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Transcending Midlife Crisis: Is this all there is?

"With each passage of human growth we must shed a protective structure like a hardy crustacean. We are left exposed and vulnerable - but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn't known before."

-Gail Sheehy, Author

A looming and recurring concern I hear from clients is, "What now?" What do I do with the 2nd half of my life?"

  • "The kids are getting older. They don't need me around anymore, except for keys and cash."
  • "I've been married for 20 years. Is it possible to recapture the magic? Is that even what I want? But I can't imagine leaving. There's too much at stake."
  • "I've been in this career forever. Yet, I can't afford to change careers now or do what I really love to do. That's just reckless and foolish. Plus, my wife would probably leave me if I did that."

Do you ever feel a deep, nagging fear that this is as good as it gets - and, it's not good enough? We start our careers and our marriages with so much hope and energy, only to find that it doesn't stay the same. We change, or it changes, or they change. And somewhere along the way, secret longing sets in.

Human beings have an adult need to learn, grow, discover and be in the adventure and passion of life. Yet we inadvertently fulfill that valid need/concern with artificial solutions, leaving us more unsettled and less satisfied in the end.

When they are willing to talk about it, people ask, "How can I recapture the magic of my life? Is it really possible to have passion in my work and relationships throughout my life?

If they knew how to fulfill that valid need in a genuine and healthy way, people would love to avoid the potholes of guilt, unsettledness and uncertainty. Following is one client's epiphanies on the heels of ending a relationship.

Renee Cooper
Executive Coach and Aspiring Author

I am working on a book about spiritual divorce, based on the notion that divorce can be a powerful opportunity for personal and spiritual re-awakening.

Ironically, I'm discovering that, no matter how much I've grown and learned, recently, when a new relationship "swept me off my feet", I found myself straight back in familiar patterns of communicating. I stepped over things I saw and felt out of fear of making waves, or worse, being left. I didn't speak up for what I needed. I ignored information that didn't match what I wanted.

I thought I had gotten beyond the urge to find someone to complete me. In fact, my mantra was, "I don't really need to marry again. I love my independence." It came as a shock to discover that I DO want to share my life with someone again. I'm seeing that, rather than being "complete" and ok with my life, I was really using "independence" as a way to keep my heart protected; to feel safe from hurt.

What I've learned from this recent relationship is that marriage or no marriage is not what matters. What matters is how open I can keep my heart - to knowing another newly each day, to being curious, to appreciating another for who they are, to being willing to have my voice even if it might disrupt the status quo. Can I keep my heart open to experiencing and appreciating others for who they are, without an attachment to a specific result called "married" or "single"?

I can see that I've been playing safe in my work as well, believing that, if I don't make waves, life will be good enough. I've been avoiding stretching myself and playing bigger out in the world as a way of keeping myself safe. This brief reminder of passion and connection has reminded me that the passion, vitality, newness and adventure I seek in relationships is an inside job. It's up to me to create a love affair with my life, and in so doing, I will have more to give others.

For the next 2-4 months, instead of drowning my calendar in dates and external distractions, I'm going to date myself. I'll take baby steps to take care of my genuine needs, like writing an article instead of worrying about writing a whole book. I'll hold small discussion groups exploring the journey of divorce. I'll schedule uninterrupted quiet reflection time. And most of all, I'll practice getting out in life with my voice, my unique piece of life's rich tapestry.

Fulfillment arises from within. You can love your work, but you are not your work. You can love your family, but you are not your family. These things cannot "fulfill" you. You will never find fulfillment "out there". It's an inside job. It comes from recognizing and honoring your unique gifts, knowing and honoring your adult needs, and contributing your gifts out into the world from a purpose that guides your actions and results.

I have worked with thousands of clients over the past 20+ years and I've seen that true fulfillment happens when a person stops confusing their purpose with their results or their methodologies, and when they learn to provide themselves with what they want others to provide them -- a sense of being valued, respected, wanted, known or validated in some way.

At the deepest levels, beneath the greatest pains, losses and disappointments, lie the seeds of passion. If you look there, you will find what matters to you. Building your life around what matters is a doorway to unimaginable passion and joy.

I'm reminded of Gary Shaw, Co-Founder of eClubSoda.com, who was paralyzed from polio at age 2 ½ , and put into isolation. No one could touch or comfort him physically. Not his parents. Not his doctors. No one. He is now learning how to give to others the thing he most wanted to receive, way back then. He does volunteer work with children with disabilities. He has been called "the child whisperer" for his uncanny ability to hear what children need that they don't know how to express.

What are you a whisperer for? What contributions are you uniquely gifted to give out of the seeds of your pain, your experience, your life?

All my best,

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Posted on Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at 11:29AM by Registered CommenterJan Smith | Comments Off

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