I was born with an imaginary timeline tattooed on my brain. I don’t think it’s a generational thing because I have younger friends, even a 14-year-old daughter who seems to have a very clear vision of what’s supposed to happen when, especially when it comes to the big things in life like, education, marriage, career, and kids. It’s as if our recipe for a successful life includes specific ingredients and a very prescriptive timeline.

I’m a rule follower at heart, and I worked hard to follow the recipe even though some of my measurements and timing were a bit off. I went to college. I even got an MBA. I’m married (although it took twelve years, some couples counseling and two engagements to the same man), I have two kids(not the prerequisite 3-4 for suburbia) and I carved out time for a career (although it looks more like an EKG than a hockey stick). But hands in the air, I followed the recipe!

But ‘my truth’ (that’s what I call going inside myself and fessing up. In other words, the thing(s) I seldom share with others) is that I often feel like I was meant for more.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you parachute me into a cocktail party, I can elevator pitch myself into sounding like some wildly interesting, multi-passionate woman who has successfully managed to balance the demands of mother + wifehood with a fulfilling job and countless interests. But my TRUTH is that like many women, I yearn for validation, and I struggle with feeling unsuccessful in certain areas of my life.

Yes, I’m also completely tapped into the long list of thought leaders, life coaches and therapists that tell me to keep going, I’ve got this. But there’s still an ache inside me wondering if I was meant for more, annoyed that I’m not more satisfied, not more successful and increasingly consumed with the notion that I’m growing somewhat irrelevant with every year that passes.

Interestingly, what has helped me most is knowing that I’m not alone.

Over the last two years, in the many workshops, events and personal interviews that I’ve been part of, one common theme is this notion of “was I meant for more?” Yes, it’s apparently completely normal!

It turns out that many of us, whether you’re a career professional, family CEO, creative, entrepreneur or volunteer, feel unfulfilled or unsuccessful in some area of our lives. Dig a little deeper and some experience an inner tug of “what’s next?” Keep digging and you’ll find the big stop sign signaling “it’s too late.” And that’s where women get stuck—regardless of age. We stop at the sign and hear a loud inner voice repeating the words, “IT’S TOO LATE.”

Okay, let me backtrack for a second to my 32-year-old self when I worked as a marketing manager at IBM’s CHQ headquarters in Armonk, NY. (I promise it’s relevant.) I live in NYC. No kids, no car seats. Just me, my large coffee (extra sugar), smoking a cigarette out the window as I head up the West Side Highway ruminating over the fact that there’s nothing about my job or my industry that I’m even remotely passionate about (I did love the people). I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I know it. So resilient and methodical, I decide to network, schedule umpteen informational interviews, and sha-zam a few months later, I land my dream interview at Martha Stewart Living. (Hello Sunshine!)

Sadly, it’s a quick meeting. Within the first few minutes the somewhat less than impressive woman in the very impressive studio explains unapologetically that she can’t hire me. Why would she when there aredozens of other well qualified people who already have publishing experience. “You’re too late,” she says. “You work in technology, not publishing.”

A decade plus later, these words still haunt me. YOU’RE TOO LATE.

They haunt me because I let myself believe her. I mean seriously? It’s simply not true. It’s never too late and I make sure I tell my children this at least once a week. But what is true, is that we all make choices, either because we want to or we have to. And those choices lead us down different paths, but it is NEVER too late to switch direction, to pause, even stop. The challenge is that this recipe for life that we feel so obliged to follow, not to mention the prescribed timeline, has us moving so quickly that there’s no time to look inward and question, where am I going and what do I want? We need a rallying cry that lets everyone know that it’s okay to pause. There’s no finish line with a gold medal waiting for you. There’s also no gold medal for going to an IVY league school, no gold medal for breastfeeding, no gold medal for staying in a bad marriage or slogging through a job that sucks you dry every day because you think there’s no other job out there. THERE ARE NO GOLD MEDALS.

Coming to this realization has been a process, not an epiphany. But reminding myself, sometimes even weekly as well, that there are no gold medals makes it feel safer to slow down, brush past the “it’s too late” sign and sometimes take a detour. I’m not going to lie, it’s awkward at first, even gluttonous especially when it requires prioritizing yourself instead of everyone else. But it’s critical. It’s along these detours that you’re able to discover, connect and grow, both personally and professionally. In my case, signing up for writer’s workshops taught me how to be still. Saying yes to consulting gigs led me to coaching. Spearheading events I knew nothing about and moderating new programs helped me rediscover my voice.

Even going ‘out’ to lunch (which, for years, I swore I’d never do) has fostered new friendships.

So while it’s completely normal to ask the question, “Was I meant for more?,” stop giving yourself grief for asking it. But rather give yourself permission to pause, whether it’s for an hour, a day, or a month to start exploring what ‘more’ may look like for you. Ask yourself when you feel most fulfilled, most alive. What experiences, moments or people light you up? Is it taking a class? Mentoring someone who needs it? Applying for a new job? Rediscovering museums? Being comfortable with discomfort? Going to an event? Reading? Being in nature? Follow the breadcrumbs. Do more of it, be open, connect with yourself and see where it leads.

It’s not too late for anything…ever. Still not convinced? Well… just imagine yourself ten years ago. Where you were living, what you were doing, what you looked like. Then imagine yourself saying “it’s too late.” You’d laugh right? Well, zoom forward ten years into the future and imagine yourself here, today, sitting where you’re sitting, saying the same thing “it’s too late.” You’re going to be smiling the same way. Because the time has never been more right than now.

Dear Reader,

Thanks for taking a few minutes to read this post. These ‘truths’ are part of a much larger conversation about how we as women feel, but don’t openly share. By putting these thoughts + reflections out there, my hope is that others feel less alone and instead more supported + inspired. If this essay resonated with you, let’s keep the conversation going. Forward to others: friends, neighbors, sisters, colleagues. We all need to feel a bit more connected. And as always, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (see footer below) so that I know where to send the next edition. best… julie

Julie Flakstad is a coach | advisor, speaker | writer and small group facilitator with a passion for helping support women + entrepreneurs through transitions and life stages. Follow her @jtflakstad and learn more at julieflakstad.com