People fear of the mid-life crisis. We all know the stereotype of the receding hairline, the empty passenger seat, and the bright red convertible out on the open road. The Hero approaches a breaking point as he* attempts to balance his role as the super-sensitive husband, the caring Dad, and the dynamo running his own company or killing it at work. The pressure to be all things to all people results in tension between where he is today and where he thought he would be when he was young enough to dream. And that creates the crisis.
Men long to be the Hero they imagined they’d be, but things start to change at some point – typically driven by a significant event. They begin to question everything – Did I go for it? Will this marriage last? Will I leave a legacy? Am I happy? Is this enough? Many start to get the feeling that something might be missing. Status at work, satisfaction in relationships, or role in the community may come in conflict with the life they thought they’d lead. The tension comes with a powerful energy.
The Dream is the representation of the life we imagined we’d lead. For many men, they have a picture of the type of work they’d do, the level or title they’d achieve, and the compensation they’d earn. There’s a picture in their minds of what it would mean to succeed. They know those things they cared about early in life because they still do them as a side project or dabble in them as hobbies. Some may be living the Dream and others might be adding to the original image. But for the rest of us, we’re still chasing it. And somewhere in mid-life, the Dream becomes a central concept. It starts to pull at us – almost calling to us. And if we listen to it, we might save ourselves from depression, anxiety, and the expense of a brand new red convertible.
Significant life events – a missed promotion, losing a job, the end of a relationship, a loss of a parent - can set off a period of transition. This is where we start to take a close look at our current reality and, at the same time, reconnect with the images of our Dream. We begin to reconcile the big event and where we are in pursuit of meaning and our life goals.
Over time, some big brains have weighed in on the subject of middle age and finding meaning in our lives. Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow, Victor Frankl, and Daniel Levinson share different perspectives on the tasks of middle age and the importance of reconnecting with the Dream. To maintain connection to the Dream, there are several key elements to consider during the middle age transition.
Explore the Dream
A Dream provides a direction. Men without a Dream can have higher levels of depression and a lower sense of purpose-in-life. Even if you don’t feel like you aren’t moving fast enough, the simple presence of a Dream keeps you moving forward in a positive direction. Writing down the Dream or elements of the Dream can make it real. It’s important to consider why different things are part of the Dream. How do the different elements of the Dream serve you or others? Get it out of your head, organize your thoughts, and spend time making sense of it all. And think big.
Create a Move To vs. a Move From
Create the picture of the ideal state rather than dwell on the frustrations in your current state. A positive Dream helps sustain energy over time. A negative vision increases energy in the short term, but can fizzle out. Plants grow in the direction of sunlight (so says the Heliotropic Principle), so cast the light on what you look forward to and plan to use your strengths to get your there. Find your competitive advantages, make them stronger, and keep your saw sharp.
Focus and Go!
Spend some time deciding what is most important right now. There is plenty of time to realize the Dream if you play the long game. Negotiate with yourself to put elements of the Dream in order. Once you know where to start, find short term focus areas and get to work. Think of the Dream as the island you are sailing towards. You’ll need some near term waypoints to get you out of the harbor. Keep your eyes on your progress and don’t be afraid to change the order or adjust a deadline. The pursuit itself keeps you making progress over time. Don’t forget to celebrate along the way.
True freedom exists as inertia falls away. If we can live with the creative tension between who we are today and who we are in the Dream, that’s true freedom. We need to find the equilibrium between tensions. Balance is an active verb. Find your focus, live with the tension, and become the Hero of your story.
* using the “he” pronoun simply because that’s how I identify and the blog is written with other men I know in mind.
The Seasons on a Man’s Life by Daniel Levinson – this is a good read for any man especially at 35 and over. It helps you see that the tension you’re feeling is natural.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl – this is must read. Foundational. Period.
The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly – this fictional tale describes an interesting approach to employee engagement at a janitorial services company where they employ a “Dream Manager.” Worth a read for the exercise of 100 Dreams.
- Mike Sweeney, www.sabercoaching.com
If you found this post valuable, please share it far and wide so others can benefit. If you are renegotiating the Dream and want to make some progress, shoot me a note @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe I can be the Dream Coach for you.