by Barbara Leonard
What is the second half of life? When does it begin? Is it a developmental stage like any other that went before it? What is it all about?
In one way the 2nd half of life is like any other developmental stage in that it can’t be easily ignored. It can begin as early as one’s late 30s or early 40s . The underlying impetus moving one into the 2nd half of life can be any number of things. A loss within the family, work or personal health can be a trigger. This can initiate an intense questioning of earlier decisions, vocation and other life choices. For example work is no longer fulfilling or the children have their own lives. Things in which one was once deeply invested start to lose their import. One’s ego identity may be wrapped up in work and/or family and the ego does not like feeling challenged so there’s a sense of dis-ease. Inevitable shifts in perspective start to happen.
Is this a mid-life crisis? Some may dismiss the dis-ease as “just” a mid-life crisis and expect the person will return to his/her senses and carry on as before. One, however, should not be fooled by minimizing the experience of dis-ease. A crisis can carry with it an opportunity because in chaos there is opportunity for growth but there is also a possibility of danger. Some may respond to their dis-ease or shifts in perspective by trying to regain their youth, tossing out the “baby with the bathwater.” One’s shadow side may demand attention forcing one to look deeply at one’s self, the good and the not so good. Or, one may choose to live out of the shadow side of the personality causing the people around him/her to be confused and sometimes deeply hurt.
The truth is most people do come to their “senses” but they do not view their lives the same way again. There is a significant shift in how they see themselves and their purposes in life. The 2nd half of life is at its base spiritual. The 2nd half is about one’s deeper purpose. One’s investment in work may be seen more through the lens of service rather than the lens of reputation, profit or identity. The person becomes more authentic himself and with that comes a sense of comfort and greater spiritual freedom.
The 2nd half of life can be a time of great spiritual growth. Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward takes a fearless look at 2nd half issues with challenging clarity. The transition to the 2nd half takes time—it can’t be hurried because of the spiritual work that needs to happen. Few have the luxury to stop working to reflect on our lives. Most do their spiritual work while carrying on with their lives as usual and make adjustments as they can. The 2nd half of life is the rest of life—includes Erik Erikson’s two final stages—Generativity vs Stagnation (40-65 years) and Ego Integrity vs Despair (65 onward). Erikson’s ideas about the central crisis in each stage of human development fit with Rohr’s work. Being generative prevents being stuck or stagnant and having a sense of integrity regarding one’s life allows one to live peacefully and with a sense of having had a good life.
So yes, the 2nd half of life is a developmental stage that begins around 40 years of age. It is not just a “mid-life” crisis that returns to first half of life spirituality. It is a transition to a much deeper understanding of one’s ultimate purpose and consequently is deeply spiritual. For some good questions to ponder, see Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Companion Journal.
Rohr, Richard (2011) Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rohr, Richard (2013) Falling Upward: A Companion Journal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.