Most of us – including me – think of their life as if it was a line or an arrow. It begins with our birth and our childhood, then there are duties such as education, our first job and other duties like starting a family. The direction of our lives is obvious up to that point for most of us: we gain knowledge, experience, and are full of energy and power.
We become first aware of our lives – at least if you have been spared from strokes of fate until then – when we arrive at midlife: at the age of 35 or when we turn 40, or even later closer to 50. At this age, we often enter into a stage of realization:
- many of us are disillusioned because they have not achieved what they set out to achieve, and time is running short to be able to still achieve these goals;
- others realize that they do not want to continue on their paths and no longer want to pay the price they have been paying for what they have achieved;
- and others realize that they took the wrong turn at some point and lost their way.
This check-up in midlife is the rule rather than the exception. According to psychologist Carl-Gustav Jung, this phase is called “disillusionment,” consisting of despair, followed by renewal. We can find this form of renewal not only in ‘role models’ who are used in magazines, biographies or movies and report about new jobs, a new self-employment or a fresh start with a completely new life model, but also in ourselves. Most of us experience a qualitative shift between the ages of 35 and our late 40s, such as a job change, taking up a volunteer position, new training, etc.
So why did the model of the stages of life and the associated cycle from birth to death have so much appeal to me personally that I decided to share it with you? Aside from the fact that I can explain a lot of things that happened in my own middle stage of life much better based on this model, and that it all feels quite coherent in hindsight from this perspective, I have 3 reasons for this:
- On the one hand, I would like to reassure you and spread confidence that despair in the middle age is almost always followed by renewal.
- On the other hand, I would like to point out that two more stages will follow the stage of disillusionment in midlife: consent and contentment. And we can really look forward to that as well. Because the stage of consent goes from our late 40s to our mid/late 50s. At this stage of life, we are completely at peace with ourselves: we make peace with what we have succeeded in life, and also with what we have not achieved. This is where I am right now, and I have to say that I enjoy it very much not having to moan about everything... The subsequent final stage according to psychological teaching is that of contentment. In this stage, we learn to live with our limits; at the same time, we are grateful for what is still possible for us.
- The third aspect that I find is important in terms of the stages of life is the following: We should be aware that we always look at people in other stages of life from the perspective of our own current life stage. This can lead to misunderstandings, above all when we do not take seriously fears and doubts that also exist in the other stages. Let's take young people in their early 20s, in particular, sitting in front of a bouquet of possibilities and not knowing which one to pull out. For people in their midlife, of course, it is a ‘nice-to-have’ problem to have so many options available, including all the strength in the world, but it can also be very overwhelming for a person with only 20 years of life experience. Or for example, someone who is in his/her late 20s does not really have the time to go for yet another university course, because he or she also feels the need to make a firm decision for the future. Becoming aware of that may be unsettling. Thus, each stage of life has its own unique challenges, and it is not possible to simply transfer the wisdom and solutions of the 2nd half of life to those of the 1st half of life. So please be careful how you look at the young or the old, because we always do it from the perspective of our very own stage of life.
In a nutshell: The first half of life is about finding your footing in life, and the second half of life is about finding your footing within yourself. Therefore, I think there is a nice task waiting even for those of us who have already entered the 2nd half of life!
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here