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Does Everyone Have A Midlife Crisis?
September 15, 2008

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Midlife Wisdom For Men Issue #110, August 1, 2008

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· Does Everyone Have A Midlife Crisis?

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Written by Noel McNaughton
Midlife-Men.com
(c) copyright 2008 midlife-men.com

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If you like this e-zine, please do a friend and me a big favour and forward it to him. If a friend DID forward this to you and if you like what you read, please subscribe by visiting Midlife Wisdom for Men.

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Welcome to this issue of Midlife Wisdom for Men.

I apologize for missing the last newsletter. It seems as though the more I try to slow down and not do as much, the busier I get. I simply ran out of time at the end of last month.

There is just one article in this newsletter, as it is a bit longer than normal. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.

If you are in Alberta, and have ever thought about initiation into manhood, whatever your age, now would be a good time to take action. Malidoma Patrice Somé, Ph.D., author, and Elder originally from Burkino Faso, who brings his culture's ancient wisdom to the West, says that in his culture, if a man is not initiated, no matter what his age, he has simply not been brought into manhood.

The New Warrior Training Adventure, a program of the Mankind Project is designed to be an initiation for men in the Western World. I took the training and 1999, and am glad I did.

There is a New Warrior Training near Edmonton on the weekend of September 26-28. I recommend it.

Check the ManKind Project's site for trainings in other parts of the world as well.

There are about 1500 words in this issue, which should take you about four minutes to read.

Noel

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Letters

Hi Noel,

Thanks -as ever - for the wisdom.

I'd ask that you include a comment about a CD that I have recently produced with Families Matter in Calgary. It's called "Be a Great Dad - building your legacy". It consists of conversations with fathers, children and moms about the Five Things Great Dads Do, and is a great gift to any dad of whatever age and status. It's obtainable through my Website: www.efitinstitute.com.

Most of the proceeds will go to Families Matter - a not-for-profit organization for their work with fathers.

Thanks

Warren

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"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." Lao Tzu

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Does Everyone Have A Midlife Crisis?

After I read Crossing the Soul's River: A Rite of Passage for Men by William O. Roberts, I called him at his home in New England. I had found the book so insightful and honest, I wanted to talk to the man who wrote it.

He was very generous with his time on the phone, and shared information with me about how he had designed workshops for men in midlife, and what he had discovered as a result of leading a number of these workshops.

He sent me the following excerpt from an interview a radio station did with him, and I thought that even though it is a little longer than my usual articles, you might find it interesting and/or useful.

You have written this book about the psychological issues men face at midlife. Why did you write it?

Part of the reason is very personal. After many years of talking with other men about their midlife transitions, I went through my own. You can tell from my resume that I made major changes in my work - after twenty five years as a clergyman, I became unemployed; when I made my way back into the workforce, I was with KPMG Peat Marwick (one of the then Big Eight Accounting Firms). That was a very big change - from a respected minister of a local church to a rookie consultant with a gigantic international accounting firm.

But what the resume doesn't show is that I went through a similarly major - and far more traumatic - change in my personal life.

For a period of several years I was separated from my wife and family, and moved something like eleven times in a two-year period as I struggled to know what was going on inside of me.

But even that is not the full story. What really happened when I left my job and I left my family, was that I left my identity. Where I was once a respected person, I was, quite suddenly, an outcast. Most of my friends thought I had gone crazy and, almost without exception, their counsel to me was just to go back to my life.

There is one guy, however, who didn't say that. I remember seeing him on the street one day. He asked me how I was doing. I began to tell my story for the umpteenth time, and he, instead of running away from me, said, "Stay with your journey, Bill. You'll figure out what it is really about. Then you owe it to the rest of us to tell us what you learned."

Some two years after that conversation - and after I had re-stabilized my life….. happily still married to my first wife and reconnected with my children, and successfully launched on a new career as a consultant…. I got a call from a man who wanted me to write some essays on the midlife passage.

I agreed to do it and began to read the literature in the field. That's when I discovered that the craziness I had gone through had a purpose - and a certain predictable pattern.

That's when I decided to write the book. I now believe that if men can really deal with the psychological issues of midlife, they are likely to live the second half of life in a healthier way.

You refer to this midlife passage as one of the two great transitions in a man's life?

The first is the passage from boyhood to manhood during adolescence. The second is the passage from the first half of life to the second in midlife.

We know that the first passage is important - a boy can't stay a boy forever. But why is the second so important?

One of the thinkers who has helped me understand masculine psychology is Jung - Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss theologian, philosopher, psychologist who died in 1961. Jung makes this statement about the midlife passage.

We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the life's morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at the evening have become a lie.

That insight of Jung's is ignored by most men - so most men try to live both halves of their lives according to the program of the morning, which is inappropriate as your strength begins to wane. When men can't keep up with their misplaced notions of what they should be doing with their lives, they become depressed - or worse yet, to quote Thoreau, men live lives of quiet desperation.

Can you describe these programs - the one for the first half and the one for the second?

From the time we are little boys, we males are programmed - both socially conditioned and psychologically hard-wired - to prove ourselves, to make a name for ourselves. Consequently, we experience life in a superficial way, almost inevitably focusing on the surface issues of our lives.

When someone asks us who we are, we instinctively respond at the level that identifies our roles - I am a doctor; I am a Vice President of Human Resources at such and such bank; I work 80 hours a week at my law firm, and, by god, I am going to be a partner by the age of whatever.

After you have answered in that manner for a while - several years or a couple of decades - you begin to think of your self (and know yourself) only in those superficial terms - your public identities.

The image I use in the book is that of a lobster. A lobster is known by the somewhat distinctive shape of its shell. But the lobster is not the shell. There is a living being inside that shell. That's the lobster. The fact is that, in order to live, a lobster must lose its shell - again and again. Too often we men come to think of ourselves only in terms of our shells.

At midlife, for many of us, we become aware that there is more to life - my life, my only life, the one which is about half over - than just the shell. When we make the first attempt to know that living creature inside the shell then we begin what I call the midlife passage, what society calls "the midlife crisis."

Does everyone have a midlife crisis?

No.

Who does and who doesn't?

I wouldn't imagine to be able to predict this. Life is too much of a mystery for that type of certainty. But I do believe that there are two factors that contribute to the midlife crisis - they are success and sensitivity.

  • If you are successful - even reasonably successful - you will be known by your successes. You will be known by your shell. (The term I use in the book is Persona, which is the old word for Mask.)
  • If you are sensitive and especially if you are resolved to be both reflective and creative in the living of your life, you will most likely experience the restrictions of the Persona and will struggle to break out of those restrictions. When there is a Breakdown of the Persona, then you head out into the river and start your midlife journey.

If you are not successful, you can do all the changing you want and no one will notice.

If you are not sensitive - or, to say it another way, if you have been so de-sensitized by being a male, which means by being taught from the time you are a little boy to ignore your pain - then you won't have a midlife crisis. And the tragedy of that is that you won't have the opportunity to CROSS THE SOUL'S RIVER and discover what is on the other side, what is the program for the second half of life.

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When you reach forty you can't do anything every day. - - - - Henry "Hank" Aaron

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**************************************************** I Need Your Questions and Feedback!

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

Just email your suggestions and/or questions to noel@midlife-men.com . I look forward to hearing from you. And thanks.

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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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