The Big Change
I am 58 years old.
I have always been a high energy person who loves new ideas and challenges, and thrives on having "too many things to do."
Around the time of my 50th birthday, things began to change.
The Holistic Management training program I had been so passionate about when I had started it in 1991 had lost its appeal. I still loved the idea of teaching people a better way to manage, but I didn't have the energy to market and carry out the program. At the time I attributed it to the "entrepreneurs curse" of getting bored with a business project once I have it running successfully.
But it was more than that.
I realized I did not have passion for anything in particular. I also noticed I didn't have the energy I used to have. Even my sex drive was lower. I found it hard to focus on figuring out what to do, and I lost confidence. Although I am by nature and extrovert, I became very introverted. At the same time I seemed to be more emotional. I was beginning to feel as though I was experiencing symptoms similar to what my wife had been describing the past few years in menopause.
In talking to other men my age I found many were experiencing similar symptoms... loss of energy, loss of interest in things they used to be passionate about, decreased sex drive (one friend even told me sex was starting to feel like a chore!). And many were getting tired of what they had been doing, and were wanting to try something new. One friend had closed his consulting business because he just couldn't force himself to keep up the pace any more, and was nearing bankruptcy. Others got downsized.
Most of these men felt alone, confused, often irritable or angry, depressed and hopeless.
Knowing now that I wasn't alone in experiencing these changes, I decided to do a little research. What I found surprised me. It seems for many the "fifties decade" is a time of change, which can be frightening and at time exhilarating. The official terms for this stage are "andropause" or "viropause," and going through it changes your life.
Maybe Carl Jung said best: "Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life... we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve as before. 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."
The French call the 50-plus period "the third life," with the first 20-30 years for studying, finding our feet, and in general, growing up; the middle segment is devoted to expectations of society (marriage, kids, work), with the "third life" to use what we have learned to enjoy life and to share what we have learned with others.
In North America this stage is sometimes called "the second life," with menopause (in women), and "andropause" in men being the admission signs at the gatepost.
In the Cree tradition, it is the "seventh stage of life," in which a person becomes an elder and teacher, and passes on their knowledge to the next generation.
Most traditional societies have rituals and ceremonies where the elders welcome a man into this stage of life, and help him become an elder himself. (Just getting older doesn't make you an elder, you must be a "student of life," and understand the meaning of your own life, which can be difficult. In my experience a lot of it depends on the depth of your spiritual awareness.)
In North America, a man is pretty much on his own, unless he finds a good coach or mentor and/or an organization such as The Mandkind Project (www.mkp.org), which can help a man revision his life for the next part of the journey
Now the good news… a couple of years ago, I began coming out of this stage. I am getting my energy and passion back, but in a "deeper" way that is hard to describe. I feel more connected to life, and my spiritual life feels deeper and more meaningful. It is as though the things I used to "know" about life through study and practice, I now understand in my bones. I am more deliberate in what I do, and am better at asking good questions than I used to be.
In my interviews with men in their sixties, seventies and beyond, I am finding many of them struggled during their fifties, but are living very full lives now.
I am focussing on working with people midlife transitions, to help them prepare emotionally and spiritually for the next stage of life in my work as a coach, speaker and workshop leader, and it feels very rewarding.