This newsletter is about exploring work of the soul, and this gets more important by the time we hit our early forties.

At midlife (sometimes earlier, sometimes later – but always eventually!) two different stages of life start to clash, rubbing against each other in a way that becomes uncomfortable. We feel it in our work, our patience, our relationships, and our outlook.

When this happens it’s a sign you’re beginning to outgrow the first stage of life, which is all about how we meet the family, social, and cultural expectations of us. In the first stage we ask: What does the world want from me? What’s expected of me? How do I grow and succeed?

We set about answering these by working out what is expected of us. We get a job and career. Settle down. Do the things we’re meant to do. Recognition, reward, money, and success are agreed upon markers that we’re doing it right.

Then something changes. It might come with a loud bang through illness or divorce, or the death of a parent. Or it might come upon you slowly: life feels harder and not quite right. Achievements feel a little empty, dullness or frustration sets in. What once bought satisfaction, now has diminishing returns.

Even more than this, you feel within you something unresolved and unexpressed. And you’re less willing to sacrifice that essential part of yourself for acceptance and doing what’s expected.

If this is you, it means the second stage of life is calling to you more urgently. It’s letting you know that now is the time for soul work. Instead of getting better at adapting to the world as it is, the second stage asks a different question. It wants to know: What does your soul want from you? What truly matters for you? Why are you here – really?’

These are soul questions. Integrating these into our lives and how we lead is soul work. My use of soul is not religious – it’s intentional. Soul is the wisdom hidden out of view. It’s found in our suffering and deepened through our honest grappling with questions of meaning.

Working with soul will transform how you lead and how you live in the world.

Soul work brings subtle grounding to what we do and who we are. Soul work for each of us is deeply personal. There is no manual! Here’s an example.

Recently in a coaching session with Mick, a senior leader at a large organisation, an area of soul work revealed itself.

Mick remarked that one of the things he gets great nourishment from is catching up with close mates to really check in with how they’re going (versus just getting beers and watching sport, which he also liked but didn’t get the same level of nourishment from). He wasn’t making time for this, yet he recognised it as something that filled his cup.

He then shared that one of his most wonderful days at work was when he was stuck in a traffic jam for hours. Instead of being frustrated, he used the time to spontaneously call about 20 team members in the organisation – people he didn’t directly work with – to check in with them. Each call lasted about 10 minutes and was relational, not tactical. The fulfilment he felt was a high point for him, and he later heard how meaningful it was to others as well, spread out across different parts of the organisation.

For Mick it became clear that valuing and making space for authentic connection is soul work. For you, it might be something else.

That’s because soul work is not prescriptive. It’s not strategic or targeted. Yet we are moved to do it, and in the doing of it, something remarkable and unexpected opens up that is transformative for you and the world around you.

The more we can identify what moves our soul, and include this in our work, the more we begin to live more solidly in the second stage of life.