Meaning-making in the second half of life has been addressed by individuals across the spectrum of human interests. Before Marc Freedman wrote "Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life" (2008), which launched the recent "encore" movement, there was the "Conscious Aging" movement (associated with former Harvard professor turned yogi, Dass Ram), and other movements calling on people to remember what youth-centered Western society has lost -- the recognition of the unique value and contributions available to be tapped in the second half of life. Even Peter Drucker, the business guru known as the father of modern management theory and practice, in his later years addressed finding meaning in the second half of life. He called this the "Success to Significance" movement. In the first half of life, Drucker said, we seek to learn how to succeed in life and often seek to maximize personal and professional success. In the second half of life, he said, it becomes far more important to address what meaning our lives have and how we contribute to others and to the world. In coaching executives and professionals, he was often known to ask, "What do you want to be remembered for?" A question many find hard to answer or to even ponder seriously.
If there is a hesitation or even a reluctance for individuals to attempt to answer this question, I think it may be because we -- as ordinary people -- pause at the thought of our lives having great significance. We work hard in our jobs, and we try our best as a parent, spouse, partner, daughter, son, sibling... We juggle responsibilities big and small... We care for friends, family, and our special causes... But we are not the 1%, the top executives, the creative geniuses or the great innovator-entrepreneurs, nor the intellectual, financial, political "big players."
Yet, Peter Drucker, like many thinkers and philosophers before him, arrived at this: "make a meaningful life out of an ordinary one." This, which applies to all, recognizes the extraordinary accomplishment of a single goal that applies uniquely to each of us, however ordinary or exceptional you believe your life to be.
Such is our task in the second half of life. "Make a meaningful life out of the ordinary one." It can be much easier to embrace this challenge in the second half of life given what we know now about who we are and having perspective to understand our life experience. It need not be a huge undertaking, simply one that requires us to be awake to our own lives and what matters most to us.
In midlife, it sometimes feels like coming awake in the middle of a dark forest. (Dante: "In the midst of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray.") It's time to find ourselves and to find our direction. You may feel infused with energy or fear, but no matter. The second half of our lives is important work, and not an opportunity to be missed! In a strange way, it is an opportunity for which I'm infinitely grateful and which I cherish. This is why I'm offering my autumn quarter class, "From Midlife Through Retirement: A Path Forward." As individuals, we each have within us the answers to our own path forward. What I hope is to facilitate the process of self discovery and affirmation of one's next steps through a series of exercises, discussion, and exploration.
Peter Drucker came out of the manufacturing age, but by the 1990's, he had come to envision the society of our day, the knowledge-based society. "Knowledge workers have long work spans, often fifty years, and for one reason or another no longer find satisfaction in their primary careers. Many have a pent-up desire to do what they have often dreamed of doing but have been unable to do because of their life commitment to others. And when ready for this transition, they may need assistance in clarifying their vision and testing it against reality before making a complete commitment to the dream. Many need help in matching their interests and strengths to an opportunity that is likely to bear fruit. Here is where mentoring by senior people who have made this life-altering transition earlier may help." (Marciariello, A Year With Peter Drucker, 2014).
This is what I hope to facilitate... tapping into the reservoir of talent and resources amongst all of us, a path forward for those who wish to live more consciously and purposefully in the second half of life.
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.