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Something to Live For

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When Are We in the Second Half?

by Richard Leider

Often, I begin speeches by asking, "How many of you are in the second half of life?" The question is usually met with laughter followed by the immediate response, "When does the second half begin?" So, when does it begin?

Midway through our lives, many of us find ourselves living as if our fundamental growth is behind us. We have, perhaps, accepted our society's dated view of adulthood--that the person we have become at midlife is done becoming.

Wrong. Grown ups grow too.

Sometimes, mysteriously, we enter what the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called "the second half of life." Jung wrote:

"Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life. . .
we take the step into the afternoon of life;
worse still we take the step with the false assumption
that our truths and ideals will serve us as before.
But we cannot live in the afternoon of life
according to life's morning--
for what was great in the morning
will be little at evening, and
what in the morning was true
will at evening have become a lie."

How do we grow in the second half? What exactly is growth? Does it happen to everyone?

We cannon tell if we have entered the "afternoon of life" by counting the number of candles on our birthday cake. We do not enter the second half just because we reach a magical age. To know where we are in our life's journey, we must learn to look inside. When we look within, we often discover that the second half is a new quest with new questions like:

* My passion is draining away. I'm losing my edge. Where do I find the spark?

* I chose my life's work years ago and brushed aside certain "gifts" that I had. Why are they coming back demanding to be expressed?

* I feel like I look old. I cannot hide the signs of aging anymore. Why does it bother me so much?

* It's been years since I questioned my beliefs. Why are the questions about God, Spirit and faith coming up again?

* I yearn for new friends--people I can go deeper with. Where can I find them?

Based on my coaching clients and on interviews I have conducted with a variety of people, I am convinced that a second half quest is an existential necessity. It is, however, hard to name and discuss. "Midlife crisis" doesn't quite get it. It begins in part of us that's hard to discuss because it does not show up on x-rays nor can it be measured in a laboratory. It is invisible.

This poem by Rumi captures the essence of the second half quest:

"Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.
From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game."

The book, SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, was written by and for hunters of more "invisible game." It was written for those of us who are daring to confront the existential necessity of renewing and reinventing their lives in midlife and beyond. It's a guide for navigating the invisible second half territory which has no maps.