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Eight years ago Lynn Naliboff put together a journal of dreams impeccably detailed with all the things she wanted to achieve. She lined each page with inspiring images from magazines to keep the visuals fresh in mind, reminding her that her goals were important. Then she put it in a drawer and referred to it when she got off track. The journal incorporated all Naliboff’s passions: to travel, be a food writer, be in a job she loved, and someday be married with children. Each page was dedicated to something she wanted in life.
“When I started it I wanted to push myself to achieve more in life, so I wouldn’t get lazy,” says Naliboff, a Stamford resident. “I wanted to remind myself ‘I can’ and to figure out how I would.” Naliboff, a direct marketing writer, has achieved many of her goals. Paris and Spain were amazing and Napa Valley was stunning. She’s also developed a food blog of low fat recipes (lynnsfavoriterecipes.blogspot.com). But at 41, she feels time is running out for marriage and children. While she was out forming a career and building a life that was self-sustaining and interesting, the dream of a family took a back seat. It hasn’t fizzled, but she says she’s not going to expend energy on it the way she did in her 30s.
How did I get here?
“I try not to think about it, but it’s just so not where I thought I would be. I am trying not to regret it, but I do a little bit,” says Naliboff. “And I really hate living my life with regret, so I need to focus and really strive to achieve the things I want to achieve.” So, she is reevaluating her plan.
Naliboff has the attitude you need, says life coach Cynthia Mayer, whose practice is in Westport. “Grieving the loss of a fantasy is sometimes harder than a person,” says Mayer. “It can hit hard. Sometimes people get so attached to their life plans they forget to leave space to be open and flexible.”
Many of us wake up one day and find ourselves asking: How did I get here? You could be talking about your relationship, lack of one, or a job. It’s kind of like a line straight out of the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime”—a sort of midlife crisis theme song. We are just kind of going along, “the same as it ever was,” without direction because complacency is sometimes easier. Mayer stresses getting on track means finding out what’s standing in your way. But it’s hard to take a deeper look. Why are some of us so afraid? Then one day we wake up, and we’re 50. Is it too late to start over?
Why do we need plans?
If you subscribe to the philosophy that you only get one shot in this world, it is never too late to get off the couch and get in control. Because we don’t want to find ourselves “rudderless, floating on a sea without a direction,” says Kathy Caprino, Norwalk-based woman’s career and executive coach. Caprino, who is also a licensed therapist in Fairfield County, documented it all in her book, “Breakdown, Breakthrough,” which highlights hidden crisis working women face and how to overcome them. After a year of interviewing women who are successful, she “found the happiest [ones] are the ones with a direction.”
Caprino’s journey to her own enlightenment began about 10 years ago while she was a corporate executive in a job that wasn’t fitting with her life. Even though the high-paying salary was a motivator, her personal life was suffering. Then, after an 18-year reign, one day she found herself pushed out, and out of work. Just like that.
“When I got bumped out of the corporate world, it was an awful thing to be discarded,” she says. As she entered her 40s, she was forced to take a good look at her life. Her therapist told her now was the time to ask yourself: Who do you want to be? And she found the things she wanted as an adult were not so far off from the things that she wanted at 18. “We don’t recognize the things that are easy as skills.” That’s why she thinks it is important to start a life plan while you are young, so you can identify your skills. She explained, “When you look back on who you were, you’ll find the core of who you are is unchanging.”
Caprino stepped back and got what she calls an empowered perspective. “We think we blew it when things go bad,” she says. “We don’t understand it is all there for our growth.” Caprino, now 51, is doing all the things that she loved in her youth: writing, coaching, and even singing (she married a musician). She also formed Ellia Communications and now invests a lot of time to changing the workplace model she once found so stifling, so women feel they can have it all.
The road to success can be long and winding. Ellen Makar can tell you all about that. While growing up in Trumbull, she had ambitions. She wanted to go to college, but didn’t really feel like there were many female mentors to guide her. She didn’t know what to even look for. There was no Internet to conduct Google searches back then.
So, she decided on a traditional female-dominated field: nursing. But after experiencing high-pressured life and death emergency room situations, she realized the clinical side wasn’t for her. Administration was. The idea was first planted in Nursing School, but would require furthering her education with a bachelor’s and masters. So she set a lofty goal: by age 30, she would have it all. Then maybe she’d be able to stay home or work part time when she had kids.
But that didn’t work out. Love came along a lot sooner than later and so did the kids, and she had to reevaluate her timetable. The 1990s brought a weakened economy, and Makar wasn’t about to give up her job. Instead, she was working two jobs at an insurance company and a nursing facility, while taking classes, and sharing kid duty with her husband, who was also going to school.
Her motivation and her persistence kept her going. It was a long haul, but finally she got her bachelor’s and ultimately landed a job at Yale Medical Center. She was climbing the corporate ladder in administration and was on her way. But something was missing: her masters. This time she applied to Yale University.
Makar feels had she stuck with the original plan, she would have missed out on this life-changing experience. Call it serendipity. “[Yale] was an absolutely transformative experience for me. I would like to think everything I did led me to be at that college.” By leaving room to be flexible, Makar was able to achieve her goals. “It took me 15 years to get there, but I did it.”
Follow your heart.
The key to a life plan is to identify that one thing you love, to stick with it, and to learn from your mistakes along the way. “You need disappointments to grow,” Steve Jobs told the 2005 Stanford University graduating class. And though the words in this commencement address may seem cliché and over-Tweeted since Jobs’ death, the core of it still rings true. By making mistakes, you can start over and begin again. Call it luck.
Even though meeting a man is no longer one of Naliboff’s top goals, she’s still planning on attending a speed-dating event. Because, “you have to remain open.” And that’s why Makar is staying on top of her industry, in case she needs to reinvent her skills once again. As for Caprino, every time she visualizes what she wants to be, new doors open and she goes for it. “The ability to keep going and stay focused on whatever you are doing,” says Mayer, “that’s creating your own luck.”
A version of this article is published in HealthyLife CT.
How do I form a life plan? In five easy steps!
1. Know yourself. What do you truly want in life: A new career? A relationship? More travel? More education? Ask yourself what’s missing and what will make you happy—and why.
2. Write it down. Begin to form a blueprint of your life by adding inspirational anecdotes, pictures, and quotes of milestones you want to achieve—to remind you why you chose these goals in the first place.
3. Set goals that are realistic and highly targeted to what you want (keeping some far-reaching ones in mind). By forming a well-constructed plan that involves all your goals, you are creating something you know you can achieve.
4. Do something every day that puts you closer to reaching your goal: Make a phone call, send an email, or research your topic more. Remember, you can’t make progress unless you do something about it.
5. Refer to your goals often and, most importantly, stay positive.