Soapbox: Leading in the Second Half of Life

The second half of life is the time to rediscover, redefine, reframe, rethink, refresh, renew, and re-career.

By Jann Freed, Ph.D.

At 45, most executives have reached their peak and are bored. While they are very good at their jobs, they often are not learning and are no longer challenged. Yet, they are likely to have another 20 to 25 years of work. So managing oneself often leads to beginning a second career.

This quote was in the 2005 Best of Harvard Business Review as a summary to the article written by Peter Drucker in 1999. Drucker used to say, “I never predict. I look out the window and see what is visible, but not yet seen.” And he could “see” that the second half of life was going to be a challenge for Baby Boomers. He said that at 45, most executives have reached their peak and are bored. While they are very good at their jobs, they often are not learning and are no longer challenged. Yet, they are likely to have another 20 to 25 years of work. So managing oneself often leads to beginning a second career.

Marc Freedman, author of the books “The Big Shift: Navigating the Stage Beyond Midlife” and “Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life,” is on a mission to help people navigate the second half of life. But when is the second half of life? If the overall average life expectancy is about 78 years, then midlife is less than 40 years. Since the second half of life is sooner than we think, planning for it is critically important.

A few years ago, I became certified as a Sage-ing Leader through the Sage-ing Guild (www.sage-ingguild.org). The program is based on the book, “From Aging to Sage-ing: A Profound Vision of Growing Older,” by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald Miller. Approximately 4 million people will turn 50 in 2012 or roughly 11,000 per day. The focus of sage-ing is on the internal work so that instead of getting older, we become elders—wise based on life experience. The main principles of sage-ing include:

Exploring images of aging: Age does not define sages. They don’t fight to look younger. They are proud of their life experience.

Engaging in life review: Sages know wisdom comes from reflecting and learning from life experience.

Repairing and healing relationships: Healthy relationships sustain us and support us through our journey.

Embracing our own mortality: As Morrie says in the book, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” by Mitch Albom, “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” Since death is inevitable, we need to embrace death in order to live life.

Leaving a legacy for future generations: When we are intentional about the life we are living, then we care about how we live our life. We want to pass on our wisdom and leave the world a better place.

Another interesting movement to help lead oneself in the second half of life is based on Dan Buettner’s book, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.” Based on his research, Buettner identifies nine common characteristics of all the world’s long-lived people.

  1. Move naturally. Walking is the best activity for longevity.
  2. Know your purpose. Know your values, passions, and talents and share them with others.
  3. Down shift. Relieve stress by finding time to mediate, nap, pray, and calm down.
  4. 80 percent rule. Stop eating when you are 80 percent full to avoid overeating.
  5. Plant slant. Eat mostly a plant-based diet heavy on beans, nuts, and green plants while minimizing processed foods and meat.
  6. Wine at 5. Having one to two glasses of wine daily adds years to your life.
  7. Family first. Family relationships are important to quality of life.
  8. Belong. Recommit, reconnect, or discover a new faith-based community.
  9. Right tribe. Friends and a healthy social group add years to your life.

I live in Iowa, and Iowa has created the Healthiest State Initiative based on the Blue Zones research. According to the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Iowa is No. 19 in the nation when it comes to being physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. The Healthiest State Initiative has a goal and plan to claim the No. 1 spot by 2016. This is another example of what it will take to lead oneself now and into the future because our behaviors affect our longevity, productivity, and satisfaction.

What I find interesting are the similarities between the sage-ing principles and Power 9 characteristics. Both emphasize internal and external work. While we need to take care of our bodies, we also need to take care of our souls. In fact, the second half of life is the time to find a role that feeds your soul. This may be an encore career or it may mean re-engaging yourself in your present career. Both philosophies require doing the inner work surrounding relationships. Intergenerational relationships are so important in supporting teaching and learning. We often think of younger people needing mentors and networking, but people with more life experience need younger people to teach them about social media and technology. Often, in midlife, we need to get reconnected because we have been busy raising children and creating healthy families.

While we live in a 24/7 interconnected world, research tells us that social isolation is on the rise. More people feel lonely and disconnected than 20 years ago. The definition of a good neighbor used to be one who would loan you a cup of sugar. Now we put up privacy fences and say a good neighbor is someone who does not bother you.

We have work to do if we are going to be healthy for the rest of our lives. Becoming a sage and living a quality long life is not based on intellect, nor does it usually happen naturally. We need to be intentional and proactive.

An example I use is that of raising children, particularly as a dual-career family. Once I had the day-care situation figured out, it was time to think about preschool. When I had that covered, it was time to decide on after-school care. Then plan on drivers for high school and help them evaluate their college choices. In other words, planning for an “encore career” or for the second half of life is just as important as planning for these other phases. And since we are living longer, in this extended life from age 65 to 85, it is becoming increasingly important for individuals and communities to learn how to navigate and operate.

Now is the time to rediscover, redefine, reframe, rethink, refresh, renew, re-career. Baby Boomers are not going to retire as we have come to know it, but we will be moving on…So what do you want to move onto now that you realize you are in the second half of life already? You can decide if you take charge of your life.

Jann Freed, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and leadership development consultant. For more
information, visit http://www.JannFreed.com or e-mail JannFreed@JannFreed.com.

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