The real voyage of discovery consist not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes…Marcel Proust
On one level, middle age seems so obvious. Youth has officially packed up and left the building, never to return. Both shocked and saddened, we are wounded by a loss that always comes too soon. This unavoidable surrender has become the dominant refrain of the ballad of middle age. And for most people, it seems to completely sum up the experience. Everything changes and passes away. Time to suck it up and move on seems like sound advice. Or is it?
The problem is that we don’t really move on. Where we move in the second half of life is deeper into a world of unrelenting complexity and uncertainty. There is no “just passing through” on the way to something else. This is our permanent, nonrefundable assignment where we burn the boats of youth and head out to meet whatever destiny has in store for the older version of ourselves. Yes, we’re moving on but not beyond a loss dominated landscape that only intensifies the further we travel.
We all come to know only too well this suffocating and unavoidable fact of the middle age. Nor are we surprised to see our peers mounting counter offenses in hopes of short circuiting this process, manning anti-aging battle stations in a determined but futile effort to prove fifty is the new younger something else.
It’ not and will never be. We can’t sweat our way out of life’s mandatory stages. The game is not ours to choose and we’re playing every inning in some capacity or another no matter what. Best we shift our attention to more pressing issues at work here that go beyond the loss of youth. We need to get a closer look at these other, equally decisive themes, gather them up so to speak, and understand their power and influence over our experience and outcome.
This is where sensemaking comes into play. Its process begins with gathering and decoding unintelligible issues, an integrative sorting and drafting of the first iteration of what’s going on and its meaning. This working draft serves as our starting point that is subjected to revisions, deletions and modifications. What eventually emerges from this protocol is a new explanation that resonates with our actual experience of middle age. And that’s the goal of our inquiry: Find a compelling match between theory and reality that reveals new meaning and new coping strategies.
What’s important as we start this process is not so much finding “the answer” as is finding the direction where new answers can reveal themselves. And that’s where we’re going in our next installment of Stuck in the Middle.
Using sensemaking as our compass, we’re going to use our new eyes to move beyond the obvious. Loss will still have a key role to play in the experience, but it will prove to be more complicated and painfully disorienting then we first imagined. Added to loss will be other major issues that make up the “overarching framework” of the middle crossing, consumptive and exhausting forces that ambush us we we least expect it…