Mid-life malaise is a luxury, but if you're reading this and you're over the age of 30, you've probably experienced some version of this, the nagging questions of What if?
, If only
, Why me?
, What next?
I realized as I was experiencing and working through my bout with the What am I going to do with the rest of my life?
wails that everyone else had them, too... whether they were married or not, super-rich or just doing okay, had kids or not, had been super-successful in the career of their choice or just kind of found their way. Neither are these questions, I discovered, confined to a particular gender.
Now, these universal mid-life feelings are something you can entertain only if you aren't struggling to put food on the table or keep a roof over your head; like boredom, they're a conceit of the well-to-do, which, if you're reading this, most likely you are. (You have an internet connection, time to browse, buy books, etc.) If you're struggling to survive, you probably don't have the inclination to be existential and self-pitying. Even though I knew this, and even though I knew I was very fortunate, I had these questions fall on me like an avalanche, and it was by accident, when I was 43, that I met a man who got me connected to Bhutan, which was sort of the beginning of the end of my dance with these questions. This attitude shift could have been inspired by myriad other experiences or encounters, but in my case, it took flying half a world away to volunteer at a start-up radio station in a little known kingdom to push it along. (It was also helped by an exercise called the Three Good Things, a gratitude journal of a sort, where each night you write down the best things that happen each day. Over time, you realize — little things are the most gratifying, and also, how much goodness you probably have in your life.)
Prayer flags hang in improbably high locations virtually all over the country.
You never know who you might meet, or where they may lead you, but you can only know if you're open to it, and I'm grateful that I was. And, that I was able to take advantage of the offer put before me. You don't need to fly anywhere to have a moment of enlightenment or transformation, though. It's really about reframing how you look at the world around you, and that's in part what I wrote a book about — how being in a new place allowed me to change my perspective. Whole fields are developing around these ideas, positive psychology, the study of the brain and effects of meditation on depression, etc. I'm no expert in these things. But I do know this: Volunteering at a radio station in a little Himalayan kingdom at just the right moment helped me make that shift, and helped me clear a path into my forties, so I could imagine and work towards a productive future.
I hope I get to visit the real Powell's and not just the virtual one some day to talk about it. In the meantime, I leave you with these links: To an excerpt of my book, and to a series of videos I made about Bhutan. Thanks for reading!
Excerpt from Radio Shangri-La