Leaders in the Middle of It


And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!– From “Once in a Lifetime” by David Byrne & the Talking Heads

If you’re in your 30’s, it’s coming.
In your 40’s? You sense it or know you’re in the middle of it.
50’s – it’s either the best thing that ever happened to you, or you’re wondering if you missed an opportunity.
Mid-life. I’m having more conversations with Leaders lately about this particular time-zone.
And it doesn’t have to be a Crisis. It offers us a real chance at ‘authenticity alignment.’
Alignment between who we project ourselves to be on the outside and who we know ourselves to be on the inside. This is not necessarily narcissism (though some do exploit it in that way).
Think of your growth as a Leader over time. Typically you graduate college and are expected to get a job. You get the job; you make money; maybe you get married; you get promoted and make more money; you buy a house; you buy a new car; perhaps you have kids; you need to make more money; you need to keep climbing the ladder.
Suddenly, you wake up one day in your late 30’s or 40’s and you question whether the ladder you’ve been climbing is even leaning against the right wall!
This is not the track for every Leader, but it is for many.
I’ve had conversations with three Leaders in the past week – one each in there 30’s, 40’s and 50’s – each of them very accomplished – each of them questioning whether they are in the Leadership role that is best for them.
February’s Harvard Business Review has this thought-provoking article – “The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change.” The tagline: “Roll up your sleeves – midlife is your best and last chance to become the real you [!]”[i]
The Wall Street Journal likewise had a Commentary two weeks ago titled “The Midlife Blues.” “One suspects that, with women and men both, midlife is a time when the mirage of life’s perfectibility and symmetry, as envisioned in one’s youth, comes back to trouble you like a conscience. In plain language, one might call it a last chance at . . . “getting it right.”[ii]
How about you? Any sense this is something you should pay attention to?
I faced a fork in the road a few years back, and a wise friend asked me this simple, but powerful question – “Rob, what do YOU want to do?”
Most of us feel too responsible . . . feel like it would be too selfish . . . to ask this question. But the reality is that we’ve probably had too many other (well intentioned or otherwise) people answering it for us all our lives.
The “Crisis” of Midlife occurs when we run away from this question or don’t acknowledge the reality of our discontent. Some try to cover it up with a new car, or a new relationship, or some kind of reckless indulgence. They ignore the reality for a season, but the discontent continues.
But what if, instead of letting it be a Crisis, we exploit this as an Opportunity?
The HBR article offers this opportunistic perspective:

“By midlife, for many people, the [life] pressures have lost much of their urgency. No longer riddled by the anxiety that they may not be good at anything, or by the need to prove that they are good at EVERYTHING, they have the freedom that only self-knowledge can impart. They are also generally in less of a hurry. Most executives considering career changes do no need to act immediately. They have the time to listen to themselves, map their possibilities in the world, and create their new lives with care. The journey can take odd twists and turns before they end up in a satisfying place.”

What do YOU really want to do?

  1. Stop to listen to yourself;
  2. Explore the possibilities – perhaps with the help of a trusted friend;
  3. Be intentional about the 2nd half of your life.

I’d certainly be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
[i] By Carlos Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg
[ii] By Melik Kaylan, February 2, 2008, page A10