We are going to start your makeover by doing the hardest part. The hardest part is not looking at your money, it is stopping and looking at your life. So let’s just take a big breath, press the pause button on your life and take a long, deliberate look around.
You may notice where you really are – and it is somewhere in the middle of your life. You are not yet old, but you are definitely no longer young. Pressing pause gives you time to reflect on your past and imagine what your future could look like if it all turned out well. When I sit in a life planning meeting with a client, I expect them to do a lot of this quiet reflection work before we even look at their assets. This can be such an exciting place to be.
Some people call what happens when you reach your mid-40s (or beyond) a midlife crisis. Others call it a midlife unravelling. I prefer the latter. A crisis seems something shorter and more desperate, but that is not what it is at all. It’s not really a surprise. It’s not a crisis. Instead, it’s a second chance and an opportunity to reshape your next chapter.
We do know that the age between 45 and 65 is a time marked by an increased desire to find or create greater meaning in your life. So many of my clients feel this. This unravelling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and embrace who you are. Author and gerontologist Barbara Waxman, whom I met in Mexico, refers to this period as ‘middlescence’. She calls it a transitional period – essentially a second adolescence, but hopefully with wisdom this time.
This second chapter can be a pinnacle of your life, the coolest place to be, and the place where you can drive change in yourself and those around you and contribute to the world in meaningful ways. Shaping your midlife years is a process, not an event. It does not happen overnight. It takes planning ahead and openness to new ideas and patience – patience most of all with yourself. This is not the time to buy a red sports car or get a younger partner.
People who do that are ones who are wholly unprepared to do the inner work this transition asks of us. They push the snooze button instead. That is the ultimate avoidance mechanism. I chose not to. Most of the clients I work with are choosing not to, either. I wanted to do the deeper work required to plan my life. I found that one of the most exciting and significant transitions that midlife brings, as scary as it may be, is a wonderful opportunity to redesign and remix your life exactly the way you want it going forward. Richard Leider and David Shapiro, authors of Repacking your Bags, refer to this as planning for the good life by ‘living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the right work, on purpose’.
We don’t have a lot of rituals and rites of passage in our modern Western culture to mark big life transitions, and I can’t think of one that marks this change we go through as we leave our youth behind. A rite of passage is something that marks a change in time. It is a pause in your life and an honouring of a new phase. Older cultures celebrate the transitions of life, and they know how to do it well.
So many of my clients tell me their entire life has blended into a treadmill of working, earning, providing, spending and stressing. I was facilitating a recent workshop where the delegates told me they were ‘trapped on the treadmill’ and their deepest desires were to get off it. You too may be in this cycle, as our lives have a different definition of success when earning enough to provide for our families and reaching the pinnacle in our careers are prioritised. Now is the time to reassess.
I have always encouraged clients entering retirement to mark the big transition time by doing something special. Now I am telling clients much earlier to take some significant time off and truly do the introspection of what would bring them real meaning, purpose and joy. So often I have to stop clients from simply charging ahead.They need to be reminded that they need to stop, think, correct and get real before they move on. I highly recommend taking some time off in midlife. We can call it a midlife pit stop, a sabbatical, a gap year or a special trip to mark the change. I like the idea of a ‘gap year’ as it has a fixed and limited time attached. Even a week is better than nothing. Taking a year is ideal, but not always possible.
I recommended this to a recent client. He is an airline pilot and was retrenched at 48. His life came to a total standstill and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next. I urged him to take the time he needed to recalibrate and find out what his next move would be. I could see that if he cut expenses and was careful, he would have enough money to finance this break and make it an official and conscious one. At 48 he is far too young to stop contributing to the world and he wants to earn money. He has much to consider and may need to rethink his future profession as he would prefer to spend more time at home with his young family.
This time will not be spent searching for work, but rather for meaning. It took a while for him to accept that he could afford to take time off. He had to battle his conditioning and was always told as a child that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch,’ so the idea of a sabbatical made him feel guilty and he worried what others would think. Taking a break is not easy for many of us, and often we want to leap into the next adventure, or dust off our CV and hit the job market the second we can. The thing about taking a pause or a gap period is that you don’t need to start out with all the answers. You are giving yourself the time and space to discover them. You are giving yourself time to lean into vulnerability, time to sit with uncertainty and feel emotionally exposed. This takes courage. We need courage to enter this next chapter. This is not a ‘forever pause’ – it is a marked time to reflect.