Woman in midlife sketching in a notepad in an art studio

How to Find a Renewed Sense of Purpose in Midlife

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
November 08, 2022

Early in life, the focus is often getting to the next milestone. Maybe that’s learning to drive, graduating, getting a job, getting married, and having children, if you want any of those things. But once you find yourself in midlife, there might seem to be fewer milestones to check off your list—which may leave some people feeling a bit untethered and aimless.

“By the time midlife hits, you might say, ‘Wow I did all these things. Now what?’ ” says Rachel DuPaul, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Minnesota who practices virtually and who specializes in helping people navigate crossroads and life changes. “You’re used to having this forward momentum, and now a pause is happening.”

Reaching this point can be daunting, but it can also be empowering, DuPaul says. You can use this time to reconsider your place in the world, says James Killian, a therapist and counselor who practices in Woodbridge, Connecticut. Yes, this time of life can be full of uncertainty, but it can also be an ideal time to reflect and pivot.

“[People] may ask themselves, ‘Who am I, and what do I want to do so that it feels purposeful?’ ” says Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., a New York City–based licensed psychotherapist and author of Your Best Age Is Now. “They want to engage in things that are meaningful, both personally and professionally.” Indeed, research suggests that having a meaningful sense of purpose is associated with better emotional health, resilience, and life satisfaction.

It’s common for people in midlife to have spent so much time doing things for others that they haven’t considered themselves. Now, time and space in your life may allow you to do so, Ludwig says. Here are ways you can craft your next chapter with purpose.

1. Work with a Therapist

Therapy isn’t just for when you’re dealing with a problem. It’s also helpful for times of transition, including midlife.

“A therapist can help you feel more comfortable with yourself,” says Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Valley Stream, New York. “They can help you think about what would make you feel fulfilled and how to help you achieve that goal. You want to have a breakthrough.”

A therapist can help you reflect and think constructively about the past, present, and future. They can help you feel comfortable about your life going forward. If you’ve had major life changes—like divorce, loss, or illness—a therapist can help you deal with feelings they may have brought up.

“If you’re feeling stuck or lost, work with a therapist to discover what you want to do next and help you find your purpose,” Ludwig says. “There always is a ‘next.’ You just need to figure out what it is.”

2. Learn Something New

When you learn something new, you can keep your mind engaged and build a sense of accomplishment and pride—and have something to look forward to and feel excited about. “We don’t have an expiration date,” Ludwig says. “As long as we’re living and learning, we’re not done.”

Learning to speak a new language, write computer code, or play an instrument are just a few ideas. Taking an online course or a class at the community college are great places to start.

“[Midlife] is a time to do things to give your life more satisfaction and happiness,” Ludwig says, so try some new experiences and find out what those things may be.

3. Connect and Reconnect with Others

Some people feel isolated in midlife. But you can use this time to develop new connections and deepen relationships. “[Midlife] is an opportunity to meet new people that you feel in sync and in alignment with,” Ludwig says. “Then, you can weave in old friends who’ve been with you through many decades.”

Try reaching out to reconnect with family and old friends, who may be in the same boat. Text your best friend, Facebook message your aunt across the country, or email your college roommate. Maybe even plan a trip to meet them in person! Although reaching out can sometimes feel intimidating—especially if you feel guilty for being out of touch for a while—you may find it’s worth the payoff.

4. Revisit a Hobby from the Past

Now is an ideal time to reconnect with a pastime that you once loved or hoped to someday enjoy. “Focus on things that give you pleasure and that are on your bucket list,” Ludwig says.

Years ago, Sapadin enjoyed painting in her free time. Now that her children are grown and have moved out, she has started painting with acrylics again. “Do something that brings you joy,” she says. “Invest in the creative part of yourself. Recognize what’s been sidelined or neglected. Don’t do what others expect of you, but what you want to do for yourself.”

5. Look Forward

If you feel like you’ve already checked off a lot of your life to-dos, take a moment to appreciate the milestones you’ve reached—but don’t get too hung up on the past. Look ahead, too, and acknowledge that there’s time for so many more accomplishments. “Remind yourself of that,” Ludwig says. “Rebel against the notion that you’re irrelevant or not noticed.”

With the right mindset and tools, you can look ahead confidently. “The next few decades can be filled with just as much opportunity [as the previous ones],” Sapadin says. “Create opportunities to make yourself feel fulfilled.”

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