There has been a long tradition across many cultures of dividing the human journey into two broad stages. In the first, our focus is primarily external. This is when we learn to make our way in relation to the demands of family, work, and society. In the second, we turn more inward and begin to create a system of personal meaning that is based not so much on what we can do but who we are. The primary task of the first stage of life is the development of ego and the challenge of the second half is relativizing and transcending it.
From the perspective of the first stage, mid-life looks like the beginning of the end. But the first half of life is nothing more than the trail head for an incredible journey of further becoming. The actual transition to the second stage of life has little to do with chronological age. Many die at ripe old ages still caught up in a frantic pursuit of the glitter of the first half of the journey – and others find themselves moving into the second half of the journey while still in their late twenties or early thirties. The transition to the second half of the journey happens when we begin to focus on questions of integrity and calling. Integrity has to do with purifying our intentions and aligning our being with a transcendent reference point. And it is in relation to this reference point – something larger than our self and it’s fulfillment – that we slowly come to discern our calling.
However it is not just finding our calling but living it that is central to the second half of life. Living with integrity is living a life of stewardship to our calling. This is what it means to be our true self, integrated around a transcendent reference point. Our calling will emerge out of the confluence of our uniqueness and the great needs of the world. In this sense, a calling is always much larger than a job. But finding and living the truth of our being will always involve stewardship to our calling – something we don’t simply pick but discern and then find our fulfillment in living.
Living with integrity is also becoming at one within ourselves so that we can then be at one with life and with the world. In the second half of the journey we have a chance to allow all the strands of our being to be woven together into an integrated whole. This never happens simply with the passage of time. It requires openness, honesty and patience. Ultimately it is not so much something that we achieve as a process to which we give our consent and cooperation.
It is these tasks that make the second half of the journey so much more than the beginning of the end. The second half of life is like the second half of a great play – it is where everything should come together. Whereas growth and achievements are the great themes of the first half of life, transformation, wisdom and generativity are the themes of a successfully lived second half.
Both halves of life play an indispensible role in human being and becoming. But from the perspective of one who has spent quite a bit of time in both, even if I could turn the clock back and return to the opening act there is no way I ever would. The further reaches of becoming that open up in the second half are simply too exciting and the relief from surrender of egoic striving too great!