Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey

James Hollis, PhD

Sounds True (2018)


Available on

There are known stages of retirement: pre-retirement, the retirement event, the honeymoon, disenchantment, and finally, one gets to establishing a new routine. As the name suggests, at the disenchantment phase retirees realize that retirement is not a permanent vacation. Loneliness, boredom, feelings of uselessness, and disillusionment may set in as self-examination questions arise – “Who am I?” “What is my purpose?” For people fearing this stage or who are smack-dab in the middle of it a dose of Jungian analyst and author James Hollis may be just what is needed.

Over the last twenty-five years Hollis has published over a dozen books. Discovering who we are and finding meaning in life are recurring themes. Hollis’ most recent book Living an examined life: Wisdom for the second half of the journey (2018) is a guidebook for anyone at a crossroads in life, including imminent retirement.

Living an examined life guides readers through twenty-one areas for self-inquiry and growth. A chapter is devoted to each of the twenty-one desiderata, as Hollis calls them, with the reader exhorted to read only one chapter a day “to allow the ideas to percolate to the soul.” With no one chapter longer than six pages, the chapter-a-day recommendation is very doable. Although filled with deep and heavy concepts eloquently communicated with rich and poetic language, the organization of this book facilitates easily digesting the concepts. Hollis shares ideas and questions that he hopes will be helpful to the reader “in the conduct of his or her life and bring a greater sense of purpose and personal permission to be … who he or she is.”

The twenty-one desiderata progressively ask readers to consider elements of their lives. Topics explored include choosing the path of enlargement, exploring what gifts you have been withholding from the world, choosing meaning over happiness, and honouring the difference between job, duty and calling.

Informed throughout with quotes from Carl Jung and others, the reader is left with much to reflect upon. Do your values take you to a deeper life? Where do you need to grow up? In what area of your life are you stuck? Does a choice enlarge or diminish you? What values, traits and capacities do you need to embody in your life?

The work required to live an examined life is not easy. Yet Hollis acknowledges, “Most of the people we admire throughout history had difficult lives, but they share a common trait – namely, that they hung on until the new purpose of their lives emerged for them, and they found the courage to live those new challenges.” Indeed, is this not something to aim for – to hang on until the new purpose of our lives emerges in retirement.

In this 57 minute Speaking of Jung podcast you can hear Hollis talk about this book himself.

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