I’ve lost myself at least 100 times. It didn’t happen overnight, it never does.

In my relationship, it started with little things. I started cooking—and eating—what my partner liked, even though I preferred other foods. My partner didn’t like symphony, so I didn’t renew my season tickets. By themselves, these are not big things—but combined with all the other ways I gave to others in my life, it’s no wonder I felt like I didn’t know myself anymore.

Maybe you can relate?

Maybe you’ve given slivers, or even chunks, of yourself up to:

  • Raising kids—yours, his/hers, the neighborhoods
  • Caring for aging parents—no one is ready for the role reversal thing
  • Being an employee—“sure I can take on an extra project—again”
  • Or maybe you’re the boss (the buck stops…) or a volunteer (you always say yes and they know it) or a BFF (you’re the dependable one!)

And so it happens, little by little you stop doing what you like to do, stop making time for self-care, put the pause button on your dreams. And you almost forget who you are. Yet in the quiet times you remember. You see something, hear something, smell something that pokes you. “I used to love to…” you hear yourself say.

Or you find a photograph of yourself, run across an award you won, stumble onto a note someone wrote you. And you notice your chest aches a little. That ache—that’s your heart talking to you. It’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. You’re still in there, still able, still willing. You just need to remember how. How to say no, of course. But more importantly, how to say yes. Say yes to your heart, and to the things you want for your life. Say yes to this being your time to thrive.

 Take the first step: See it to believe it. Making a shift starts with a vision. It begins with you imagining, and then believing in, and then manifesting what you want for your next chapter in life.

 So how do you do that?

First, you pause, if just for a moment. And if you can be a little patient, pretty soon it starts to happen. You begin remember who you were, once upon a time. You reconnect to the little girl in you. The one who hasn’t yet decided (or been told) that she’s not smart enough or pretty enough or worthy enough to ask for—and get—what she wants for herself. Who hasn’t yet fallen into the habit of putting everyone else’s needs first.

Because before you were a spouse, parent, colleague, boss, caretaker, volunteer … you had a grand vision for your life. And it’s a pretty safe bet that over the years you’ve traded at least parts of that vision in. Some of your trades were upgrades and others were compromises. Some you made consciously, others happened when you weren’t looking, and sadly, some may have even been stolen.

If you just nodded, maybe it’s time for you to have a midlife awakening. Reconnecting to your vision: a guided journey. Are you even the slightest bit curious about what’s still possible? Do you want to know what part of those dreams are still alive in you? If so, there’s good news. I have a hack to help you find out. It involves your childhood photos. If you can, get out your old yearbooks, photo albums, and scrapbooks. If now doesn’t work, print or bookmark this for later and then make an appointment with yourself. Just you. This is a solo journey. Start sifting through your photographs. Take your time.

As you go through the images, look into your own eyes. What were you thinking about your future then? What did you want to be when you grew up? What made you happy? Did you have a favorite summer job? Were there hobbies you got lost in, instruments you loved to play? Parts of the world you longed to see? Really look at that girl in the photos. Allow her heart to join with yours. Wrap your arms around her and pull her close. Simply ask. Pick a favorite photo of yourself from the pile. Take a long look.

Now, close your eyes and take a deep, cleansing breath in through your nose and let go with a long slow exhale through your mouth. Do it a second time…inhale in, and exhale….and for good measure take a final deep breath in, deeply into your belly, and a long slow release of anything that could get in your way. With your eyes still closed, place your right hand over your heart.

Sit there a moment before you raise your left hand and place that on top of your right. Another deep breath might feel good right now so, go ahead. And now, with all the compassion you have given so freely to others all these many years, ask your heart this one sacred question:

What, dear heart, do you want?

Wait for a moment for an answer. It won’t take long.

Open your eyes.

Don’t should all over yourself.

The question “What do you want?” is the starting point for all of what really matters. Because there are no shoulds in that question. There was no qualifier about being practical. No talk about what’s it cost or who will take care of your parents or the grandkids. Just what do you want?

When I asked myself the question, I had a one-word answer. The word was teach. I wanted to be a teacher when I was a young girl, but instead, I followed the money and went into business. Then, at 53, when I realized I still wanted to teach, I became a coach. In the process, I discovered my bliss. It felt like coming home. It can be that simple if you let it. The message from your heart may not be career oriented. Your word might be freedom or travel or animals or God. When your heart whispers a message in your ear, she wants you to hear it.

So, how about it? What if you made a quick trip to revisit your earlier dreams and see if there are any worth resurrecting? If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

I can help you with one more step…

I want to gift you with a tool I call my “Wild Cards.” The Wild Cards serve as prompts to help you initiate a discussion with yourself. Use the cards for meditation, for journaling or in any other self-reflective process you like. When you direct your attention inwards, you begin to receive answers, and new possibilities begin to appear.

Sheree Clark is a Midlife Courage Coach, TV show host, inspiring speaker, and accomplished author. Sheree has written and presented on topics ranging from creating your life vision to overcoming career burnout. She appears in a weekly segment on KCWI channel 23, while maintaining a busy practice called Fork in the Road, where she coaches clients one-on-one and in groups on attaining creating an authentically fulfilling life.

To learn more about Sheree, go to www.fork-road.com