Does mid life have to resemble War and Peace?
I am fascinated by the challenges which many of us face in the mid life years, which can be one of the most difficult and rewarding periods of our lives. This is what I have learned from my own experiences and from advising others.
Many people strive for self-actualisation, which finds its most famous expression at the apex of the pyramid in Maslow’s 'hierarchy of needs’. It is the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when the basic needs for food, shelter, security and warmth (physical and psychological) have been met.
Self-actualised people are therefore free to pursue their higher intellectual, physical, spiritual and creative passions. These people are most likely to stand out from the crowd because they are curious, adventurous, Joyful and like to give. Matt Damon seeking to address the basic human right to free and accessible water and Bill Gates mission to give all of his hard earned wealth away are probably good examples of self-actualised people.
Crucially, Maslow and most psychologists today see personal growth and learning as a fundamental human need and not just the preserve of film stars and billionaires. This I believe lies at the heart of the challenges which many people face in mid-life; after years of doing the same things at work and facing the same challenges many people feel bored an unfulfilled. It is the compromises which grind them down and unless they are unreflective (a problem in itself), feelings of frustration and anxiety are likely to creep in. Worst of all, many people feel trapped just as the need for purpose and alignment between what they do and their core values becomes most acute.
There is a good reason for these things coming to the surface in mid- life and without wishing to be morbid, it often comes down to mortality. The trade-off between time and money shifts strongly in favour of time and we feel increasing pressure to do something ‘meaningful’ with this, our most precious asset.
Many people turn to self-help in these situations, but as a coach and mentor I believe that this has a limited value when facing the deeper challenges. These are likely to require more personal and professional attention and self-help may be akin to a sticking plaster over a wound. As a fellow coach once put it;
‘no amount of self-help can make up for any lack of self-acceptance’
Unless you address the fundamental questions and accept yourself for who you are, warts and all, then you may never be truly be happy or self-fulfilled. This is one of the reasons why I work hard on addressing client’s internal voice and internal critic. At best these can be a spur to positive action, at worst they can inhibit you, sabotage you and prevent you from moving forward.
Finding the right balance is equally important. By all means have a highly demanding career (many of you will need that) but make sure that you balance it with time for exercise, family, hobbies and the things which enrich you more broadly (art galleries, reading, learning new skills or whatever your passions). If you can find time to give of yourself and your time too, then all the better. There are good reasons why so many people give so much to charities and worthy causes (particularly here in the UK) and I believe it has a lot to do with self -actualisation and finding a higher purpose.
If you are unhappy with your role or career you have two broad choices. Either change them, or change your attitude and approach to them. Sometimes you will need to be pragmatic, and tough out difficult periods but do not compromise on the things which matter to you most for too long.
Many of you will have seen the latest BBC version of War and Peace and I will finish with one quote really stood out to me, for its simplicity and clarity.
‘The world wants us to find happiness. We just have to find the courage to go out and grasp it’
I am a firm believer in the resourcefulness and adaptability of human beings. If you can find the courage and vision to change the things which maybe a barrier to your growth and happiness, then remarkable things may happen.
I am a coach and mentor with the award winning firm Accelerating Experience. firstname.lastname@example.org