Meaningful lives are enabled by a clear purpose, but for decades I had not fully appreciated my purpose.

Dead by 50
Bird in sand
Dead by 50

Meaningful lives are enabled by a clear purpose, but for decades I had not fully appreciated my purpose.

by Heather Kinzie

or nearly two decades, I was convinced I would die before my 50th birthday. I was not sick, nor had I learned from a carnival prophet that my life was soon ending; rather, the women in my family die young and I had no faith I would be different.

I spent quite a bit of the years leading up to my 50th preparing for my ultimate demise. I didn’t know how death would greet me, but I was certain it would come, and I acted accordingly. I took the time to write instructions regarding my retirement, life insurance, mortgage, etc. I always made sure there was a second person at work keenly aware of the status and other details of my assignments and projects. I consistently organized, labeled, and/or discarded items in closets, the garage, etc. I selected the music for my funeral and made sure my dear friends knew of my wishes.

People told me I was illogical, morbid, and even insane, and judged me accordingly. I worry that writing this piece today will simply ignite the same opinion. I appreciate that death makes people uncomfortable, but I had accepted my fate. And, because I don’t like ambiguity, I reduced doubt and confusion about what should happen after I died.

I Wasn’t Supposed To Be Here, and Yet There I Was
I was alive and well on my 50th birthday. My emotions were curious on that day; I wasn’t thrilled or grateful, nor was I downcast or disheartened. I was oddly apathetic, and I remained so for a couple of weeks.

COVID made its appearance that month, and shortly after my birthday, Alaska felt the blow. Businesses shut down and, subsequently, The STRIVE Group’s projects were put on hold; some were cancelled altogether. Some of our staff began working from home and some were furloughed. People retreated into safe bubbles, which drastically decreased or ended social interactions and engagements.

Ambiguity surrounded us, and nearly everyone I cared about was fearful, hurting, sick, etc. I realized quickly that there was no room for apathy in my life; gumption, love, and hope needed to move in. COVID massively disrupted everything around the globe, but for me, COVID shattered a burden I had willfully carried for decades; I was not meant to die before my 50th and damn it, I better start living.

How ironic that a virus that fatally attacks our lungs breathed life into me.

Here I Am, With Clarity and Purpose
Meaningful lives are enabled by a clear purpose, but for decades I had not fully appreciated my purpose. I am a mother, a sister, a friend, a neighbor, a volunteer, a business owner, and a leader. During the months after my birthday, I needed to thoughtfully consider myself within these roles.

  • Was I sincerely or begrudgingly present in that role, and why?
  • Was I giving or taking?
  • Was I meant to direct or correct?
  • Should I make, add to, or simply execute decisions?
  • Was I expected to teach, coach, or motivate?
  • Was someone reliant upon my expertise or inspiration?
  • Was I capitalizing or stifling my talents and passions in the execution of that role?

It took some time and, honestly, it was difficult to be fully truthful, but I pressed on. I learned quite a bit about myself, and I am now able to move forward in those roles with better clarity and purpose.

Here I Am, With Results in Mind
Years ago, I offered a keynote titled “What’s on Your Headstone?” It was about how we want to be remembered, and what impact we would like to leave on our family, our communities, our work, etc. I remember feeling like a chump as I delivered that presentation because, while the certainty of my death allowed me to live in the moment, it also gave me an excuse for not looking ahead and pushing myself to improve. I was rarely excited about future possibilities and, subsequently, I had little to no commitment to, or accountability for, results.

About six or so months into my 50th year, I began to thoughtfully identify what success looked like. I pondered the answers to these types of questions:

  • What does parenting success look like?
  • What needs to be done to ensure my siblings think fondly of our relationship? What might make them proud to be my family?
  • How might my friends describe an enjoyable and meaningful friendship?
  • What would it take to make my neighbors be thankful for living next to me?
  • What might be appreciated by my business partners, colleagues, clients, etc.?

If I didn’t know, or if I thought I was guessing at the ideal result, I asked. I asked my kids, my colleagues, my neighbors, and my friends. This was an enlightening exercise and helped me better identify the results I wanted. With this newfound knowledge, I could execute actions, activities, and behaviors that enabled success. Circling back, I hope I will not need a headstone anytime soon, but I would like to be proud of what is on it when the time comes.

Bird art
Here I Am, Curious and Receptive
I was an inquisitive child and young adult. My quest for information and data helped create a decent trajectory for my career. But as the years took me closer to my 50th, I found my curiosity diminished and I approached most new things or challenges with only a minimal amount of interest. Often, “It matters not” was my mantra, and unless someone or something forced me to learn or try something new, I did not bother with it.
Each of us has a unique personality, with unique talents, expertise, and flaws. Likewise, we have inimitable values, needs, and desires. To be confidently authentic is to openly display and/or protect and defend our tapestry.
I have since dropped the “not.” “It matters” is now my mantra. But old habits die hard, so when I find myself regressing, I ask myself these types of questions:

  • Am I rushing decision making?
  • Am I asking questions to confirm my beliefs or to challenge my beliefs?
  • Did I start the discussion with something like “I don’t know…tell me more” or “this is what I think”? Why?
  • How likely am I to probe into or question the topic?
  • Do I consider this exploration time wasted or time well spent? Why?

These days, I try to approach things with a beginner’s/learner’s mind. I force myself to listen for differing or diverse perspectives, I intentionally withhold judgment or criticism, and I ask a ton of questions with the intent to learn or clarify. This takes time and plenty of patience, but it matters.

Here I Am, Confidently Authentic
Prior to 2020, I believed I was authentic. The word and concept had become quite trendy, and I wrote and presented on authenticity numerous times.

I liken authenticity to tapestry. A tapestry begins with a framework of warp threads that are sturdy and consistent; humans are comparable to the warp threads in that we are all biologically similar. However, in a tapestry, the thousands of weft threads are different colors, textures, etc., and it is through the weft threads that the unique, intricate beauty of the tapestry is revealed. Each of us has a unique personality, with unique talents, expertise, and flaws. Likewise, we have inimitable values, needs, and desires. To be confidently authentic is to openly display and/or protect and defend our tapestry.

My circumstances changed dramatically when I found myself alive and well on my 50th birthday. The disruption that “living” created threw me and my authenticity for a loop. It wasn’t until I redefined my purpose and my desired results for my life that my core values were revealed. Subsequently, I could act and behave in alignment with those values. When I began to explore differing opinions and perspectives, contrary data, and information, etc., I uncovered hidden interests and passions, and revealed more of my unique strengths and vulnerabilities. It was only after I thoughtfully considered who I was and how I felt about being alive that I could fully comprehend what authenticity really meant.

Today, my tapestry is quite different, and I find it quite remarkable. Figuratively, it consists of both vibrant and muted colors, strong and weak fabrics alike, and a variety of textures, gnarls, and snags. I am proud to display it, and I will happily protect and defend it when needed.

Here I Am, Invested
My belief that I would die young enabled short-term thinking. This enabled an excuse to avoid long-term investments. Whether it be with work, finances, relationships, health, etc., I consciously and unconsciously planned and acted tactically.

As my 50th year turned the corner and my 51st was in sight, I embraced the concept of being in it for the long haul. Therefore, I needed to re-evaluate my investments and began to question my habitual activities and behaviors.

  • Given my newfound purpose, where should my priorities lie?
  • Given the long-term results I sought, what did I immediately need to change? (I asked this question about money, health, family, work, house, etc.)
  • What relationships or connections previously deemed unnecessary or unworthy needed to be rebuilt or repaired? Moreover, how was I going to go about it?
  • What did I need to learn and where would I begin?

Frankly, the change in my approach from tactical to strategic demanded I get off my butt physically, intellectually, and emotionally. I needed to invest wholeheartedly in my life; moreover, I needed to ensure these investments would enable long-term, not short-term, rewards.

I Wasn’t Supposed To Be Here, and Yet Here I Am
As I complete this piece for STRIVE, I find myself wondering if my story will be meaningful or fatuous to readers. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, as it’s my life, not theirs, that began after it was meant to end, but I would like to think we can all benefit from the lessons I learned.

  • Are our lives better lived with clarity, purpose, and a focus on results?
  • Are we more alive when we are curious, receptive, and authentic?
  • Do we owe it to our family, friends, employees, and neighbors to invest in ourselves?
The Answer is Yes, and Here We Are.
Heather Kinzie
Heather Kinzie serves as the chief operating officer for The STRIVE Group. With more than 20 years of organizational and workforce performance experience, Kinzie offers consultation; facilitation and mediation; content development and training; and coaching to clients around the country. She oversees a team of experts who utilize a broad, systematic, and collaborative approach to analysis, problem solving, and consultation. Recognizing the critical importance of leadership, communication, and effective collaboration among teams, Kinzie is committed to helping clients improve communication, engagement, and organizational performance.