Welcome to the Insights Series!
This is a series of short, random inspiring insights about life – and especially midlife – drawn from my own experience. I wrote this series in 2008-2009, so it reflects what I was learning as I developed along the path of being a life and executive coach.
My approach has always been to test what I’ve learned by throwing my whole life at it, so you will hopefully find something that is practically useful and which has been pressure-tested. There is a strong focus on the midlife transition, and discovering strengths, as well as other typical coaching-related issues.
MY LIFE has the qualities of a balloon: with the energy of youth I became all puffed up. It took just a few hefty puffs – those few early successes – and I could touch the sky. I filled up the whole universe. I couldn’t possibly learn anything new.
Of course, once your balloon becomes inflated, the tiniest pinprick can blow it to smithereens. Protecting it from the slings and arrows of life becomes important.
In my case, I stopped writing. Perhaps I had run out of ideas; perhaps I was afraid of criticism.
Sooner or later – certainly by midlife – you are forced to confront who you really are, to let out the talents, or whatever other truths, you’ve been hiding. The sooner you do this, the sooner you decrease the pressure and the less likely you are to take out your frustrations on the world. The less likely you are to blow.
As for me, what I can say is that when I’m writing, I know who I am and why I’m alive.
THE MIDLIFE phase gives us the chance to incorporate into our repertoire the talents and dreams we let slide post-childhood, and to finally express ourselves authentically. It might not take the form that you dreamed about in your youth – I’ll never be Bono, for example – but it can still be deeply satisfying.
At first this seems scary – when you try on new ways of being, you don’t know what will emerge. However, the great thing is that you don’t have to choose and create it all, it’s more about uncovering the raw material that’s already there – the stuff that critical comments by some adult, or teasing by another child, caused you to hide.
The search will have you scratching about in your early childhood talents and preferences. So you liked drawing, and you became a banker. It’s time to fetch those old pencils from the storeroom and start again. It can be a hobby and who knows, perhaps it can become even more.
If the source of your passion not as clear as that, then delve into those things about yourself that you’ve always been ashamed about – think about what’s good and right for you, and not what looks good to others.
IN CASE you were wondering – in case you’ve ever been as lost and confused as I’ve been at times – there is a path back to yourself. How do I know? Let’s say I performed my own prodigal son experiment – I went out into the world and tried everything.
I tried to be everything other than who and what I am.
It started early. When I was about five, I heard my aunt say to my mother, “Does he still use his left hand?” I thought I was doing something wrong and I changed to using my right hand. This became a pattern. I tried to change a lot of things: from poet to rugby player; introvert to extrovert; thinker to player.
Post-midlife, the return journey is being guided by the question, What if there’s nothing wrong? Instead of trying to fix and change myself through discipline and force, I have looked instead at how I can apply what’s already there to my best advantage.
The fixing and changing approach is based on the assumption that there’s something wrong, something to be fixed and changed. What do you change it to? If I’ve learned anything, it’s that one thing is as good as the next. You see people making the most quirky things work for themselves. They’re onto something.
My choice: change nothing. Emphasise that which you are. All you have to do is overcome shame, guilt, doubt, fear. All you have to do is crawl across cut glass!