Where did the idea of ‘Finding your smile’ come from?
One of my favourite films is ‘City Slickers’. In the movie, Billy Crystal plays Mitch Robbins a middle aged miserable radio-advertising executive who’s fed up with his job and disillusioned with life. Along with two of his best friends, Ed and Phil, they head off on a fantasy vacation to a Western Ranch in New Mexico with the idea of having some fun chasing their troubles away.
At the beginning of the film Mitch is not sure if he really wants to go. His wife realising how unhappy he is insists he doesn’t go with her to Florida to see her dad but, instead, to go with his two pals to the ranch.
She says, “I am giving you these two weeks, it’s my present. Go and find your smile.” Although my life was different to Mitch’s in many ways, I identified with the “GO FIND YOUR SMILE” piece. At a surface level I was smiling but at a deeper level there was a dark void. At that time I chanced on a quote by the great Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung:
“Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life…we take the step into the afternoon of life; worst still, we take this step with the false assumptions that our truths and ideals will serve us as before. But we cannot live the afternoons of life according to the programme of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little in the evening, and what in the morning was true will in the evening have become a lie.”
On first reading I found this quote so compelling that I read it a second time, then a third time, then a fourth time. It struck a deep cord in me. It was like somebody pulling the curtains open and allowing the sun to light up the once darkened room. I felt like I’d been stumbling around in this darkened room for a while but now the light of this quote had given me a different outlook. Things were starting to become clearer.
You say life’s journey is smile-shaped. What do you mean?
Life’s journey has three distinct stages to it. There’s the first half of life and the second half of life, which is bridged by the middle years of midlife.
I believe that happiness is smile shaped. Meaning people generally begin and end life at their most content. This is especially so if we’re willing to work on ourselves during the mid-life stage and redefine what success means to us.
When does mid-life begin?
The bridge that crosses between the first half and the second half of life is really a moving target but usually falls between the ages of 30 and 70 with 40 to 60 at its core. Although it has to be said, there are no guarantees of this. It really can’t be defined externally with a number that has a 0 in it or by counting the number of candles on our birthday cake. For example, in today’s world, a forty-year-old could be a grandparent, or about to have their first child. A good friend of mine believes he is in better physical shape now at the age of fifty-two than he was in the first half of his life, completing his last marathon in just over four hours. We can only know whether we are in the transformation stage by learning to look inside. What I do know is when mid-life arrives, we suddenly become aware we’re not in control of it, and this unpreparedness can be quite a shock.
What is meant by the expression ‘mid-life crisis’?
I did some research on the word, “crisis.” In my little Bloomsbury dictionary, crisis is defined as a turning point; a critical moment; an emergency. Then I found that the word “crisis” comes from the Greek krinein, which literally means, “to decide”. Before I did that little piece of research the word “crisis” for me had a negative tone. Now I think it has a positive tone. The term “mid-life crisis” now means a time in our life when important decisions need to be made. It was Stephen Covey who said, “In the absence of a wake-up call, many of us never really confront the critical issues of life.” During mid-life we can find ourselves walking into five different “wake-up” walls, each one providing its own “crisis.” The five wake-up calls are: cultural, health, relationship, financial/career and existential.
Colin, have you found your smile?
That’s the key question. Firstly, I don’t think the final examination can be had until we’re on our deathbed. Only then can we really evaluate whether we’ve sucked all of life’s juice out of the second half of life. I certainly have no desire to take that final breath knowing my second half of life was full of “should haves” and “could haves.” I don’t want to be another statistic – somebody who dies at forty but isn’t buried until eighty. I’ve met many people who only lived for a short time, then took a long time to die.
Secondly, since taking the year out, my professional and personal life has changed dramatically. We now live here in Spain. We enjoy the slower pace of life, and, as you can see today, the warmer climate. I play more, run more, laugh more, rest more, write more, and meditate more but, sadly, surf less (there are very few waves here in the Med). I’ve established deeper and more meaningful relationships with my wife and the boys. I now make it a priority to spend quality time with them. My Professional life is changing. I used to spend 100% of my time working and consulting in the corporate arena. Now it’s more varied. I still work in the corporate world with Si but now I have one “retirement” week each month in which I do my non-paid work. I spend time in the boy’s school, with the children, teachers and parents on personal development, accelerated learning and self-esteem matters. I run free retreats here in Spain for mid-lifers looking for help to find their smile in mid-life. We left Fuerteventura with our family bumper sticker motto which reads, “Outwardly simple, inwardly fulfilled.” This is what we benchmark any decision we make against. Is it simplifying our life? And is it fulfilling? And so far I can answer ‘yes’ in both cases. So to finish answering your question, yes, I’m happy to report back that my life now contains many more moments of that wonderful feeling that’s beyond time, a feeling of the sacred – aliveness. As a result of all of this I feel the second half my life is going to be much richer.