﹛﹛This is the second part of The Midlife Rethink: Innovating Your Way Out of a Pandemic.
﹛﹛Emerging from a transition can be the best adventure life has to offer
﹛﹛Bonnie Langford just astonished the UK as the energetic 56-year old reality inside Squirrel, the Masked Dancer people had decided was decades younger. The TV news story is a classic example of the ageist assumptions we all buy into. When will we start understanding that we are going to be younger and healthier for longer than we are preparing for? Whatever our age, we may want to start rewriting the arcs of our lives.
﹛﹛The first part of The Midlife ReThink focused on harvesting the past, seeing what story you have been telling yourself – and the world. Now, we look at assessing the present and dreaming the future.
﹛﹛People often feel a little lost (or a lot) as they enter one of the multiple transitions every life carefully curates. You are no longer content with the status quo but can＊t see the road ahead. You know something＊s got to give but seeing what it might be seems hidden by the grumbling in your gut. The reaction is often to repress these calls from within. At some point, the noise gets too loud or there is an explosion of sorts: an illness, a relational rupture, or an external force becomes a wake-up call to the future.
﹛﹛You may feel desperately, shamefully alone in this frustrating fogginess. You may be blaming yourself for not being able to shake it off and may hide the turbulence from others. Which makes it worse. We all walk the human arc of life, even if it is experienced in dramatically diverse ways. The commonality of the journey itself offers some signposts to individual wanderings. It helps to situate yourself on a shared human journey through adult developmental phases. It is reassuring to understand that change and what Bruce Feiler calls ＆lifequakes,＊ the three of four life-changing events that he found hit almost every life, are entirely normal. ※Shit happens,§ we say, but often think it happens to others. That we will be spared. Until we aren＊t. Change can come out of nowhere. It can come from within yourself. For some, burnout is just another word for boredom. The only sure thing is that it will come. Regularly. Are you ready?
﹛﹛MORE FOR YOU
﹛﹛We＊ve become familiar with the developmental phases of children, but less so with those of adulthood. We＊re used to thinking of adulthood in black and white categories – the sort-of-healthy, working adults and then the not-so-healthy or not-working ＆old people.＊ Yet adulthood is a many-faceted, fascinating ride with predictable cycles. New decades of life are adding phases which emerge and become more visible as the large Boomer generation begins to move through them more consciously and more communicatively. Each one requires a transition 每 both in and out. We＊re all going to want to become more skilled ＆transitionists.＊
﹛﹛Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of Sageing International, maps the biblical 7-year segmentation of life phases into 12 phases of human development. It suggests that each of these phases has its own distinct role, echoes a season, and requires a transition 每 whether conscious or not. What we need is to become better at working our way through them. This takes a new sort of skill, pioneered by people like Chip Conley at the Modern Elder Academy who call it TQ, for Transition Quotient. It helps to know where you are.
﹛﹛A clear assessment of the present requires some context. It helps to understand how what you are doing and feeling now fits into a narrative of the whole. ※Much of the coping with discontinuity has to do with discovering threads of continuity,§ wrote Mary Catherine Bateson in her book Composing a Life. This is not so much about planning and organizing a rational career strategy. ※The unexamined life is not worth living,§ said Socrates. It＊s about a more holistic and more ambitious attempt to make meaning of your days. All of them.
﹛﹛Where are you in the cycle of life? What are the key transitions you are facing?
﹛﹛How do you spend your time? Fill in a pie chart allotting a percentage to each dimension.
﹛﹛What are 3 things you love about your life today and want to keep? What are 3 things you hate and want to leave behind?
﹛﹛Before moving into the future, harvesting the past and assessing the present helps to develop a narrative of your whole life. It requires building insight, self-awareness and a realistic understanding of how you are seen by others. Where you have come from and who you are now are two of the three pillars on which you will build tomorrow. The third is the dream of the ＆you＊ you want to become.
﹛﹛Although it may be hard to fathom in ageist societies, people get happier and more confident with age. (Although over age 60, women continue their confidence-enhancing ride, whereas men fall off it.) Part of our challenge with ageing and later adulthood is that it gets such a bad rap. Ageism is one of the last widely accepted and internalised ＆isms.＊ In the popular imagination – from film and books to advertising and google images, it＊s a scary, unattractive land, peopled with all our deepest fears of decrepitude, irrelevance and death. Or it＊s a joke, something to be disparaged and laughed at. We try to protect ourselves from our inevitable future selves by ＆othering＊ them as desperately as we can.
﹛﹛Shining a light on what the new arc of life looks like would normalise the astonishing number of chapters there are to our contemporary tales. And help us plan and pace our way through them without getting bored or burned out halfway through (or even a quarter, as some young people increasingly are).
﹛﹛It helps when moving into the future and emerging from the dark forest of the in-between transition phase to embrace three things:
﹛﹛Curiosity: openness to change, whether modest or radical,
﹛﹛Courage: a commitment to exploring beyond the known and the comfortable,
﹛﹛Community: connections to new ideas and people, including asking for help.
﹛﹛You want to balance your emerging new self with the world around you. This requires adding outsight to insight. Where are the needs, opportunities or people you want to engage with? Who energizes you? Identify role models, old friends and colleagues or organisations to (re)connect with. Learn from them, be curious, open up new worlds you may not have had the time or inclination to visit until now. It can be hard, and surprisingly shape-shifting to let go of one identity, power dynamic and reputation to position oneself entirely differently in the world. It can also be exciting, liberating and an unexpected revelation of new parts of yourself.
﹛﹛The happier you are in leaving behind what and who you were, the more you will want to design something new. It takes courage to consider re-creation if you don＊t like the picture emerging from your early chapters. Others may, on the contrary, build on a strong first act towards a late magnum opus. Some blossom early, others late. Lives well-lived come in an endless range of shapes and sizes. We may want to drop fast fashion but adopt the metaphor and the hunger for variety to our lives instead. Be willing to morph, explore and grow through a variety of roles and models. Enjoy trying on a new hat or walking a life chapter in someone else＊s shoes.
﹛﹛Create a mood board with images, words and/or metaphors representing your past, present and desired future
﹛﹛Reach out to 10 people who are doing something you find interesting. Be curious, ask for their stories, adopt a ＆beginner＊s mind.＊
﹛﹛Most of the talk about the ＆future of work＊ is organisational rather than personal. It＊s about companies and automation and flexibility programmes. MIT＊s Hal Gregersen underlines the corporate focus preference to focus on tasks rather than identities. But each of us will want to reflect on the future of our own ＆late work.＊
﹛﹛If careers are stretching to 50 or 60-year marathons, we may want to plan ＆transition＊ sabbaticals every seven years as universities have done. We may want to take some time out for the children we＊ve chosen to have, something discouraged for a generation or two as we tried to get women into the workforce. We may want to ensure we go back to school every 20 years for refuelling. This may sound like some utopian dream, but it is likely to be the reality of the challenge ahead.
﹛﹛Longer lives don＊t just mean we live longer. We aren＊t just adding chapters on to the end of a book. We＊re going to write entirely new stories with longer arcs and multiple climaxes. The young will do this naturally. For the rest of us, we＊re editing from the middle.
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