Stability or Authenticity? The Inner Voice at Mid-Life

Filed in Finding & Following Your Voice by on April 15, 2011 • views: 391

Unlived LifeI’m reading a new book this month: Living Your Unlived Life by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Ph.D. It’s been out a couple years, but it’s brand new to me. The authors talk about how we spend the first half of our lives pursuing a certain path and creating an existence for ourselves that we believe will lead us to success. Then, when we hit mid-life, we start to wonder. Is this all there is? Or is there something else?

This “something else” we wonder about is what is called the “unlived life.” The choices we didn’t make. The parts of our personality we didn’t develop. The strengths or talents or callings we ignored. The “mid-life crisis,” as it is so often called, is an attempt, according to the authors, to bring balance back to our lives. To ignore the whispering of the inner voice at this juncture in favor of continuing to pursue happiness based on the formula prescribed for the first half of life—in other words, striving after possessions, career achievements, and ego enhancements—is “a commitment to stability at the expense of authenticity.”

That last phrase brought me up short. Stability at the expense of authenticity. How many of us make this choice? And who could blame us? Especially in today’s unsettled world and economy, how can we find the means and the time and the courage to pursue that hidden part of ourselves that is crying out to be born, when we don’t know how to do that and keep a roof over our heads and food on the table? Or on a more personal level, how do we gather the courage to try something completely different from what we’ve been doing for the past twenty years? It can seem overwhelming, but if we don’t at least try, we live with “unfulfilled dreams,” which can be a lot more painful than tightening our belts or facing our fears.

“We have seen how our choices in the first half of life are made under the influence of genetic and cultural influences,” write the authors. “We acquire an identity and a repertoire of patterned ways for making sense of and responding to the world. But one morning we wake up and feel as if something important has been lost along the way.”

This is our inner voice nudging us, yet we tend to resist examining this “something lost” for many reasons. It’s difficult, it takes time and energy, and we often succumb to easier distractions like food, alcohol, and entertainment. “It is curious how modern people will go to almost any length to stay busy and thereby avoid examining unlived life,” write the authors. Plus, we have a hard time believing that we can be more—that our potential is greater than we have yet achieved.

Which brings me back to the central question: stability, or authenticity? Do we have to sacrifice one for the other? I’m wondering that myself right now. If we cling too tightly to stability, do we spend the rest of our lives hanging on by our fingernails with our dreams always just out of reach?

I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. I’ve just gotten started—only about 50 pages in, so I’m sure I’ll find more to think about as I go. But I hope to write more on this subject. If you have thoughts, please share them.

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