Is This Normal?

Originally posted October 1, 2011

A fifty year old man came in recently to process his personal and professional future. He has achieved success in his career but no longer feels the same kind of satisfaction that he once did. It’s good work and it pays the bills well. Do I even have the right to desire something more, he wonders? His soul is not satisfied like it once was. He has grown tired of what he must do each week to meet his obligations. He asks me if what he is going through is “normal”. I wait for one very long moment before I respond to his important question. I then respond by telling him that what he is going through is normal but not “typical”. What kind of double talk is that? Is this the kind of thing therapists say when they are stumped and buying time? The truth is I was being sincere and my comment was meant to provoke further conversation. Conversation that I believe will eventually give him direction. His coming to see me is an act of courage and his ability to ask the question is unusual. By the way, my client is a professional in church ministry. Having doubts in his line of work is seldom seen as acceptable.

“One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” – Carl Jung

The afternoon that Jung speaks of is the second half of your life. For many this begins at forty, for some it may arrive a decade later and for a few old souls a decade earlier. When the second half begins is unimportant. What matters is that the old ways of viewing and relating to life often stop working. In the first half we gain our security and idenity primarily from our accomplishments. These successes act like a container that holds our life together, making us feel secure in a complicated world filled with external pressures. But in the second half this container becomes less important and we may begin to doubt all that we worked so hard to accomplish. We may even doubt the basics that we always knew to be true. Beliefs about the purpose of life and how God fits may change drastically. Jung believes that this is necessary to live the second half of your life with any sense of real meaning. I agree with him wholeheartedly. But sadly there are few voices in our current fear filled culture that agree or see any of this as even relevant. Many see this as crazy, impractical or even sinful. Stick to what you know and the second half will go just fine they tell us. We hear this and are afraid to share our changing sense of identity with almost anyone. We internalize our new desires and deny our intuition. We may even feel incredibly guilty.

If you are in the second half of your life and you can relate to my client or Jung’s words resonate with where you are at then stop feeling guilty. Your changing beliefs and new desires are evidence of the fact that you are alive, growing and not dead! Rather be concerned and check your pulse if the following is true.

- If you turn fifty and your politics are the same as when you were a young adult, my guess is you have grown more rigid.

- If you are in midlife and your holy habits are limited to church attendance on Sunday you are probably afraid to call God your friend.

- If you have been married more than two decades and you still think loving your wife means understanding how women are different than men, my guess is she is not your partner.

- If your children are young adults and you still believe that parenting is about protecting them, my guess is they seldom call you just to hang out.

Is it normal to doubt what you believed in the first half of your life? Is it normal to have dreams for the future that challenge what worked in the first half of your life? My answer is still the same, it’s normal but not typical. Good for you!