What Do You Want in Life? Finding Direction in Midlife Transition 1
“What do you want in life?” is such a seemingly benign question, but to genuinely answer it is often one of the most important parts of the work of /a-midlife-transition.
We all assume that we know what it is that we want — but is it always so straightforward?
Shared Values in “the First Adulthood”
Knowing what you want may seem pretty straightforward in the first parf of adulthood (although this may be changing for millenials). In what Jung calls the first adulthood, the adult part of our lives leading up to midlife, our society has tended to hold out collective values which many people buy into, and for which they strive. Many people want some kind of post-secondary education. They want a job that enables them to sustain themselves, and that garners a certain measure of respect in our society. People have tended to want marriage, or at least intimate relationship, and many people are firmly convinced of the value of having a family. These highly motivating values are widely shared.
The Challenge of Value in Midlife Transition and After
In the second half of life, the situation may well change dramatically. For very many people, the situation becomes much less clear. Individuals can often start to question whether what they’ve actually attained is really what they wanted for their lives. The even more vital question of what I might want for my future gets highlighted by the fact of an often increased awareness of mortality. At 20, I’m going to live forever. At 40, 45, 50… I’m very aware that I don’t have infinite time, which makes the way I use my time — and my resources, and my opportunities — matters of vital importance. What do you want in life?
What I Want, or What I’ve Been Told I Want?
How do I even really know what it is that I want?
“The Public wants what the Public gets” — so went the lyric of a new wave song in the early 1980s. Certainly we’re even more aware in our era, with the slickness and sophistication of contemporary marketing, that we’re all continually being pressured and manipulated towards making choices that are really about what others –corporations, governments, special interest groups — want us to want.
Psychologist Prof. Barry Swartz of Swarthmore College has warned us of the dangers that come to us from a society where choices, many of which are trivial, are continually multiplying:
Beware of excessive choice. Yet there have always been social pressures around choice in life that alienated us from ourselves. There has always been the subtle or not so subtle pressure to mold what we want into line with the expectation of the mass of the people in one’s social group.
What /a-midlife-transition has brought home to us is how far-reaching these social pressures can be in their influence. They stem in many cases from the earliest stages of life, and can often alienate individuals from their genuine deepest desires through the course of a lifetime. What /a-midlife-transition also brings home is how deep the need within us can be to find the ways of living and choices that accord with the yearnings deepest within us, with who we most fundamentally are?
In the second part of this post we will examine the tension within us between what we fundamentally desire, and the many pressures that confront us in the world.
Depth case studies can often assist in beyond the limited perspective of the ego.
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst