“..we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of 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 become a lie.” --Carl Jung
Many of the participants in our leadership development programs are transitioning from LDL 3 to LDL4 which means they are leaving behind the world of being defined by others to a world of self-definition. We talk about this as transitioning from leading from the “outside-in” to leading from the “inside-out”. Of course, many of our participants are in their mid- 30s to late- 40s and most struggle mightily with this “midlife” transition.
Midlife is a critical transition in most people’s lives. In the “first-half of life we take as our goal to adapt to the demands of culture. We go to school, try and good grades, get a job, find a career, perhaps begin a family and raise children. If we succeed we likely have a solid identity, good friends, a home, and live within a larger community.
It is in the first half of life that we learn to leverage our strengths to get ahead and learn to lead through them. Most named captains of sports teams are the best athletes. Similarly, most socially adept men and women become leaders in their fraternity and sororities. In the first half of life it is through developing our strengths that we lead and influence others. And this is how it should be in the first half of life.
As we approach midlife sometime between 35 and 45 years of age we realize that relying on our strengths becomes a liability. Becoming the team captain in college based on how fast or how much weight you can lift does not necessarily help you much in your first job. Similarly, have a high social IQ in college my not help you if you don’t have job-related skills to complement your social strengths. In mid-life this challenge and contradiction forces us to reconsider who we are and who we want to become. At best, we grow into LDL4 and strengthen our most neglected and underused parts of our self and at worst we retreat and don’t meet the demands placed on us by our careers, spouses, and families. We experience failure in new ways. At worst, we don’t learn from our mistakes and grow but rather revert to what we know which is living in a LDL3 world a world defined by others and circumstances.
Transitioning from LDL3 to LDL4 is both humbling and transformational. It’s humbling because you are re-imaging a new you. A new you, for instance, that is more self-defined and responsible for events and people around you. Your life’s compass in the first half of life was set by your family and significant others. In the second half of life your life compass is set by your values and beliefs. Owning your decisions and their consequences is the hallmark of LDL 4 leaders.
It is much more common in mature adults to wrestle with issues of values, meaning, and purpose. I have yet in my undergraduate classes to find students interested in writing their legacy statements. Ask a 50 year- old in a leadership seminar to write their legacy statement and they can think, write and re-write it for hours!
“The neurotic disturbances of adult years have this in common, that they betray the attempt to carry the psychic dispositions of youth beyond the threshold of the so-called years of discretion.” Carl Jung
The real trouble begins when people cling too long to first half of life living. I am not sure if it is stubbornness or fear that prevents growth into a deeper more complete version of ourselves. Maybe both. What I do know that transitioning from LDL3 to LDL4 is extremely difficult for everyone. That is why it is called in the medical literature a mid-life crisis. It requires complex decisions we all have to confront. “Who do I want to be with my spouse and children, or what kind of contribution do I want to make.” The choice is it to re-do the life of a 20 year- old again, this time with more money, or create a new richer life based on values and deeper more meaningful relationships?
One of my great struggles is teaching undergraduates second half of life material to first half of life students. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite shows, Deadwood, is when Hearst says to Bullock; I am having a conversation you cannot hear. This is how it can be with conversations with young people about second half of life curriculum. I don’t push the second half of life curriculum on my undergrads because they don’t have the experiences to call upon the need for it and hence, they are likely not listening to me anyhow. The thing is they will confront second half of life challenges in their next decade of living and when they do I hope others are present to help them with the transition.