"What makes the life you are leading now more reasonable than another life you could be living?"
If you are in any way interested in changing something about your life, this is probably the single most important question to ask. What are the structures that make it more reasonable to keep living the way you are living? The corollary being: what structures would you have to change to make another way of living more reasonable?
It's a powerful perspective because it moves your thinking away from 'forcing' a change and towards shifting the environment more subtly so that your life shifts with it.
It’s a bit like looking for the levers and toggles under the bonnet of the car rather than simply staring at the beautiful duco.
It can also be a confronting because some of those structures can be very close and important to us, including often family-members, loved-ones, the career we’ve spent a lifetime building, the house we love…
“If you aren’t a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, if you are a socialist at forty, you have no head.” 1
On the one hand, this is an entirely reasonable concern. We’ve committed to a relationship, a career, a house, even a country because it represents a particular vision of the future we want for ourselves; it represents what we value. We’ve invested in this life. It may well be everything we ever wanted… so why rip the band-aid off now?
On the other hand, what we value changes and it changes most acutely in the middle years of our lives. There is just no stopping this process. We can attempt to retard it and cling to what was important to us, but eventually, this costs us in happiness, health and even eventually wealth will be too great. It’s like a flywheel, you can hold it back, but when it snaps-to the impact will be all the greater.
So what to do?
First, accept it. It is going to happen. The person who wanted that fine car, big job, flash holidays or handsome/beautiful partner has grown up a bit and might want something else now.
Second, find out what the new values are. This is important or things can get quite messy. It’s a personal journey of discovery, a second adolescence. It is this inquiry that really pulls people to do my program because, from our early 40’s on, we often just don’t know what those new emerging values are. We can feel they’re changing…. but to what?
Third, honour the transition. Just because what you value is changing, doesn’t mean you love your partner less. Just because the dynamic needs to change a little doesn’t mean the relationship is broken. In these years we are all on the same journey of discovery. No-one really knows what the new values are until they you look back and join the dots.
Fourth (and this is especially important in relationships): recognise that this is a personal journey. If you imagine the first half of life as a team sport and the second a classical music concert, the middle years are a quiet walk in the park, alone. It’s a time of introspection. A time to start exploring the beauty in things – just because they are there.
In our middle years, we are really beginning a bright new journey. All the evidence suggests that the second half of life is the richest because it is experienced so deeply. In our middle years, we’re just starting to explore what that means and it's very new terrain. It’s an inward journey of discovery, and if you’re in a partnership, you are both on an inward journey. Make space for it.
Try not to worry too much if you feel you are taking different, more separate paths than you did in earlier years. That's normal! You each need to find a new self, and you need to do it for yourself.
And remember, this too will change - the 50’s and 60’s have a new and completely novel dynamic. So, for now, honour the transition and give yourselves the gift of grace.
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