This can be an immensely confronting statement, or immensely empowering... depends on where you're coming from.
In the first half of life we accumulate. Mote by mote we accumulate bodies from the organic material around us. Through emulation and error we accumulate personalities from the models and modes that surround us. Piece by piece we accumulate knowledge, intellectual capacity, experience and fears. In our twenties and early thirties we build a career, a life, a family...
Then, we hit 35.
In all cultures at all times, 35 has been a culmination stage. I've written about it before (see HERE). It is a seminal time. A moment people have the opportunity to begin the journey of becoming an elder.
It is the beginning of the age of potential.
No longer born along by the wave of energy unleashed by our birth and the inexorable stages and phases of life that pursued each other like lapping waves on the sea-shore for the first half of our lives, we find ourselves suddenly bereft of the certainties of youth. Like a stranded whale, we are left high and dry on the beach with the tides receding. We are forced to choose a path from our own resources and creativity.
Whereas before the path was given (grow, expand, reach...) it is now obscure. What was certain becomes uncertain. The person you created yourself to be (and are intrinsically attached to), the career you've built, the family you so assiduously courted and created, becomes insufficient. You become a mystery to yourself.
Recognition that this is happening does not always kick in until 38. We can push it down or push it away, however, if ignored it will hit like a sledgehammer in the early and mid-forties (generally between 42 and 44) ... one way or another this transition always happens. It is a dying and a rebirth.
This stage is the death of our youth; grieve it; reject it; abjure it; lament it. Then start learning all over again...
However you react, the inherent vibrancy we inherited at birth starts to fall away from 35 and it can be a shock! Many of us don't even notice this has happened until we hit 'crunch-time' between 42 and 44 years of age. Nonetheless, it did start at 35. This is when you started your journey of becoming an elder (here's how that works.)
At that point, something new, and even more magnificent was born... the work is to notice in the midst of the discomfort... to see it and feed it.
As challenging (if more attenuated) our the first birth - this is the birth of the conscious soul in man. It is the moment the true potential of a human being starts to flower... if we let it (I call it 'the Long Harvest')
From 35 years old a new vista starts to open before us. Whereas the operative dynamic of the first half was accumulation, that of the second is shedding.
After a life-time learning how to live, we suddenly start to learn how to die. We begin to give back all that we have accumulated!
Starting where we ended, with our attachment to career and ending (in the healthy individual who has done this work) with the attachment to the body itself, from 35 we begin the long, slow process of giving back all that we have taken, and all that we have learnt, from this world.
This is the time when wisdom ripens. When the will begins to expand beyond the parameters of the individual to encompass groups, communities and even nations. It is the time of great projects that move people, that shift the trajectory of lives of you will never meet. From 63 onwards this power starts to decline, but from the late forties (if the work is done well in the forties) this is the time of the eminent leader, the great jurist, doctors, missionary, philosopher and priest.
However, at the beginning, this new potentiality can seem a poor substitute after the bright (if shallow) colours of youth; a dry, barren and especially a lonely replacement.
You must grow up. Morally stand on your own two feet. The aid lent you by youth has been exhausted. You must discover yourself anew, using only the resources accumulated in the first 35 years of your life (the most keen and profound of which were developed not in the conscious, striving years from the twenties, but in the quiet contemplative years of childhood and infancy - protect your children for it from their sense of wonder and beauty that, in the latter half of their lives, will spring the wisdom and power of the truly great leaders).
So, if you are in this middle period, in the 40's.... what to do!?
The profound sense of loss that comes with these years, and the fear they engender is real.
Not only mortality, but the full weight of the emotional unfolding of the world becomes real in a way that is unimaginable to younger people... and seemingly all at once! What was before a blissful ignorance, a railing against, becomes a deep empathy. The emotional forces unleashed in this period can be almost too strong to bear... hence the pull to addictions as diverse as drugs, relationship dramas, television, beauty and sport.
The truth is that this period hurts so we try to numb it down. We can do that for a while, but the real path to salvation is to FEEL IT... to feel it all, every nuance, colour, fold and crinkle of the experience as deeply and fully as we can let ourselves. To own it.
Freedom hurts, but it is free... and pain passes.
Relationships can seem sterile, work a waste, the efforts and errors that led us to now poorly conceived or executed, but feeling that way is part of the design. If you make the transition, let yourself feel your way through it - you have the opportunity to fully realise the potential of yourself as the human being you were born to be.
Many people fail to do this. Many don't.
The eminent leader, the gracious host, the empathetic healer, the person who leads, these are born in middle years... It is only by fully embracing the loneliness, the hurt and especially the fear that you make your way through it and fully experience this, critical and most creative of the human stages.
Have faith because on the far-side lies a new and even greater period of growth and expansion than the first. Embrace it because it is your access to a true efflorescence of self. The ultimate expression of being human.
It is yours to take.
If this interests you, there may be a number of ways I can help:
This is the link to register to one of the two remaining dates for the Collaborative Leadership Masterclass:
- If you want to chat, USE THIS LINK to find a time
- If you want to subscribe and get occasional pieces like this, GO HERE
- If you like this and/or think it might be useful for others, please share the love (Linkedin).
If you want my White Paper "Implementing Ambitious Strategies: from co-design to co-delivery", EMAIL ME