By Jim Selman | Bio
I am getting ready to fulfill one of my dreams. I have always wanted to go to Africa, but for one reason or another it was always too expensive, too far away or the opportunity just didn’t click at the right time. In March, I will be going and I am both excited and a little anxious since I am not quite sure what to expect. As I watch myself preparing, I realize that the best part of getting ready is that I don’t know what to expect—and that is the good news. Too much of our lives is spent living into expectations, which is one reason why we often get what we expect and are so surprised when we don’t.
This trip is with 8 other men about my age who are all successful in their own fields. In some ways, they have achieved the kind of success that most of us strive for. We are walking for 20 days with a group led by Richard Leider, a prominent coach and writer on the importance of having purpose as we grow older. His books “Claiming your Place at the Fire”, “The Power of Purpose” and “Something to Live For” are classics and important reads for anyone contemplating their future in later years. He calls his organization The Inventure Group (as in “inner adventure”) and sponsors an African trip once a year. The trip is framed as an opportunity to explore both the interior landscapes of our lives, as well as the awesome plains of the “Dark Continent”. The experience of being in the bush and close to nature and wild animals is, of course, a given. We are also planning to spend some quality time sitting with and listening to tribal elders in some of the oldest human communities on earth.
What is interesting is that, even though none of the participants on the trip know each other, we’ve met online and all share a common question concerning “What do I do with the rest of my life?” We are all experienced, financially secure, mature and educated men who are satisfied and empowered in what we’re doing. Yet we, like so many people either approaching retirement or having recently retired, are uncertain and concerned about our future.
For example, The Eldering Institute I have founded, along with its associated projects, has been and continues to be a passion and what I have planned to devote my life to when I “retire”. But as each year passes, I find that increasing demand has me working more for my corporate clients and having less and less time for my other pursuits—even though I continue to declare I am going to ‘slow down’ this year and stop corporate work altogether ‘one of these days’. While I am not unhappy with this, I grapple with thinking that I am making choices that are inconsistent with what I say I want and wrestle with whether I am really choosing or just holding on to what I am best at and am comfortable with for as long as possible.
Obviously, there are no ‘right answers’ to these kinds of existential questions, just choices. This is no different than engaging the same kinds of questions throughout my life, the kinds of questions that people experience and encounter at every age. In effect, this is what life is—making choices and continuously assessing where we are in the context of endless ‘what if’ scenarios. I think that what makes these questions seem a bit more compelling as we grow older is that we are becoming aware that our time will come to an end someday in the foreseeable future, and therefore what is at stake is greater in terms of what we choose.
My normal approach to a trip into an unknown situation, such as an African safari, might be to think of it as a turning point in my life, to expect another breakthrough or transformation as I have in the past when undertaking new experiences and, in the spirit of “getting the most out of it,” make it way too significant and end up missing much of what might be possible. So on this ‘in-venture’, my real preparation is to relax, let go of expectations and surrender to the experience and privilege of participating in a common inquiry with new friends.
One thing I have learned is that the future will always be what it is—regardless of what we think or believe or want. All any of us can do is be present in the moment and responsible for our actions and intention/vision for what might be. The outcomes of our lives will be up to the Universe, which is why exploring ‘the Great Mystery’ is still the biggest and best game in town.
© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.