We’re always dreaming.

The perfect job. The perfect house. The perfect car. The perfect spouse. The perfect family.
The perfect life.

The problem is at midlife, we suddenly wake up to the fact that our plans aren’t matching our dreams.

We expected better. We didn’t anticipate so much stress.

What’s next?

How would you define your dream job?

I asked myself that more than two decades ago, when my father died of a massive heart attack from stress at a job he hated. He was three months from retirement. He had less than three months before he could change and do something he truly wanted to do.

I watched. I learned. And I’ve never made that same mistake.

Of course, I’ve had different stressors in my life. Building a business and working as an entrepreneur has its own levels of stress.

But I’ve defined a dream job as one where I’m in control. I have flexibility to do things my way. I make as much money as I choose to work for. I do what I want to do.

Turns out a lot of other people have the same ideas.

According to a recent study:

41 percent want to be business owners.

They want short commutes, shorter workweeks (38 hours), more paid time off (52 days), and the option to work remotely whenever possible.

Dream salary – this amazed me. If men had their way, they’d be making about $445,000 per year. Women only feel $278,000 would give them what they need. (We’ve got a lot of work to do before we as women feel we are worthy of oh, so much more!)

Then there are the perks. Women want benefits that match our ever-changing lifestyles: matched 401K, ability to work remotely, flexible schedules, unlimited vacation time. Yep, just from our wants and desires, it’s clear we have a lot on our table, and we’re looking for any help we can get to spread it all out.

Men care about income. Women care about flexibility.

That’s because we don’t have a choice but to take action when the kids call, when friends have problems, or our parents need a helping hand. We have to be there.

Where Do Most Women Go Wrong?

I can’t help but notice what women want from a position. The above is just one study of many that clearly shows we want flexibility.

That’s because life never stands still.

When my daughter was young and starting a new school, I remember how crazy the end of the year was. Fall activities led into the holidays; I couldn’t wait for things to calm down in the new year.

Funny thing is, that “calm down period” never showed up. If anything, things have progressed to BUSY every day of the year.

We’re planners. We’re doers. We always think: beginning, middle, end.

We think about an outcome – the bake sale at school – and we weave it into our lives. We pop open our schedules and know we have to drop the kids off at school, run by the craft store for a box, stop at the coffee shop for a meeting, pick up lunch on the way to the office, eat while on a conference call, send emails while walking to the car, chat with a vendor while in line at the grocery store, run shuttle service to get the kids where they need to go, have snacks and the appropriate gear in the back of the car, check homework, throw brownies into the oven, and check in with mom and dad … and that’s all BEFORE you can think about what you need to do for you.

Guys don’t get that. They don’t live like that. They get deer-in-the-headlights look if we even try to explain.

I continued on with that lifestyle, year after year. Until one day I’d had enough.

I drove into the mountains for a retreat. And halfway up, the tears started flowing. I hadn’t had a day to myself … I couldn’t remember. Even driving for more than five minutes without a bunch of tiny little errands along the way, felt like a vacation.

I knew right then I couldn’t go on. Something had to change.

Beginning – Middle – Ending: Redefined

The problem is women have never been taught about beginnings and endings. We live perpetually in the middle, doing things to meet everything our worlds throw at us. At that, we do better than anyone else on the planet.

When I went to school, I never looked at what I would accomplish with my degree. The goal was the degree, not what I’d do once I had it.

I’ve talked with a lot of 40 and 50 year old women, and know we have that in common. We were the first generation where working was looked at positively. We could go to school, get an education, put the kids in daycare, and do what we wanted to do. The trouble is we had very few role models to follow.

My grandmother had an 8th grade education. She was a housewife, never working outside of the home, her entire life.

My mother was denied the possibility of going to college. She was told: you’re only going to get married and settle down anyway. Why waste the money?

That changed with my generation.

With a push from behind, I got the degree. A few years later, I added a masters.

I worked throughout my life, starting with babysitting at the age of ten.

But I was never taught about the why. Just the action of getting it. Not what it would do for me in the long run.

So I fell into life rather than creating it. Everything I did was because I fell into it by accident. And no matter what, I never considered the outcome.

Until I did.

A lot of things went through my mind on the way up to that retreat. And it continued once I got there and checked in.

I had several days of focusing in on me. What did I want? What about my future? Was I happy doing what I was doing? I found myself suddenly amazed that I’d never done that before.

Suddenly, I started looking at my life differently. I didn’t like what I was seeing; not where I stood. But I could see light at the end of the tunnel. Some things I loved. Some things were easy to move towards and incorporate into my life.

And with a little guidance, I reinvented myself into something more.

Questions are good.

Where do you want to be? Days, months, years, decades from now?

What do you want to accomplish?

What would you like to be recognized for?

What fulfills you?

What makes you happy?

At the time, I struggled to get the answers down.

I remember taking my notebook and hiking out into the woods one afternoon, all by myself. I found a bench underneath a tree. I sat staring out at a pond.

Who am I?
What do I want?
How did I get here?
Is this where I want to be?

Life Is Transition – Not Start and Stop

Somewhere over the last hundred years or so, we’ve started defining life as:

Education/childhood
Work life
Retirement

Three phases. A beginning, middle, end.

For most of us, we go to the same schools, stick to the same neighborhood, stick relatively close to home for our youth.

For us Gen Xers, we followed the advice of our moms and grandmas, and went to college to find a career. And with the expectation of getting married too.

So we did – right after college. We settled down, went to work, and settled into a chaotic life that best suited our families.

The ending, of course, is retirement. This fabled moment in life that worked well for the Silent Generation, is working okay for Baby Boomers, depending on what end of the scale they are on. For us Gen Xers – no way, no how. Not a chance.

Traditional retirement isn’t going to happen. There will be no Social Security. Medicare will no longer exist. At least not the way these systems currently work. They won’t be reliable for you to live with for twenty, thirty years of your life.

Even pensions are no longer secure – there’s always news of pension funds running out of money. And what will happen when a depression hits us once again?

You’ve fallen into a career. It’s lasted long enough to get your kids through school.

Now what? You finally have flexibility to change things up a bit. And now, for the first time, you’re starting to see that you’re not where you truly want to be.

What do you love to do? What can you do to create your own little piece of this world, to have something you love to do make you a good living in the process?

The Beginning – Middle – End process might have worked for generations before us, but that’s not how the world works.

Instead, we’re now a part of the Beginning- Middle – End way of living, over and over again.

Instead, it looks something like this:

Beginning – a college degree
Middle – working to grow your family
End – the what’s next questions start to form
Beginning – you live in a fog. You ask questions. You look for answers.
Middle – you do something you love with a twist. You look for a new way to feel passionate about your life.
End – you find a way to incorporate your dreams into your lifestyle. You reap the rewards of your effort.
Beginning – the fog kicks in again.
Middle – you do something you love with a twist. Rinse. Repeat.
End – find success.

I was stuck in the Beginning – Middle – End lifestyle for a long time. I tried desperately to make things work.

It was only after I realized how stuck I was that I started looking for a different way.

If you’re in a fog, it’s because your world is trying to push you in a direction you need to follow. If you fight it, you only delay what’s possible.

Stop fighting we’re living in a new world. A world where we can do whatever we choose.

If you discover the writer inside of you, let her out. If you discover you’re meant to start a coaching business or invent something new, give it a whirl.

A recent study shows that women owned businesses have increased tenfold. Women owned businesses are up 58 percent, while businesses overall only increased 12 percent.

Studies also show age of women entrepreneurs is also increasing. We start businesses to pursue our passions. We’re finally ready to be our own bosses. We’re laid off, outsourced, and just not ready to retire. We have a hell of a lot to give back to the world, and we’re not afraid to do it.

That’s because of the Beginning, Middle, End, Beginning, Middle, End philosophy. Been there, done that. We made our mistakes and followed a career path because it was the “in” thing to do.

We have success; we have what we want – on some level. And now we’re going back and doing it again on our terms.

I never knew I wanted to be a writer. That came from years of experience and practice. One job fell into another, until I discovered what I really enjoyed.

My entrepreneurial spirit was noticed, and a publisher approached me for a book deal, all those years ago.

That turned into a column with the Denver Business Journal.

That morphed into writing for other publications online and off.

And of course, it also started my book publishing career. A dozen nonfiction, six fiction, and numerous short stories later, I’m happy with where I am today.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.