Part 2—Find Our Purpose After 50
“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, at evening will have become a lie.” Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul
In Part 1 I talked about what success meant to me in my younger years. Too many successful men (and women) try to find their purpose in the second half of life by doing the things that made them successful in the first half. As the famous psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, reminds us that doesn’t work.
In his book, From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, social scientist Arthur C. Brooks, offers us all guidance for creating the successful life we long for in the second half. Brooks offers a disturbing assessment of the situation that many men I work with find themselves confronting:
“In the first half of life, ambitious strivers embrace a simple formula for success in work and life: focus single-mindedly, work tirelessly, sacrifice personally, and climb the ladder recklessly.
“It works. Until it doesn’t.”
“It turns out the second half of life is governed by different rules. In middle age, many strivers begin to find success coming harder and harder, rewards less satisfying, and family relationships withering. In response, they do what strivers always do: they double down on work in an attempt to outrun decline and weakness, and deny the changes that are becoming more and more obvious. The result is often anger, fear, and disappointment at a time in life that they imagined would be full of joy, fulfillment, and pride.”
The problem for many is that we love what we do. We’ve worked hard to be good at it and society rewards us with money, power, and prestige. We tell ourselves we’re doing it all for our family, but in our heart of hearts we know that our spouses are missing out on the passion we reserve for our work and our children don’t really know us fully.
We tell ourselves we are going to slow down, take more time for family and friends, pay more attention to our own physical, emotional, and relational health. But we don’t, not really. If we’re truthful with ourselves we realize we’ve become addicted to work. She has become a mistress we know we must leave but are forever lured back to her forbidden embrace.
As I shared in part 1, it took a medical emergency before I was able to break free. For others, it is a divorce, getting fired, or some other failure that gets their attention. Many keep on going, afraid to let go, even as their lives become less joyful and more stressful.
Guidance For Success in the Second Half
In the first half of life, success comes from focusing more on ourselves. In the second half, our focus shifts to helping others. To illustrate, David Brooks quotes first-century BC Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero.
“The old,” said Cicero, “should endeavor by means of their counsel and practical wisdom to be of as much service as possible to their friends and to the young.”
Brooks goes on to say that we must address our addiction to our old way of being. We don’t have to admit ourselves to an inpatient treatment center.
“It does require an open admission of the truth, however, and a commitment to change: that what you have is a problem and you want to solve it,” says Brooks, “that what you have been doing isn’t working and that you want to be happy.”
Having worked with my own addictions over the years and helping others, this is the first step in all recovery programs. The first step in Alcoholics Anonymous’s program is
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Brooks, himself, is no stranger to work addiction. Based on a prayer he had heard, “Litany of Humility,” he composed his own:
From putting my career before people in my life, deliver me.
From distracting myself from life with work, deliver me.
From my drive to be superior to others, deliver me.
From the allure of the world’s empty promises, deliver me.
From my feelings of professional superiority, deliver me.
From allowing my pride to supplant my love, deliver me.
From the pains of withdrawing from my addiction, deliver me.
From the dread of falling into decline and being forgotten, deliver me.
Another person whose wisdom has been helpful to me is brain scientist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I have written about her work in a number of articles, “Four Play: How Your Core Brain Characters Drive Your Love Life” and “The 5 Stages of Love and the 4 Brain Characters That Determine Whether Your Marriage Will Succeed or Fail.”
What I found most helpful about her work is understanding how the two hemispheres of the brain work and how the differences relate to success in the first vs the second half of life. In her book Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Life, she contrasts the functions of left and right hemispheres.
“Underlying the functional differences between our two hemispheres are neurons that process information in unique ways,”
“Our left brain has the ability to think sequentially. Our left hemisphere is an amazing serial processor. Our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor, bringing in multiple streams of data.”
Dr. Taylor describes the work of Harvard psychiatrist Fredric Schiffer, M.D. who has written a book, Of Two Minds: The Revolutionary Science of Dual-Brain Psychology, who found that the two hemispheres are so different that each may actually manifest unique aches and pains that the other does not acknowledge or exhibit.
Not only does modern neuroscience show that humans have “two minds,” but Dr. Taylor describes four different characters contained in the human brain and that understanding and integrating these four characters can help us understand ourselves in both periods of our lives– the morning as well as the afternoon, the first half of life and the second.
Dr. Taylor also refers to the work of another colleague, Iain McGilchrist, M.D., a psychiatrist and fellow neuroscience researcher. In his book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, he offers evidence that the right and left hemispheres actually amount to two brains. The right and left brains perform the same basic functions, but in very different ways.
“The two hemispheres have styles — takes, if you like, on the world. They see things differently. They prioritize different things. They have different values,”
says Dr. McGilchrist.
“The left hemisphere’s goal is to enable us to manipulate things, whereas the goal of the right hemisphere is to relate to things and understand them as a whole. Two ways of thinking that are both needed, but are fundamentally at the same time incompatible.”
In the first half of life, we tend to operate more from the left hemisphere of the brain. But, in the second half we are called upon to develop the qualities of the right hemisphere. Failure to do so leaves us feeling unfulfilled and unhappy.
But McGilchrist goes even further in suggesting that all of Western Civilization has become overly driven by left-brain ways of seeing the world.
“A way of thinking which is reductive, mechanistic has taken us over,”
“We behave like people who have right hemisphere damage”.
He goes on to say that this way of thinking and behavior,
“treats the world as a simple resource to be exploited. It’s made us enormously powerful. It’s enabled us to become wealthy, but it’s also meant that we’ve lost the means to understand the world, to make sense of it, to feel satisfaction and fulfilment through our place in the world.”
McGilchrist quotes Albert Einstein who said,
“The rational mind is a faithful servant, but the intuitive mind is a precious gift, and we live in a world that has honored the servant but has forgotten the gift.”
The unexpected “gift” of seeing clearly the power and importance of the right-brain way of seeing came to Jill Bolte Taylor on the morning of December 10, 1996, at the age of 37. In her book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, and her TED talk now seen by thirty-million people, she describes what happened:
As a neuroscientist she was uniquely qualified to be able to both understand what was going on, to be able to value the opportunity of experiencing the right hemisphere of her brain without interference from the left hemisphere, but also conscious enough to know what to do to safe her life.
More than a near-death experience, Dr. Taylor offers us a once in a lifetime glimpse into who we are at all stages of our lives and what we can learn that can guide our journey from the time we are born until we die.
“In the big picture, Whole Brain Living, is about our shared journey into the challenges of our lives and what our choices are in how we can live our best life while taking our brain anatomy into account.”
If you would like more information about Jill and her work, I suggest you visit her website, https://www.drjilltaylor.com/. If you’d like to read my articles about her work you can do so here: “Four Play: How Your Core Brain Characters Drive Your Love Life” and “The 5 Stages of Love and the 4 Brain Characters That Determine Whether Your Marriage Will Succeed or Fail.”
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