about what may lie around the next bend.
As with builders, the name says it all – life is to be discovered: the clear course is not always clear, the obstacles along the path are less challenges to confront and more signs that maybe there is another route that is better. Failure isn’t about self-criticism, but life telling you that this path isn’t the one for you; time to try another.
But just as builders may feel a bit of panic as they near midlife or older and worry that their dreams will never be fulfilled, discoverers can panic and worry that maybe they have drifted a bit too much, that their stroll maybe should have been more of a determined march, that they don’t have much solid to show for their travel as the near the finish line. Like the builders they may worry that somehow they've not used their time well enough.
Going to the other side
One approach is not better than the other. But for both builders and discoverers they may each decide at midlife to switch gears and adapt the other’s perspective. Builders may slow down to smell the roses. They may go back down the road and gather up the parts of themselves that got left behind. They may allow curiosity and wants replace shoulds and agendas.
Likewise, discoverers may realize they have little time left to get things done. Now at 45 they are talking about changing careers, or taking that senior job positon that they poo-pooed for years, or the stay-at-home mom decides she wants to go to the law school. They hustle because they want to build something that can, for them, be a solid measure of their lives.
The middle ground
The space between their two perspectives is actually the combining of each. Having the blueprints and clear vision of the builder, but also keeping your ear close to the ground of yourself. Marching ahead, but periodically stopping to assess the terrain, to see if the path is still the path you want to follow. Being curious, but not letting your curiosity take you too far astray into the weeds and away from your sense of purpose and values.
So who are you? What side do you lean towards? Are there any adjustments, any course corrections you need to make right now?