That Mid-Life Moment
I like Carl Jung’s views on mid-life. Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist whose theories of personality gave rise to a vast body of knowledge, including the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which I spent 2 years training practitioners how to use when working for OPP in Oxford. According to Jung, when we reach mid-life (and he never defined exactly when that was), we seek to explore and develop the opposite sides of our personality. I’m simplifying things here and anyone who is familiar with psychological type will immediately realise this. However, I think the elegance of Jung’s ideas lies in their simplicity when boiled right down to the core.
Many professionals reading this will be able to identify with that sense of “is this all there is?” Have I worked so long and hard up until now just to experience these frustrations, this lack of fulfilment, these crazy hours, this much unrelenting pressure and stress ? Do I really want the remainder of my career to comprise more of the same ? Or perhaps I can reinvent myself, spending the rest of life doing something profound, powerful and very purposeful ? After all, I’ve only got one life (let’s not debate that one as it’s a whole new book !).
Time is the only finite resource in our lives – think about it for a moment. You can earn more money, experience more love, be happier and more fulfilled but you can’t get any more time. When the game’s up, it’s over. Therefore, after appreciating that time really is the only limited resource, we want to start using it more wisely and investing it more purposefully. We begin to think about the legacy of our lives and want the quality of the time we have left to be better. To arrive at this realisation is a great gift because from then on, life becomes a game where we are playing with the house’s money. In other words, we can’t lose when we become true to ourselves and what really matters to us. The beauty of the game is that these things are different for everyone, so we’re not competing with others for finite and limited resources.
So when you get home from work one night, feeling utterly dejected, stressed, frustrated and fed up – it’s a gift. Perhaps this is your mid-life tipping point when things start to be re-evaluated and re-prioritised with the intention of being able to live out life’s true purpose with passion.
I can recall reaching such a point whilst working for a large management consulting firm. The feeling of kudos on joining 5 years earlier had been amazing, the pay excellent and the work varied and often interesting but I had a growing and uneasy feeling that I was just a pawn in someone else’s big chess game that I had no control over, to be moved and sometimes captured at will. That particular night, I was sharing a hotel room in London with my brother Peter. As it happened, we were both working for the same consulting organisation after the merger of two legacy firms a year earlier. Peter had originally joined one and I had joined the other, though we operated in different specialist areas.
One of us said something like “ are we really going to keep doing this ?” and then the floodgates opened and it all started to pour out – that stacked up series of resistances and resentments which once the pile reaches the ceiling and you can’t see over it, creates a wall of frustration. Something happened to me that night and I vowed to make some changes. I didn’t know how or what the end result would look like, I just knew things had to change. I’ve learned to welcome those points in life because they create movement and momentum for change.
ps 10 years later, I had developed a whole new career as a chartered psychologist.