There’s something we need to talk about. The state of many in midlife. It’s an issue. A big denial even. For some it’s a malaise but for others, it is a crisis, brought on by what they have been unwilling to face – their imminent replacement by a younger model at work (or at home), their industry failing or their careers faltering, their health diminishing or their drowning boredom. And they cannot face the change they need to make.
I am having these conversations so regularly now, it feels alarming. A family friend confides that he has been going nowhere in his corporate career for a decade but can’t afford to end it because of his financial commitments. Another, that his once-thriving company of entrepreneurs is floundering. A family member, that her corporate job is so anxiety-provoking that it induces frequent debilitating health flare-ups. Another, that his talented wife is so miserable that she has not sought new work in a while. It is telling of my age and my profession, but also of an unravelling of our generation of midlifers.
What is happening to people in midlife is complex (and compounded by the pandemic). So many factors have brought us to this moment - our increasing life span, industry disruption, the need for transformation, not to mention being sandwiched between ageing parents, trying teenagers and the state of midlife marriage. The old way of studying, working for three or four decades in one career, sometimes even at one employer, and then retiring shortly before dying, is gone. And for our generation, this change has caught us by surprise. The death of the three-stage life model has happened mid-career for most of us.
If we want to bury the idea of a three-stage life, we must imagine a different life path. It is a life for which there are no blueprints. You cannot buy it off-plan. You must design it. You must employ imagination, thoughts, plans, consideration, and conversations to create the life that will serve you.
This is a novel idea. Never in the history of the world have we had so much choice or been presented with so many options, especially so late in life. In the past, life was prescribed by economic necessity, social conventions, acceptable patterns, and a short life expectancy. Now we have the luxury of asking, “What do you want?” or “What would you do if you had enough money to fund your life?”
We are at the forefront of the arrowhead of new direction – it is a point where there may be no one ahead to follow – it is the point where we are asked to lead the way and decide how we move forward without looking behind us or even next to us, it often a point where we are alone.
And you may have to do this at a time when you thought you had a few years left of work-life before you could retire to a life of walking on the beach or playing golf – the kind of life we were promised by the insurance industry when we bought our first policies. You may not have the energy for the transformation.
For some it may not be a luxury, it may be a necessity. For others, it becomes a reason for resentment, and they may first have to face their deep depression or anxiety about what is happening to them. The fear of change may keep them from facing the reality.
Even so, it is not just about figuring out what we must do to keep earning an income to sustain us; it is about imagining and then creating a life path and way of life that is sustainable for the rest of our lives. It may involve launching yourself into a new career, becoming an entrepreneur for the first time, or taking some time off to review your life. Equally, it may not. It may just involve rekindling the joy in your work, changing your attitude to your job, deciding to be the difference you want to see or taking up some volunteer work.
Whatever it is, it will require financial planning too, to see what is possible, explore the what-ifs for your money and your retirement planning. Sometimes, you don’t need to earn as much as you thought if you pivot into a different, but lower paying, perhaps more satisfying, direction. Sometimes, you may need to make a few small adjustments. Of course, it may be dire, but a change in mindset can make it possible.
We have an invitation to grasp this opportunity, to re-imagine our lives. To talk about it, embrace it, plan for it, and launch ourselves into this new future. Or we can choose to remain in our state of denial, with all the grim consequences of that choice. In between those two choices, stands courage. The courage to overcome the fear of all the uncertainty that lies between what we know, and where we want to go. Either way, we will face fear. Which fear, is ours to choose.
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//11 March 2022.