New York City, NY

Using the 4 Chapters of Life to Improve Your Life Today

Bill Abbate

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What if we could break free from the bonds of time in how we view our life? Instead of always looking at age, why not look at the sum of our life at various points, such as adolescence, early adulthood, middle age, and late adulthood? What if we were to evaluate ourselves not for the years passed, but as to who we have become, what we have done, how we have matured, or what we accomplished with our lives through each stage.

I am not suggesting anyone else do this for us. With human judgment being what it is, that would be far too subjective and flawed. I prefer not to sit under someone else's judgment, but I do find value in taking a good hard look at myself. To deepen this experience of looking inward, it can often help to have someone do it with you so you gain as much perspective as you can.

One way we can look at life is that it consists of four chapters:

  • Chapter 1 – birth through adolescence
  • Chapter 2 – early adulthood
  • Chapter 3 – middle age or middle adulthood
  • Chapter 4 – senior or late adulthood to death
  • Let's take a look at how I view my life so far as an example.

Chapter 1

In adolescence, my parents divorced when I was four years old. My mother remarried when I was six. I barely remember my birth father, and my stepfather was out to sea what seemed like 90% of the time. I had difficulty accepting my stepfather and grew up fatherless so far as an authority figure is concerned. This was more my fault than his.

Growing up the way I did made me very independent and mature for such a young man. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders at far too young an age. We traveled the world most of my childhood, living in Norfolk, Detroit, Long Beach, and San Diego. Then we spent eight years overseas in Japan, Honolulu, and Malta before moving back to the States.

Those early years have continued to affect my life to this day. I have found much good in them despite the difficulties endured back then.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from that period is I am a survivor. If a kid can live the life of a Navy brat, having no real father, a young, immature mother, attending 12 schools from first to twelfth grade, always struggling, he can survive anything!

The biggest benefit from this part of life was the tenacity I developed, which has served me well throughout my life.

Chapter 2

When I entered early adulthood, I married, had a child, and worked hard, often at two jobs, to support my little family. Looking back at that stage of life, I am satisfied I did what I could do and realize I could have done some things differently and better. The lessons gained from this chapter have provided tremendous value in my life.

One of the biggest lessons from early adulthood was realizing I could accomplish whatever I wanted so long as I worked hard. During this time, I found my love for learning and started to understand I could learn anything I wanted, and it would take me wherever I wanted to go. This was a period of tremendous growth, and I made steady advances in my career.

Chapter 3

Looking at middle age, our daughter went off to college, and we became empty-nesters. I had advanced considerably in my career yet allowed work to consume me. Fortunately, I had a very understanding wife who forgave me for not being there many times because of the hectic travel schedule I kept. Unfortunately, she got cancer and died at the young age of 51.

I learned many lessons in this part of life, and while I can't change what is past, I can create a different future. One big lesson was not to allow my job to consume my life. Toward the end of middle age, I started to implement this lesson, which created tremendous benefits. I came to appreciate the important things in life in a far greater way than I could have were it not for the lessons of chapter three.

Chapter 4

Coming to the reality I have now entered my final chapter of life on earth is sobering, to say the least. I find it essential to put all of the lessons from the first three chapters to use, bringing them to bear in the present to make the best of my life until it ends.

What are the more important aspects of this final chapter? So far, it is living life to the fullest, helping other people, and growing spiritually. At this stage of life, where I could kick back and relax as a retiree, I find that is not who I am. I want to make the rest of my life count. I want to make it worthwhile.

The most worthwhile thing I can do is help other people live better lives. How can I do that? Through writing, coaching, and mentoring, helping people see more, do more, and be more. Then there is the spiritual aspect, which is an extremely important part of my life. I want to grow and do what I can to help others grow spiritually. It is the most important thing in life, after all.

Final words

It can be challenging to stop and look at your life when you are living it. Everyone needs to take some time from their busyness and think about what they are doing. You may believe you have all the time in the world, but be careful. Before you know it, you too will be old and regret not considering where you are and where you are heading.

It is important to stop and ask yourself a few questions now and then. This will allow you to make the best use of the life you have already lived and to think about your future. Ask yourself:

  • "How do I feel about the chapter(s) I have lived so far?"
  • "What lessons can I take from these chapters to improve my life going forward?"
  • "Is my life turning out the way I had hoped, or is it different? What do I want to do about that?"
  • "How do I want chapter 4, the final chapter of my life, to be? Who do I want to become before and during that time?"

These simple questions can help you gain more insight and create more value in your life. Give yourself a break now and then to consider the answers and what lies ahead.

I leave you with a poem that inspired my thoughts in this essay. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

"We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives

Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.

And he whose heart beats quickest lives the longest:

Lives in one hour more than in years do some

Whose fat blood sleeps as it slips along their veins.

Life's but a means unto an end; that end,

Beginning, mean, and end to all things—God.

The dead have all the glory of the world."

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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