Read an Excerpt
How would you like to wake up tomorrow feeling young and fearless, full of creative energy, unworried about anyone else's opinions, knowing exactly what you want to do with your life, and having the unswerving intention of doing it?
I know that sounds like pie in the sky, especially to someone who's entering midlife. To you the future looks all downhill. Young again? You figure you'll be lucky to grow old as slowly as possible, right? The direction life takes after forty is so obvious that you can't understand why we're even discussing it.
You're not the only person your age who sees it that way. I see that same certainty on the face of every newcomer to the middle years.
"These are the facts. The party's over. There were dreams I had, but it's too late for them now. I have a few years of health, and then I have to be prepared for the worst. Time to face up to the grim news: I will never be young again."
Does that sound pretty close to what you're thinking?
You're in for a surprise.
You're turning a big corner all right, and walking down a new street. As a matter of fact, this is one of life's most significant turns. But the minute you step around that corner what you're going to see will astonish you.
You're not heading for any kind of decline. In fact, you're about to embark on an amazing new beginning. The era you're entering is so different from your first forty years it's completely justifiable to call it your second life.
I want you to understand that this is no variation on what's come before. Your second life is a different world, as different from your first life as college is from gradeschool. And it all starts as soon as you wake up from the illusions of your youth, the ones that govern your first life.
What illusions am I talking about? The ones that midlife seems to be taking away from you: the youth and beauty that gave the promise of great romance and glory, the delicious sense of endless tomorrows with endless possibilities, the certainty that you'd never grow old (because nothing could be worse) and that you'd never die. None of these beliefs is holding up too well against the passing of time, but your impulse is to hang on for as long as possible.
And that's not a good idea.
If you struggle to hang on to those illusions, you might not wake up for years to the opportunities waiting in your second life. And then you'll look back and say, "Why couldn't I have seen this fifteen years ago? Oh, the things I could have done with all that time!"
So let me say it loud and clear: Your first life belongs to nature. Your second life belongs to you.
What's coming is a gradual loosening of the hold that culture and biology have on you, and the arrival of your authentic self. You are losing nothing real by getting older. In fact, you're moving into a life that's sure to be more conscious, centered, creative, and energetic than anything you've known so far. And there is no way to live a life this exciting until you're over forty.
If you're reading this with cynicism or doubt, or you think I'm about to launch into some candy-coated Pollyanna bromides, think again. I'm a tough realist. I never make a habit of looking at the rosy side of things. In fact, I'm as surprised as anyone to be able to tell you what I've found on the other side of midlife. As you read these pages, I predict you're going to be surprised too.
But why is it so hard to see that good times are coming? Why do we suffer so when we begin to lose our youth? I pondered that question for some time, and when I first got the answer, I almost laughed, because what causes our blindness is so hidden and at the same time so obvious that it's almost like a trick.
Nature wants you to hate getting older. It's part of your biological makeup that you feel anguished about it. Because if everything after midlife looks distasteful, you will naturally resist getting older. And as you'll see, that makes you a lot more useful to your species.
Right now this explanation may not make much sense, but it will. And it certainly doesn't make your present situation any easier to bear. Because whatever the reason, your feelings tell you that something has gone wrong. You weren't supposed to stop being young. Not yet. There was so much you wanted to happen, so much that didn't turn out the way you expected. To you, it looks like the dice have been thrown, and this is what you got. The shine is off tomorrow. You have definitely fallen out of love with your life.
Well, I'd like to show you how to fall back in love with it again.
I know this sounds like a tall order. There are lots of books and magazine articles trying to help you cope with the scary changes that are happening to you, but I'm not talking about coping. I don't think you don't need to cope with life; you need to know a new way to live it. And you know perfectly well that you feel too young for the books that tell you how to live after retirement. Even I feel too young for them.
And when great thinkers like Carl Jung say it's time to slow down and begin giving something back to the generations behind us, and Erik Erikson implies that creativity is over and it's time for maintenance, I find myself thinking, "Who are you talking to?"
Nothing's over, and it's time to make a movie or study the ocean floor. Or start a poetry journal. Or go to medical school. Or open a bank. Or do anything else you've got the brains and talent to do.
But great thinkers all agree on one thing, and so do I:
It's time to quit wishing you could stop the clock.
You've got exciting work to do and a whole new way of living to learn, so it's vital that you outgrow your fear of the future as soon as possible. If you don't, you'll waste precious years mourning the loss of youth or, worse, trying to hang on to it.
Look at this all-too-typical scenario: You wake up one day and you're forty. Shock sets in, and you use the next ten or fifteen years fighting the "downward spiral" with everything you've got. You start joining gyms and getting face-lifts; you dream of driving through your birthday cake in a red Bronco or running off with someone half your age. If none of that makes you feel young again--which it won't--you might even decide to sell all your worldly goods, buy a sailboat or a Winnebago, and disappear into the sunset.
None of which might seem so bad for the first three days, but after all that, you wake one morning and still have to figure out how to live.
After a number of years, however, you might come to realize that all your fears of getting older were unfounded, that you've been handed a much better life than you ever expected. It happens to a lot of people.
The problem is, it might not happen to you until your late fifties or sixties.
Do you really want to wait that long?
"That would be like paying for a ten-day vacation and arriving on day seven!" a friend told me.
If the years between now and then were good years, I'd say, Who cares? But they're not. In my personal experience and other stories people have told me, they're usually miserable and stressed, loaded with turmoil and feelings of being abandoned, even betrayed, by fate. Few people look back on them with pure pleasure.
Now let's imagine a different scenario.
You hit midlife with no resistance at all, understanding what a special stage you've come to. You realize what a dangerous illusion your feelings of immortality have been. You start paying attention to your dreams to decide how you want to live. You begin to write the books that are in you, or go into the theater and become an actor like you've always wanted, or you become an Arctic explorer, or a business owner, or you build the community you've always known was possible, or you head out and see the world you've always longed to see.
In other words, you start to live your life to suit who you really are. You go after your own dreams with new respect and a clear mind because you don't have to prove anything. You're not trying to impress anyone. The top item on your list of priorities says, "Find the life I was born to live." Everything else comes after that.
The trap has opened, and you're free. Fears of getting older or less beautiful, of not being wanted or successful all disappear. You don't have to walk out on your life and escape to the South Seas like a latter-day Gauguin because your feelings of being trapped are gone.
What will show up in their place? Your original self.
A self you haven't seen since childhood--if ever. It's who you were before puberty changed you forever and threw up a mountain range of aches and urgencies, so high you lost sight of the original creature you were. And this time, when that side of you returns, you'll have the know-how and independence you never had as a child. It's a new life, and this time you're going to have a lot of choice about how to live it.
Now that's a nice scenario, isn't it?
And you can have it.
Why waste those years trying to hang on to what you were--and what was never really you? A waste of time is a waste of talent. It's a waste of happiness. I can't leave you alone and let you come to your senses in your own good time. I have to do whatever I can to wake you up. That's why you're going to hear me saying it over and over, as strongly as I can: If you're dreading midlife, you have made a big mistake. Run, do not walk, to the first chapter of this book and start reading now.
Here's what you'll find.
Book One, "Nature and Instinct: Your First Life," is all about where you are now and how you got there.
In it you're going to have some major revelations about what's really been driving you all these years and why you now fear midlife. As a woman in one of my workshops said, "I feel like I've been let in on a terrible secret!" What's the secret? Well, here's a big piece of it: When you thought you were doing what you wanted, it was usually what nature wanted. In your early teens biology flipped the switch, and you jumped onto a treadmill; you started flying in search of what everyone else wanted: love, success, immortality. All at once they seemed so indisputably the only goals worth having. And you still want them today.
That's why you'll have some tough realizations ahead in Book One. Almost every one of your most cherished assumptions is going to be turned on its head. Do you think time is flying by too fast, stealing your years from you? You're going to find out the opposite. Do you think mortality takes your life away? You're going to see that it actually gives your life to you, like a birthday present. Everything you thought you understood--the meaning of aging, that to be beautiful is to be lucky, that romantic love is the greatest of all treasures, that success is the best and failure is the worst thing that can happen to you, even the real causes of your midlife crisis--is going to change forever.
You're going to find out why you believed in illusions masquerading as the truth in the first place and develop a new respect for the greatest playwright of them all: nature. In other words, you're going to start waking up to where you've been for the last twenty-five years.
And every time one of those illusions collapses, you're going to become freer to be yourself. Then your second life, with all the remarkable possibilities it holds, will fall into your hands like a winning lottery ticket.
Book Two, "Reclaiming Your Original Self: Your Second Life," will show you how to break away from the leftovers of your past and claim your second life.
You gave away a lot of personal rights in your first life because you were struggling for love and status and you thought you had to. You gave away the right to be an individual with your own personal style, the right to say no, to use your time any way you saw fit, to live your life to suit who you are. But now you've got to begin the process of taking those personal rights back.
You'll have a fight on your hands. Since infancy you've encountered powerful forces in the form of approval and disapproval specifically designed to keep you in line. By this time most of them aren't as real as they appear, but you've internalized them, so they're as tough as ever. You're still scared that if you speak your mind and make your own choices, you'll be punished or rejected or you'll feel painfully guilty. That if you love, you'll have to give your life away to your loved ones. And that if you go after your own dream, you'll wind up alone. You're about to find that none of this is true.
And when you stop being afraid to take it back, you'll be ready to start living that second life of yours. You're going to go on a mission to find your gifts and bring them into your day-to-day life. And I think you're going to surprise yourself with your own originality and productivity. As a matter of fact, I'm going to make what probably sounds like a recklessly bold statement, but I feel sure you'll agree with me by the end of this book: The goals you pursue in your second life, because they come from your deepest gifts and are unimpeded by the obstacles of youth, can lead you to greatness.
Not just happiness. Greatness.
Because if you refuse to fritter away your future trying to regain your past, you'll see something amazing start to happen. You'll find yourself looking forward to getting up every morning because it's life you love, not some person you have a crush on. You'll start to see everything around you with open eyes instead of the tunnel vision of a hunter looking for prey. You'll feel excitement about what you're going to create, because without doubts and inner conflicts to sap your energy, or fear of disapproval to make you overcautious, you're going to sail! You're going to create things no one but you could possibly create, find out that nothing is more fun than hard work you love to do. And you're especially going to enjoy the precious hours you give yourself in which to do absolutely nothing.
How's that for a nice second life?
I don't make reckless promises. If you're familiar with my earlier work, you already know that. So come along with me and let's get started on your education. I have some fascinating things to show you.