I do spend some time with what I call the 'Education Section' of the Washington Post every morning. Everyone else may refer to it as the 'Style Section', but to me it'll always be the 'Education Section.' That's where I get my daily dose of wisdom from the comics (don't be mistaken: they're not, and never were, meant for children), where I get a daily infusion of advice from 'Ask Amy,' from 'Miss Manners,' and from Carolyn Hax, and where, on occasion, I spend time with my current addiction: the Sudoku puzzle. No matter how I'm feeling when I drag myself out of bed and down the stairs, my good ol' Education Section always make me feel better. After all, these advice columnists so often agree with me!
This morning, Carolyn Hax was talking about one of my favorite subjects (and one that's critically important in the world of Midlife Mastery), peace with oneself. Here's what she has to say on the subject today:
It really just means you have as objective a view of yourself as possible, and you're okay with it, the good and the bad. Think of it as a two-part process — self-awareness first, followed by self-acceptance — though it's also on-going, as you edit yourself along the way.
I couldn't have written it better myself. I only wonder how long she's been reading the Midlife Mastery Journal. I found one characteristic of this discussion particularly interesting: the question about how to raise one's self-esteem was posed by a woman. Although Carolyn seems to have taken the matter for granted, right away this young correspondent wanted Carolyn to help her resolve an inner conflict. Guys: that's what women do and, from a midlife perspective, that's why things go more smoothly for them. Conversely, of course, that's why the midlife transition winds up being tougher on men. Before they can even address the painful situation, they have to get over their allergic reaction to even admitting that a 'situation' exists. Do you doubt me? Just ask yourself how often you've ever heard a man question how to raise his self-esteem. Trust me: it just doesn't happen in the real world.
I certainly don't want to sound as though I'm complaining about the way men have been negatively acculturated. It isn't really 'bad' — it just 'is what it is.' In fact, because men generally have a harder time with this major life transformation, the results of and the rewards for the successful navigation of the midlife transition can be so much greater. Imagine how it might feel for someone to live through the emergence from the emotional maelstrom that marks midlife transition into a sense of self-possession and peace that he's never before experienced! How awesome would that be? Think for a moment would it would be like for a man born blind suddenly to be able to see in full color with 20/20 vision. Think what it would be like for a person born without hearing suddenly to be able to experience every nuance of a Beethoven symphony. In many ways, finding peace with yourself for a man would be like emerging from a life-long chrysalis and, without much further ado, being able to fly.
Carolyn is precisely right: to acquire true self-esteem, first comes self-awareness, then comes self-acceptance. At midlife, for men as well as for women, that 'self-awareness' is most often an entirely new experience. The collapse of your presuppositions, coupled with a total change in mental and emotional perspective (brought on by physical [hormonal] and spiritual changes), leaves you adrift in an unfamiliar ocean, seemingly without a chart to guide you. It does take a while to discover that your chart — your inner GPS — is (and has always been) drawn on the fabric of your own heart. But, once you've discovered it, then the real fun begins: seeing the world with new eyes, hearing its love songs with new ears, spreading wings of the Spirit for the first time and taking flight under your own power.
It reminds me of a time many years ago when I was taking lessons for my private pilot's license. There's a red-letter day on every student pilot's calendar, and that's the day his instructor signs off to permit him or her to fly solo for the first time. That's not just taking the controls (you do that from your first day up with your instructor), but it involves taxiing the plane to the ramp, having your instructor endorse your log book, and then he or she gets out of the plane and leaves you there all alone. The door closes and, for the first time, you taxi your little aircraft to the end of the runway, push in the throttle to full power, and your plane slowly lifts off terra firma with only you aboard.
What an experience! I remember, once I'd gotten myself up in the air and left the traffic pattern into the open airspace, that I laughed aloud and shouted, looking all around me at . . . nothing but me! There was no back-up, no adviser, no one telling me what I ought (or ought not) to do. I was flying the plane solo: under my own direction.
At some point during a successful midlife transition, your guides and directors (your superego, the voice of your parents, teachers, mentors and friends) your superiors and law-enforcers all have to fall silent. It's only then that you can get down to that 'still small Voice' that offers you true guidance from within. Your advisers and directors aren't going to fall silent on their own. At some point, they've got to sign off on your life and recognize that, after all, it is yours. Then, it's all up to you. You have to be able to show them the door, as, at the same time you shift from self-awareness to self-acceptance. Only then are you able, in your full maturity, push the throttle on your life up to full power and lift off.
Not there yet? That's OK. Give yourself time. Feel insecure and uncertain? Yes, that's exactly what it feels like when you take your first few solo flights. But, you'll have to remember, as I did, that, even though you can't see anyone sitting over there in the right-hand seat, God really is your co-pilot.
H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC grew up in an entrepreneurial family and has been an entrepreneur for most of his life. He is the author of The Frazzled Entrepreneur's Guide to Having It All. Les is a certified Franklin Covey coach and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Effectiveness coach. He has Masters Degrees in philosophy and theology from the University of Ottawa. His experience includes ten years in the ministry and over fifteen years in corporate management. His expertise as an innovator and change strategist has enabled him to develop a program that allows his clients to effect deep and lasting change in their personal and professional lives.