The middle years of life are sometimes represented as the toughest period of our lives. The MacArthur Foundation National Study of Midlife recently found there is some evidence this might be true: among all age groups, those aged 40-59 experience the most stress and pressure and were the least satisfied.
1. this time around you have more experience to draw from and;
2. this time is forever.
Jane Fonda, actress, activist, author and 1980’s lycra icon recognised the need for a proper understanding of her life when she started creating what she called her "third act" and described the process her recent TED talk "Life's Third Act":
How was I supposed to live [the third act of life]? What was I supposed to accomplish? … I realised that, in order to know where I was going, I had to know where I'd been. And so I went back and I studied my first two acts, trying to see who I was then – who I really was – not who my parents or other people told me I was, or treated me like I was. But who was I?
To turn what is inherently a period prone to crisis into one of creation requires doing the analysis Jane Fonda did: to look for who you really were and are under the fire and fury of your last 40 years. Who is the person that is coming through and how can you create a life that serves them? You can't really figure this out by chance. In one form or another, this must be a deliberate process.
All wisdom traditions have a way of helping people do this work (see HERE), but we seem to have dropped-the-bucket a bit in our current society. We lack the guides and mentors previous generations had access to, so you have to go out and find them for yourselves.
Bernard Leivegoed, organisation psychologist extraordinaire, once wrote that our biography is our only true asset. However, there is a difference between living your life, and understanding what your experiences have to tell you about who you are, what you want and the unique gift you have to give back!
Here’s one way of doing that work:
- Break your life into 7-year cycles starting at zero (yes, even your birth even though you can't remember it) and write about them. In our program, we help focus your thinking on key moments to draw out the values and themes of your life. But just looking for the recurring themes and crises at the mid-point of the cycle, where you made a choice about the direction you would take, you will give you immense value.
- At each of these points in your 7-year cycle (with special attention on when you were around 9, 11, 18, 28, 33, 35, 38 and 42/48) something (from a new job to a divorce to a car-crash) forced you to compare what you value with what you were actually doing and make a choice (what Rudolf Steiner called a 'crisis of values'). Each of those choices led you inexorably to where you are now and tells you something about who you really are… and by extension, what you really want.
- Unpick those choices and you’ll start seeing a deep recurring theme in your life. Remember though, it's not about the material results - you're looking for the values you chose. Material results become increasingly irrelevant as we age. If you are on the right path they become less important over time.
Use your journal-writing to get clear on the theme of your life (your Leitmotif, see HERE). This is how you will identify the foundation for making powerful choices now, in your middle years, that will define and create a magnificent long harvest period of your life.