Any of these life events happen to you yet? – end of a marriage, loss of a job or business, death of a partner, an illness, or retirement? Some element of your identity is gone – you are not a husband or wife, a job title, or the vibrant active person you were previously.
Psychologist James Hollis calls this the second half of life, a time when you are obliged to consider who you are apart from your history, your roles, and commitments. “Who am I now?”
I’m not so fussy about the losses that seem to come entering the second half of life. Who would be? However, Hollis reframes this time of life as a developmental opportunity and that’s exciting.
People in the second half of life are going back to themselves. This is not about revisiting passions – painting, swimming, myriad skills, talents and causes – and resurrecting them as pursuits or new careers although that happens – the “what” they are choosing.
It’s what’s happening under the surface. People in the second half of life are resurrecting the courage, calm, and confidence that got lost along the way in life and trying to understand what the heck is going on inside. There is some deep work happening and it is magical to watch unfold!
If people are going back to themselves, where did they get lost? Where everyone does – unwittingly making choices that did not honour themselves. Choosing security, pleasing other people (including parents who, in many instances, are long gone), money, playing small, following the crowd – name it and it emerges as a factor in what has held people back from themselves.
The outcomes? The high achievers with whom I work are setting ambitious goals – from sailing oceans to retrofitting homes to be energy efficient. However, it’s not only about the personal satisfaction. They are looking for ways to give back, make a difference.
They already learned to scale mountains yet looking ahead they are not looking for another or a higher mountain. No, they want to make it a better mountain or find someone to help up that mountain next time.
It’s called generativity – a level of concern beyond yourself and family that develops especially during middle age; a need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation. Thank you, psychologist Erik Erikson.
If you wanted to put a number to the second half of life it would start shortly after age 40 (or 50 if you only look at adult years) where life expectancy is about 82. But the second half of life does not start at an age; it starts with a transition. The second half of life is a call to get from breakdown to breakthrough. And it leads to lives with a strong sense of purpose and filled with meaningful.