The Lost Years

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The sand trembled almost imperceptibly.

Soon, the disturbance became pronounced. The sand came alive, churning and shaking.

Within minutes, over 100 young turtles, barely 2 inches long, emerged and scurried toward the ocean.

Another generation of the Honu, or Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, had just entered the world.

In the water, the turtles disperse immediately, entering “The Lost Years.” During this period, they face the vast ocean on their own.

Over many years, they gain experience, size and strength until their return to the shore (often to the place of their birth) to live out their adult lives.

The Lost Years are a time of preparation, learning, growing and adjusting to their environment to maximize their chance of survival.

Leaders also experience The Lost Years. For us, this isn’t infancy or childhood. Rather, it typically occurs during three distinct periods of our leadership lives.

These three periods share a questioning of what we are doing, why we are doing it and if it is actually significant. Are we in the right spot? Are we making a difference?

Period one is early in our careers. Emerging leaders enter the workforce, enthusiastically embracing their assignments. Then, life happens. Failures, job disappointments, people disappointments. And the questions begin.

Second is typically in mid-life. At this stage, a leader has worked diligently for years, has gained some level of success, and is raising their family. Externally, everything is good, maybe even great. Except for that nagging feeling inside that something is missing, and that you aren’t getting any younger.

Third, those retiring from the workforce are often disappointed. They were looking forward to less stress, and enjoying more activities with family and friends. But, emptiness begins creeping in. The excitement of their career is gone, yet they still have so much to offer. What to do?

How do we navigate these periods and emerge stronger on the other side?

I can’t provide you with specific answers since each journey is personal, but here are six questions that, if considered carefully, may give you some bright lines within which you can operate.

One – is this just a speed bump or a major course correction? Fatigue makes cowards of us all, as Vince Lombardi once said, and so does discouragement. Take some time to see how things unfold. If your angst still continues, pursue it further.

Two – what are your top 3 to 5 strengths? We are most likely to thrive when we are operating from our deepest areas of strength.

Three – what burdens you? What is on your heart that pushes you to strive or excel? Another way to ask this is what is your “Why”? Aligning your strengths to your why fosters a powerful sense of purpose.

Four – what causes you stress, discomfort or anxiety? Our behavior and coping mechanisms change when we are under extreme or prolonged stress. This is called our direction of “disintegration.” Some situations aren’t for you. If you are in one, make a change.

Five – In what environments do you thrive? This is the opposite side of the #4 coin, and is called our direction of “integration.” Seek out situations where you can be yourself and authentically exercise your gifts.

Six – what has your life story taught you thus far? What are the common threads throughout your story that might help inform your next steps?

Mindfully considering these questions and making informed course corrections will help you avoid or navigate your Lost Years more quickly.

And most likely lead to more satisfaction and impact down the road.

Meet “Seymore” – an adult Honu. He came up for a nap on the sand while I was on Baby Beach in Maui. The Honu is a protected species, and you are not allowed to disturb them in any way or approach them any closer than 10 feet. His name, as given by my friend Gina, is due to the fact that he moves so slow that he can “see more” than the rest of us who are always in a hurry.

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