I keep asking the same sorts of questions whenever I write: "How's 2009 working out for you?" If you're a 'boomer, you're in or beyond midlife, and what's going on in the world markets today are doubtless having a really negative impact on you, your family, and - evidently - your plans. Chances are extremely good that you never bargained for finding yourself in the row that you've quite suddenly found yourself hoeing. Particularly when bad news lands unexpectedly, the worst possible time of for it to land in would be midlife. At the same time, for any number of reasons that we could discuss at length at another time, midlife presents the largest possible target for bad news of any other period of life. So, unbeknownst to you, while you've been working very hard to set yourself up for a comfortable retirement, diversions, distractions and drama - bad news - has been carefully drawing a bead directly on your best-laid plans.
What were your plans over the last five years? Did it include career advancement? Salary increase? Investment opportunities? Travel? Vacations? Advanced education for you or your children? A new car? A new home? Maybe all of these? If you're like most reasonably affluent people, your future fit into a more-or-less neat equation: hard work + sacrifices + wise choices = security for you and your family. And also, if you're like most people, you woke up one morning to find that those rules that you've been relying on all this time suddenly no longer apply. Don't you hate when that happens?
It certainly doesn't make the situation any easier to bear to hear me say to you that the situation you find yourself in today was the result of a set of naive assumptions on your part. Learning about those assumptions inflicts a painful and expensive lesson. Planning for the future may always have been important to you; critically analyzing your present condition may have been much less so. The whole global economic bubble that just burst was based on unexamined assumptions. These big assumptions that drove the global markets were based on much more modest assumptions that, over the long run, caught every last one of us in their trap. The big assumption was (and still is) that quiet, steady, orderly growth is the default. It's the assumption on which most people build everything: including our sense of security. What life, the universe, and everything has to teach us boils down to this: quiet, steady, orderly growth throughout the universe is truly exceptional. What we think of as 'security' is, in universal terms, a freakish anomaly.
The world situation today does not represent a diversion from the norm. Rather, what we're experiencing right now is the norm. The bill of goods that you and I were sold about the June and Ward Cleaver existence that would reward a life of hard work and dedication has proven many times over to be a fraud. Yet that is the paradigm set with which you and I were equipped to head out into the world of our career, our family, and our sense of self-esteem. What's happening right now is not a diversion from the way things are supposed to function. In fact, the illusion of security is the diversion: for far too long it has diverted us from our real vocation: to be adaptable, responsible, humble citizens of the universe.
Midlife presents us with the perfect opportunity to lay aside our illusions and take up our true vocations. What, for too long, we've been dismissing as 'diversions' and 'distractions' to our lives has been, it now appears, the real deal. Here's an example that I believe most of us can relate with. Say your with a corporation (as owner or as employee), and your business is faced with a tremendous challenge that could mean a lot to you and to your fellow-workers. Especially if you sense that your future depends on the outcome of this project, you very likely devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to it to make sure that you did all you could do to bring about success. Perhaps you even got short with family or friends who suggested that you were neglecting them. Fast forward a little while, and you're standing there outside of the door of the company with a pink slip in your hand, or with a "For Sale" sign on the darkened business door. How 'critically important' does all your hard work and dedication appear then?
Midlife transition represents the opportunity to reevaluate what's really important to you before your life has the chance to devolve into the chaos and drama that inevitably surrounds the breakup of your personal, private universe. That universe was always only partly real: the rest was a fiction you were taught by the cultural forces that surrounded you or the wishful thinking that permeates the universe that Madison Avenue wants to sell us (with a frightening degree of success). In that universe, there's an assumed contract: IF you do such-and-such, THEN you will receive so-and-so. In the universe of wishful thinking, if you work hard and don't get your 'dues,' then you've been cheated. You can rightfully consider yourself a victim of whatever powers spoiled your fun.
In the real world, no such contract exists. You come to learn that your life is whatever you make it and your intention to do the right thing counts more than any trophies on your shelf or in your bank account or portfolio. In a well-managed midlife transition, you leave the dreamworld of security behind you and embrace the uncertainties of a destiny and a purpose that's seldom if ever really clear to you. After all, just as what you thought of as 'distractions' were really the essence of your life, so where you end up in life has little relevance compared to the integrity with which you accomplished the journey. In the real world, there are no victims and no need for drama, except for those who have surrendered to the illusion that victimhood has somehow become their fate. If you can do it well, the midlife transition will ultimately teach you in the most realistic possible terms what "The Universe is unfolding as it should" (from Desiderata) really means.