Updates from new blog at www.nextchapternewlife.com/blog/

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mid Life Renewal played out on TV

If anyone has been watching the TV program "Numb3rs" this season and probably the last two, there has been a significant life change going on for one of the support players. Don't worry, you don't have to have watched it to understand the observations I'm about to make.

The quick back drop. Dr. Larry Fleinhardt is a professor and friend to the key character who shares in his math genius. The key character's math skills are the heart of the program premise. Larry is brilliant and also very introspective about his place in the universe. He is single and solidly in his middle age. A couple of seasons ago, he applied for and joined in one of the space shuttle missions. It was the first in a series of surprising actions by this character. Prior to his space shuttle assignment, he gave up his place to live and began living in the basement of the university. When he returned, he was a changed person. Larry went off to live in a Buddhist temple with total silence. Next, he was been selected to work in Switzerland on the super collider, looking for the "God molecule". He has now resigned this prestigious role and has tenured his resignation as professor, only he is still showing up at work. In the meantime, Larry has decided to scorn technology and speaks of the pureness of a simple life. The last we saw of Larry he was driving to Las Vegas with tickets to 5 possible destinations in search of his own meaning. Clearly, Larry is making a substantial mid life renewal.

I thought looking at what is going on with Larry was a great way to illustrate what happens to many of us at one point or another in our life. Usually that point is in our mid life, give or take a decade. So, what is going on with Larry (or us)?

Larry has had a great career. He has earned a lot of visibility, credibility and notoriety. He is a rock star of mathematicians. Larry (or us) is starting the process of shifting who he is. He is going through an internal change and transition. As a result, he is rethinking everything in his life. While he loves his friends and appreciates his own contribution, he is now realizing there are other things, other experiences or points of view he wants to have. His big issue is, he just doesn't know what that is. He has been experimenting with the possibilities such as going to space. When he returns, he isn't prepared for the huge transition of moving back to his previous existence, it's disappointing and somewhat pointless. He thought he would find the answers "out there". The good news with Larry is he has been patient with himself. He is experimenting with his life and willing to accept whatever outcome. He will find his answer because he is open, patient and optimistic that his answer exists.

I should point out that Larry is also very uncomfortable with the space he is in. All transition comes with the inevitable discomfort of confusion and disenfranchisement. When you don't know who you are it drains your confidence and clarity. All too often, we try to shake this feeling off by destructive means like drugs, alcohol or instant gratification. Even if we don't react that way, we tend to be inpatient with ourselves and try to ignore this important passage in our lives. This is analogous to the birthing process. It's not a piece of cake for mother or child. The end result, however, is well worth the discomfort.

Why does this take place? There is never one simple answer to something as complex as we are. Among the catalyst are "completions". All careers have a peak and a person realizes they are done. They have nothing more to contribute. When children leave the nest, it signifies a completion of parenting. Life events like divorce and death will sometimes set a person into a rethink mode. In addition to completions are emotionally stirring events like having a religious experience or falling in love. All of these things plus our maturity and insight go into the mix of what sets us into redefining who we are.

What lesson have we learned from Larry? As I see it they are: 1- be patient with yourself, know you will be uncomfortable for a while 2- try and experiment with new things, you never know what new passion you will discover 3- be self accepting, even when you change everyday 4- maintain a sense of humor 5- don't eliminate your friends, even if you have to lose contact for a while.

My pearl of wisdom: Be a Larry when the time comes. Quote from Larry to a friend: "You could move in with me but I don't live anywhere."