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Second Half for the Man in the MirrorHow to Find God's Will for the Rest of Your Journey
By Patrick Morley
ZondervanCopyright © 1999 Patrick M. Morley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe New Meaning of Midlife-Not a Monolithic Experience
You cannot discover new lands unless you leave shore for a very long time. Andre Gide
The beautiful, mysterious St. Johns River meanders through central Florida not far from where we live. Near the headwaters the river runs swift, but the waters slow as the river deepens and the journey lengthens.
Halfway to its final destination, the river opens into a huge lake. Without its two banks, the river has no direction. The waters spread out and barely move. Each droplet of water entering the mouth of this lake travels a different course. But this is not the Dead Sea, so eventually two riverbanks gather the waters, and the river once again runs steady.
Midlife is like a lake. Early in our lives we run swift like a river, but shallow. As we put years behind us, though, we deepen. Then one day, we enter the opened jaws of midlife. Where once we felt direction and velocity, suddenly we find ourselves swirling about, sometimes aimlessly, or so it seems. Each of us, like individualdroplets of water, will take a different path through this part of the journey. For some of us it will only be a slowdown. Others will feel forgotten and abandoned by the father of the river. Some, unable to see where the waters converge and once again grow strong, will despair.
Time, however, stops for no one and nothing. Eventually all the little droplets of water, however depressed they may be, find themselves regaining speed as the riverbanks once again gather the waters, point them forward, and give them purpose.
Restructuring and Celebration
Midlife is not a monolithic experience. Each of us will experience midlife in our own way. We cannot project at what age it will begin, how long it will last, or the intensity with which it will hit us. Each of us will drift through a different part of the lake. For some it will be a mere "slump"; for others a "funk"; for still others an all-out crisis. And, while midlife has no single cause, its issues are predictable. All must pass through this lake.
In the early 1990s the real estate industry was stunned when Olympia and York, the world's largest developer, declared bankruptcy. One analyst summed it up when he said, "Nobody is bigger than the market."
As there is a "restructuring" cycle in business, so there is a restructuring cycle in our private lives. This "reorganization" takes place sometime during our thirties, forties, or fifties and can span several years, even a decade. We call it midlife, though many of us would deny its existence and postpone its decisions. But nobody is bigger than the midlife experience. Nobody.
We each come to a moment when we must admit, even if only to ourselves, that things are changing. Some of us will embrace the changes, others will deny them as long as possible.
Though no one escapes the midlife experience, neither is it the end of the world. In fact, as we will see, midlife can become a rich, promising season of reinventing ourselves for the rest of the journey.
Before we can reinvent ourselves, though, we must first humbly admit we have reached the middle years. My wife, Patsy, and I became middle-aged on the same day. Here's how it happened.
One evening I was washing my face to get ready for bed, and I started laughing. Patsy, who was reading in bed, called out, "What's so funny?"
At that, I walked from the bathroom to the bedroom so she could see. As I had lathered up my face, I had forgotten to take off my glasses, and the lenses were coated with a thin film of soap punctuated with bubbles.
Patsy chuckled and said (this is a true story), "That's nothing! This morning I was trying to balance our checkbook, but I couldn't get the calculator to work. Finally, I looked down and realized I had been punching numbers into the portable telephone."
After we regained some composure we had to admit that, like the sixty thousand slaves who passed through Senegal's infamous "door of no return," we had passed through a "time portal" through which we could never return.
In this book I would like us to learn how to celebrate midlife. It can and should be an encouraging, growing time. It's a time to clean out closets. It's a time to unpack baggage we accumulated along the journey. It's a time to toss some things into the emotional dumpster.
Whether you have a mild case of "midlife slump" or find yourself in an all-out crisis, you're normal. And while we do need to deal with the issues raised by thirty-five, forty, fifty, or more years of neglect and imbalance, the real task of midlife-and our task together in this book-is to reinvent ourselves for the rest of the journey.
Changes in the Life Cycle
The fundamental nature of the midlife experience is changing. According to researcher and writer Gail Sheehy, a revolution is taking place in the life cycle. She points out that when our parents turned fifty they thought of themselves as old. Not us, though. "Middle age has already been pushed far into the fifties-if it is acknowledged at all today. The territory of the fifties, sixties, and beyond is changing so radically that it now opens up whole new passages leading to stages of life that are nothing like what our parents or grandparents experienced. Fifty is now what forty used to be."
The midlife experience can begin as early as the thirties or may stretch well into the fifties. Yet, the idea I would like to get across is that midlife is not so much an age as an experience.
Today we enjoy two phases of the life cycle our forefathers at the turn of the century did not experience: adolescence and midlife. Instead, our forebears began working from the earliest ages (typically on a farm) and died before they were old enough to wonder, "How will I spend the rest of my life?"
Changes in Life Expectancy: The Next Thirty Years
One morning, when I was forty-seven, I asked the 175 men at the Bible study I teach each Friday morning to stand. Next I asked all the men over fifty-seven to sit down, then said, "Today in Russia the life expectancy of a man is fifty-seven. For those of you sitting down right now, if you lived in Russia today-you're dead!"
Finally, I said, "In the Unites States during the year 1900 the average male life expectancy was forty-seven. If you're over forty-seven, you're dead. Sit down." By then roughly forty percent of the men had taken their seats. As I stood before them I pondered that if I, at the age of forty-seven, had lived in 1900, this would be the year I was expected to die.
It is by the grace of God through science, medical research, and technology that a litany of life-extending breakthroughs have lengthened life expectancy into the midseventies. Remarkable advances with sanitation, pesticides, fluoride, chlorine, medicine, diet, and hygiene have virtually doubled the quantity and quality of our productive adult lives.
Since 1900 the average life span has increased by nearly thirty years. So the whole concept of "midlife" is a relatively new idea. And it is a blessing. Through increased prosperity and medical advances these additional thirty years (or more) will be the most productive, authentic years of your life. They will be decades of substance and stability.
At the turn of century what we now call midlife was the end of life. In 1950 it was the door to old age. The stereotype we must overcome is that the next step after reaching midlife is "getting old." The new "attitude" is that midlife symbolizes the gateway to a second adulthood-the second phase of productive adulthood.
When one of my best friends of twenty-five years turned fifty, we attended his surprise birthday party. He said he woke up a little down that morning, so he took the morning off to get a haircut and have some shoes repaired. Then his friends completely surprised him with a special luncheon. He was truly touched. Later he lamented that five-sevenths of his life was now over.
Actually, I think a better way to think of turning fifty is to say that the first half of your productive adult life is over. In other words, the first half of productive adult life is roughly twenty-five to fifty and the second half is from fifty to seventy-five. When thought of this way, it puts an entirely different spin on fifty.
Midlife promises not to be a door to a dungeon but a window that opens onto a whole new life of renewal and celebration. Don't think of your "life" expectancy in the single category of "time." In addition, you have a "productive" expectancy, a "health" expectancy, a "family life" expectancy, and a "financial" expectancy. Can you think of other expectancies?
The real issue is not that we reach "the middle," but how do we spend (or invest) the extra thirty years that medicine and technology, by God's grace, have bequeathed us?
We must, however, deal with two problems to get there. We need a new picture of the future, and we must go through a transition.
A New Picture of the Future
First, we need a new understanding of the future. We are the first generation that has peered down the corridor of time and been able to envision a healthy, vibrant seventy-five-year-old picture. A healthy fifty-year-old woman today can expect to live until she is eighty-one; a healthy fifty-year-old man until he is seventy-six.
NBA Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly became the head coach of the Orlando Magic at sixty-seven. Quality expert Phil Crosby bought back his company at seventy. John Glenn boarded the space shuttle at seventy-seven. Billy Graham held crusades at eighty. The average age of a Supreme Court Justice at the turn of the century is sixty-six, (four of them are over sixty-five, and Justice Blackmun retired at eighty-five). Two of my closest friends and leaders in our organization are still active in the business world, one at seventy-two and the other at seventy-eight. Speaker and motivator Paul Meyer climbed the tallest mountain in America at seventy.
While these examples from our parents' generation somewhat defy the norm, they represent "early models" of what will define the norm for our generation. In other words, when you turn seventy the Chuck Daly/Phil Crosby experiences will be normative, not exceptional. Baby boomers will redefine what it means to be sixty-five, seventy, and seventy-five. In fact, they (we) will demand useful, productive lives.
This means we must develop a whole new pattern for thinking about these thirty years. They are no longer "golden" in the sense of laid back, retiring times. Instead, they look "platinum." They hold promise for vitality, contribution, and love. For most of us these thirty years will be larger, more creative, more freedom filled, and more exciting. Everyone knows aged wine is better than new.
Personally, I doubt that many of us from our generation will retire to little condominium pods where we stand waist deep in the swimming pool, wear straw hats by day, and play bingo in the recreation hall by night. Instead, we will reinvent new avenues of enterprise and loving service to humankind. Where do you visualize yourself at seventy-five?
Changes in the Meaning of Midlife: The Next One to Ten Years
Second, somewhere near the middle of our adult productive lives all of us will go through a transition. William Bridges called it "the neutral zone." Bob Buford has coined the hopeful term "halftime." Gail Sheehy calls it a "passage." I have used the analogy of a river slowing as it opens into a lake, before once again regaining speed between two defining banks.
William Bridges describes a transition like midlife as an ending of a phase, followed by a neutral zone, and then a new beginning. To enter the highly productive, healthy years ahead we must first pass through this "neutral zone"-the "lake"-between the first and second phases of our productive adult lives.
Some of us will find ourselves pouring into this lake early or late, but most of us will flow into midlife between thirty-five and fifty-five. Some of us may only spend one year in the lake; others as much as a decade. Some may find themselves in the lake in their thirties or forties, then in another lake downstream again in their fifties.
During the middle years we each come to episodes of self-assessment when we wonder if we have taken the right path. We ask, "Who have I become? How did I get here? Is this who I really am and want to be? How can I reinvent myself so the rest of my journey really matters?" It is a time of introspection and self-examination.
We will find ourselves asking "real" questions. Either we have achieved our goals and are wondering, So what? Where do I go from here? Or we failed and are wondering, Why me? What happens now?
Making Midlife Changes
Because of what happened to Donald, the man I mentioned in the introduction, throughout my thirties and forties I braced myself for a "midlife crisis." I worried that I would desert my senses, make horrible mistakes, embarrass my family, and become a fool. That never happened. Instead, at around thirty-seven, as my tired ship pulled unnoticed into the lake, I became bored. I yearned for a "new thing." I craved a more "spiritual" life. But I didn't know what to do.
Then a "northeaster" swept across the lake, and I found myself leaping into the lifeboat. For the next nine years I bobbed like a cork on sometimes calm, sometimes stormy waters. My midlife "lake" experience was a mini-series of twenty or so reassessments, adjustments, and reorganizations. I thank God for those nine years. I became a stronger, more intentional person from those years of fighting the elements in my lonely little lifeboat. While the boat I built during the first half sank, God gave me a life raft that would not sink.
I made three major changes while navigating the midlife lake. First, I changed careers after nineteen years. For six years I sensed a new "calling" and direction. Finally, while bobbing about in the storm, I did something about it. I thank God for the storm. The increase in meaning and purpose more than makes up for the short-term pain. It was, in hindsight, a cheap price to pay.
Second, I changed the core value of my life. My highest human value had always been "competence." I have always loved to observe anything done well. My obsession with excellence, though, left a vacuum in my soul for "beauty." Now I look for the beauty in all of God's creation, whether people, places, or ideas. Also, after eighteen years in the same house, we moved to a home that captures the grace of "old" architectural ideas reminiscent of America's colonial period.
Third, I became a recovering materialist. I stopped pursuing money as a coequal goal with God. I reorganized my schedule to permit more time alone with God each day. These three changes, for me, were huge. Over a nine-year period, without my going off the deep end, God helped me reinvent myself for the second half of my journey. What major changes have you made, or thought of making? The New Meaning of Midlife-Not a Monolithic Experience 21
The next two decades will be phenomenally exciting as seventy-five million baby boomers (born 1946-1964), racing through the crowded canals of our shrink-wrapped culture, find themselves drifting in the lake. In the next twenty years millions of people will reorganize and reinvent themselves for the second half of their productive adult lives.
In early 1997 David Letterman turned fifty. He said, "This is the first birthday that's gotten my attention since I turned twenty-one when that was the legal drinking age. It dawned on me that there's no U-turn on this road." For Letterman, the river apparently dumped him into the lake at fifty.
For some, the trip wire for this experience is an event-a birthday, achieving a life goal, a silent house, the birth of a grandchild, a look in the mirror. For others, it's more like a silent alarm triggered by a barely visible accumulation of imperceptible changes that cannot be put into words. Still others pass into the lake through a calamity like the loss of a job or business, a brush with death, or the loss of a parent. Yet others feel a growing sadness and loss of spunk-one person described it as hitting a "wall of molasses."
What About "A Crisis at the Middle of Life"?
Twenty-five years ago the idea of "a midlife crisis at forty" was valuable because culture was still fairly homogeneous. In today's "choice" culture the mouth of the lake can easily open up ten years earlier or shift fifteen years further downstream. So the feeling that it's time to "reinvent" can come at a variety of ages.
The Word "Midlife" and a Positive Approach
The use of the word "midlife" is the true conundrum for this book, a Gordian knot. It carries a lot of baggage.
The word "midlife" sends a negative message that you're getting older in a culture where older often means "no longer useful." Yet, because of prior usage, no other word gives quite the same "shorthand" meaning about the time period we are talking about. Still, the term confuses people and doesn't really express what we are talking about-a season of reinventing yourself for the second half of the journey.
Excerpted from Second Half for the Man in the Mirror by Patrick Morley Copyright © 1999 by Patrick M. Morley. Excerpted by permission.
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