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Last week’s blog really hit a nerve, with lots of responses and shares – it seems questions of the heart are what we are yearning for. (If you missed it you can read it here).

I thought I might continue this theme of asking the bigger questions – they can be so freeing. As Rumi said:

Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall
Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.
Do it now.

Today we’ll expand the power of questioning and look at this idea (long held in contemplative traditions) of the different phases of life. This is important because each phase asks something different of us, and not understanding this can keep us stuck. What worked before and was satisfying, may now no longer be. Rather than blow up a life or a career, being aware of these life transitions can provide a context that empowers and even transforms.Jungian analyst and scholar Dr James Hollis writes beautifully about the 2 stages of life in his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. The first stage is usually up until midlife – which in this context can be as early as your mid thirties or as late as your early fifties.

This first stage is about meeting the social, cultural and milieu expectations put upon you. This is where we are focused on becoming adults and standing on our own two feet. Beginning and establishing our careers. Finding a partner. Starting a family.

The big question that is resonating throughout this phase is: What does the world ask of me? We seek to answer questions like “what resources must I gatherWhat of my parents or family I grew up in do I reject or unconsciously take on? How do I create a career, relationship, and social identity?”

These are all useful and necessary questions, but they lose their flavour when you stay in this phase, only answering the needs of the world and society. Lingering too long here brings discontent and a sense of ennui. We then try to fix this by doubling down on the things from this stage – like more external validation, resources, accomplishment, or status etc. When the expectations chafe or no longer make sense, which they inevitably will, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, It only means another phase beckons.

In the second half of life, the questions change to a more spiritual nature, addressing the need for meaning and deeper purpose. Instead of asking “what does the world want from me’, the second phase poses “What does the soul ask of me?”

This is where we get to the bigger questions I wrote about last week. In this phase we seek to answer What is the yearning and calling of my own heart, that is only mine to answer?
What truly matters for me? 

Why am I here – really? And in service to what?
Who am I? Am I my identity or my job?
Am I my accomplishments, or what I’m known for, or what people love me for?

Am I my history? 

Mary Oliver in her stunning poem The Summer Day gets to the heart of this stage:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? 

These are massive questions, and to begin to respond to them we don’t need to go to a hermitage or detonate our life. We can still lead our organisations and teams, be a loving partner, great parent and community member. Just noticing these different questions, and giving our self permission to answer them can help unwind the tangle and anxiety we have about life.One of my clients runs a large organisation, and she said this about understanding the 2 phases and what is now being asked of her: “It was as if I had been frozen in time.  I had become stuck, defined and enshrined within my role. Questioning these expectations and seeing a broader picture has unstuck me. It’s given me permission to think differently. It’s made me a better leader.” 

I’m really passionate about helping us expand into the fullness of who we truly are – as people, as leaders, and as change agents. We need to give ourselves permission for this stuff! When inner growth is denied or stunted, great possibility and potential is cut off and lost. We are at a time now where the whole of us is wanted and needed – not just the bits we think society applauds. Stepping into these deeper questions can help bring us more fully alive and into our power.