Is It Okay Not To Have Awesome Goals in Mid-life?

In my last two posts, I reminded you that if you don’t know what you want, or if you live your life in service to others to the extent that you never know what you want, or if what you want isn’t really what makes you happy but rather, what gets you through the day (like “I want to organize my desk”), you may die unfulfilled. You may sleepwalk through your one precious life. What a tragedy.

HOWEVER. (Sound of self-righteous throat-clearing.)

Just a few days ago, I read a letter to an advice column from a confirmed slug:

Dear Advice Person:

Is there anything wrong with a single, childless 50-year-old whose only goal in life is to coast to retirement, having saved enough to make retirement comfortable and carefree? I keep reading about having a grand purpose in life, working in a field that you love, being creative, etc., and it just sounds like too much work to me.

I like to have good, clean fun and I don’t like to be responsible for other people. I give to charity, but I don’t want to work in a soup kitchen or be hands-on with helping others. My job is not very fulfilling, sometimes boring, but it pays well enough, and I don’t feel overwhelmed or like I can’t produce what is required of me. I get along with the people at work, and I don’t find myself dreading going to work.

Do I need to challenge myself? Do I need to set more goals? Is coasting such a bad thing?

The Coaster

Lynne again. Hmmm. So what I hear you saying is that my life, that of the rat on the wheel, born of some existential anxiety, may not be the norm. Maybe you don’t NEED to have a big damn goal. Maybe your life is fine just as it is, being a middling member of middle society at middle age.  What’s so wrong with that, as long as you go at it consciously and are happy?

Not a darned thing. I think the important thing is to have self-knowledge, to be aware of what makes you happy and go after that. And if you do, and you have no interest in bringing clean drinking water to Africa or peace to the Middle East, I still wish you happiness. We should all be as self-aware and mature as The Coaster.


  1. SHORESLADY says

    At 55 I thought my world was tumbling down when…I was fired from my full-time job that supported me and my disabled husband…when my unemployment ran out…when I needed cataract surgery on both eyes…when employers ignored my hundreds of resumes sent…and as it turned out life just went on. We tightened our belts, trimmed budgets, and lo and behold, we simply went on day by day, bruised but far from bested. My lesson; sometimes less is indeed more. More trust, more faith, more time, more creativity and no one can take those away.

    • says

      Shoreslady, what an amazing comment. My own circumstances, while different by degrees, reflect the same curve as yours, and my husband and I found we could be very happy away from – well, away. I’m glad you’re okay now (and I hope you’re writing a book!) PS any future comments will go onscreen instantly w/o moderation, so please stop by again.

    • christine nelmes says

      inspirational answer! thank you from a 60 something who was bemoaning her fate…….and indeed life does just go on no matter what the circumstance. I needed to hear that. Good luck although with your wonderful attitude I think you probably make your own.

      Kind regards Christine

  2. Java says

    I worked for 26 years as an HR Director and then the company decided that Mexico was the place to be. So with my newly found freedom, I cooked more, enjoyed more movies, woke up later in the morning, didn’t worry about cleaning up on the weekends and actually had breakfast in the morning. At first it felt strange – having time on your hands to do stuff without rushing about, not having plans for each hour of the day.

    I’m back in school going for another degree, but I can schedule the hours so that they don’t interfere with the more important things in my life: my husband, my grandchildren and my knitting.

    I was having a ‘serious’ talk with my granddaughter (she’s four, but she rocks!) around a month ago regarding what she wanted to be when she grows up. She advised me that she wanted to be a astronaut. So playing along I asked her “Do you know what Nana wants to be when she grows up?” Without missing a beat she said “My best friend.” Yep, that summed up my goal for life.

    • says

      Java, I was an HR director, too. And your little story about your granddaughter melted my heart. I have a tiny little granddaughter (6 wks) and she’s so precious. Stay in touch – let us know how it goes.

  3. Lucy says

    I just found this site and I am happy I did. As a woman of 58 who, less than one month ago left a very stressful, responsible job, I am delighted to be semi-“coasting”, at least for the time being. I am back in school, on track to finally finish my bachelors degree in English, then will go on to an MFA in creative writing. I am loving having time to relax in bed in the morning, or, conversely, jumping up at dawn to do schoolwork because the house is quiet. I used to dread Sunday evenings knowing what awaited me the following morning. Sunday is now my favorite day of the week. I love staying up as late as I like because I know I can. I run errands when I want. I have lots more time with my lovely husband and close friends. I can talk on the phone to my two daughters for as long as they want to chat. I procrastinate writing my papers or doing homework but then enjoy the process once I start. A movie on a Wednesday afternoon just because I am in the mood? Heaven. Oh, and I do give to charity. I love writing the checks and mailing them off. I, too, do not feel the need to show up at the local food bank putting in time, though who knows? Maybe I will later. It is lovely knowing I have the choice to do so without having to squeeze it into an already over-scheduled day. I am not sure if this is will be the rest of my life. I will see where my education leads me, once I finish. For now? Coasting is a gift, and I feel very fortunate and grateful to have this time in my life to reflect and to do what I want to do.

    • says

      Lucy, I’m glad you found us, too! And any future comments you make will go right up on the web, no approval necessary, so stop by often and let us hear what you’re thinking.

      I worked for 30+ years and when I retired (if you can call it that; I’m finishing my first novel) I was kind of lost for a while. I tried freelance writing, got a part time job as an events coordinator for a law firm, and volunteered at a hospital. I remember being kind of afraid of all the free time. But, man, how I have adjusted!!! Now, a good day is one in which I have absolutely no appointments. The whole day to organize as I see fit. There’s always STUFF to do, but how wonderful to organize it on your own terms.

      Best wishes!

  4. says

    I was brought up to believe that hard work makes up for being all sorts of a
    crummy person in other ways. As long as it could be said of me ” Well; she certainly works hard”, I could be forgiven many sins (in the non-religious sense).

    Now that I am a boomer+, I know that the value of hard work is much overrated.
    Do the best you can, which includes being kind to yourself, listening to your inner voice. even if that tells you to coast for a while. I am far more ALIVE now than I was when I was flogging my back to achieve. achieve, achieve.

    And yes, I do care about water in Africa and food in the bellies of starving children, but I can do something about that quite easily, no hard work involved.

    Vagabonde sent me here, I am glad she did.

    • says

      Friko, I used to look at the wealthy, nonworking wives in my extended family and shudder at the thought, “what does she DO all day?” These are people who no longer raise children. It seemed all they did was plan parties, enhance their bodies, and redecorate. But there is another kind of retirement, wherein a woman might live a quiet life – she might putter at her plants, watch soaps, try a new recipe, do social networking, visit her adult children, attend a book club, take in a movie with a buddy…The former seems like killing time, the latter like living. But I feel bad judging.

      I guess the thing I’ve learned in my middle 50s is that I have to feel like I have a purpose, like it would matter to at least a few people if I were no longer here. Thanks for joining the discussion!

  5. says

    Hmmm, another thought -provoking post,Lynne. While I do not have the inclination or energy to set the world on fire, I do feel having a sense of purpose and making a difference are important. I find as I get older , I become more selective on how I define that. You get out of life what you put into it so coasting wouldn’t be my choice. It reminds me of a quote by Teddy Roosevelt “Do what you can with what you have where you are” And I agree with Deb, I want to lIVE!

  6. says

    I understand tiredness. What I don’t understand is non-productiveness. I can’t imagine a life, being the gift it truly is, that doesn’t accomplish something, that doesn’t give back in some way, that doesn’t seem to mean anything other than “coasting” through to old age! Maybe middle-aged people are no longer able to do the things they once dreamed they could; nevertheless, as long as there’s breath in my body, I want to LIVE!!


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