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The Breakdown At Midlife
February 01, 2008

Midlife Wisdom For Men Issue #099, February 1, 2008

=========== TABLE OF CONTENTS ==========

The Breakdown of the Persona


Written by Noel McNaughton
(c) copyright 2008


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Welcome to this issue of Midlife Wisdom for Men.

The next four issues are going be looking at what William O. Roberts Jr., in his book Crossing the Soul's River calls "The Four Soul Tasks For Crossing".

As psychologist Carl Jung said, "But 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 have become a lie."

Perhaps you have discovered, as I did in my own midlife passage, that what you have been passionate about no longer seems important. And for me, for a discouragingly long period, nothing seemed important! I felt as though I had lost my 'juice', my passion for life.

I had read enough, and had enough life experience by that time to realize it was a stage - a part of a major transition - but that didn't mean it was fun!

As in all transitions, the first stage is letting go of what has been. Usually this comes unbidden. Again, for me, and many men I know, it came in the form of suddenly losing my passion for the work I had been doing.

The trick is to be willing to let it go. And it is difficult, as we have so much of our identity tied up in it.

There are about 1000 words in this issue, which should take you about 3 1/2 minutes to read.



Soul Task Number One: The Breakdown of the Persona

In 1982 a group from the L'Arche Community in Edmonton went to Japan as part of an exchange with an organization there. I was asked to go along as a journalist and report on the trip. As I did my cultural research before going, I was struck by the emphasis Japanese people put on what class of work they do - labour, blue collar, white collar, and so forth.

One of the first young men I met when I got there, when I asked him what he did, said, with great pride, that he was a white collar worker. It struck me that Japanese people live a somewhat restricted life in that they are so 'stuck' in their definition of what they do. I didn't realize at the time that we get just as stuck.

Here in the Western world, we spend the first half of our life building a 'persona' - in a sense, becoming who we are. For men, it is usually focussed on our occupation. We say "I am a carpenter" or "I am an accountant", or an IT specialist, or whatever.

We take pride in our ability. We are 'a skillful carpenter', or 'an honest accountant', or 'an IT specialist that can solve any technical problem'.

At the same time, we become a husband, father, uncle, friend, maybe business partner. All of these things together, along with others such as the social, sports or hobby groups we belong to, our role in community life, and perhaps our affiliations with religious organizations, make up our 'Persona'.

Over time, as we become better at our trade, and more active and better known in the organizations we belong to, and in the community, we not only gain status and position, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, we begin to feel restricted, and boxed in. The idea of changing occupations or social groups begins to sound frightening. We may change jobs, but not occupations. The more socially significant our position is (lawyer, doctor, priest), the more our role will restrict our growth.

Who would we be if we were no longer 'the plumber people can depend on', or 'the honest mechanic who knows everything about cars', 'the trusted minister' or 'the teacher who inspires kids to learn'?

It is not that this box is bad. In fact it is essential. But at midlife it may become the wrong box, and if we try to stay in it when it no longer fits, it can become a prison.

If we try to change, our friends, family, co-workers, and even community at large (especially if we are in a socially prominent job) will try to stop us. They will try reason ("why would you start over now, Bob? You have so much to lose."), threats ("If you leave this job, you will never get one with another company"), pleading ("You are such a great minister. We need you. You can't leave us!"), and even anger ("You are the most self-centred person I know. Think about us. We depend on you!").

In a way, our prison has become so familiar and safe to us, we are reluctant to leave, as this section of The Prisoner Of Chillon by Lord Byron describes so well:

It was at length the same to me,
Fetter'd or fetterless to be,
I learn'd to love despair.
And thus when they appear'd at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage-and all my own!
And half I felt as they were come
To tear me from a second home:
... My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:- even I
Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.

But if we are to continue our growth as Human Beings, and become "fully alive", we must look with cleared-eyed honesty at the persona we have created, and be willing let it go, so we can create a new, more authentic version of ourself for the next stage of our life.

It can be a challenging and unhappy time.

Accepting That We Are The Only One Steering Our Ship

At this point, it is easy, and indeed common, for a man to blame others for his predicament. He would be much happier if only: his wife wasn't nagging him all the time, or was more interested in him; his family didn't take him for granted and see him just as the faceless drudge that brings home the money; his boss wasn't such a jerk, and appreciated his efforts more; (I could go on, but you get the idea).

This is a dangerous time, because if the man stays caught in blaming others for his unhappiness, he is likely to quit his job, quit his marriage, or both, get a new job, get into a new relationship, or both. The image of the middle aged man getting a hot sports car, and a hotter young girlfriend are stereotypes of a man trying to 'stay in his persona'. But when the newness of the new circumstances wears off, he is no happier than before.

The only way through is in. He does not have to change his job, or spouse, or anything else. But he does have to change his focus - from 'persona-oriented' (looking for meaning and validation outside himself), to 'self-oriented' (looking for meaning and validation from within).

Nothing else will do.

It may require therapy, meditation, personal growth workshops, spiritual mentoring, perhaps even joining a twelve-step group, if an addiction is an issue. (Alcohol is often used to ease the pain of a midlife transition.) I recommend the 'New Warrior Training Adventure' as a step toward 'dropping the persona' for a man who is starting the inner journey, but not if he is struggling with addiction, or in a serious psychological crisis.

When the man has made the inner journey, and begun to see 'who he really is', he may decide to change occupations, or other life circumstances. But only after making 'the night sea journey'.

Next time, we will explore the second soul task: "The Encounter With The Shadow".


"In youth, we learn. In age, we understand." -Ebner Eschenbach


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Sometimes, when I look at my children, I say to myself, "Lillian, you should have remained a virgin." -- Lillian Carter (mother of Jimmy Carter)


I Get Better Gas Mileage With These Capsules

I did a six-month test using 'MPG Capsules', which a friend told me about. The results were impressive: 10% better gas mileage with my light truck, and 15% with my Mazda car.

I wrote up the details of the test here: Gas Capsule Test


I Need Your Questions and Feedback!

Got comments? Questions? I'd love to hear from you.

Just email your suggestions and/or questions to . I look forward to hearing from you. And thanks.


Well friend, that's it for now. Again, if you enjoyed this and/or found it useful, and know of anyone else who might like it, please pass it forward. And if you have questions or recommendations, I would love to hear from you.

All the best, Noel

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