Turning 50.

Fifty felt really old when I looked at my parents through my teenage eyes. I remember thinking the best years were behind them and it was now going to be a downhill struggle to retirement and beyond.

How depressing and short-sighted of me.

Especially now that I have been alive for half a century myself. Plus one. I wanted to live a full year of being 50 before writing this blog. It’s not just getting to 50 but making room for myself on the fifth floor.

One thing that rings true is I don’t feel old.

Leading up to my 50th year has been my biggest adventure thus far. I have moved across the world from Australia to the Netherlands with my family. I am learning a new language and culture. I am evolving my marketing services business into a global company. I am seeing more of the world now than I ever did before and more importantly with new eyes. I am connecting with leaders globally and learning from them as I hope they learn from me. I have a renewed focus on my message, presence, health, and wellbeing.

And I honestly feel this is just the beginning.

I am proving to my younger self that the next half of life can be the best half.

Overcoming the messy middle.

But getting here has not been easy.

By the time we reach halftime, an age that is typically between 35-55 years old, we’ve all faced hard lessons. In working with leaders from all walks of life on the topic of purpose, times of suffering are part of everyone’s story. It’s part of mine too.

In the midst of the highs are the disappointments, obstacles, health challenges, relationship breakdowns, job losses, financial pressures, and yes, the sickness and loss of loved ones.

One leader I spoke to called it the messy middle. We are typically at the peak of our careers, most of us caught between holding our relationships together, raising children, and supporting aging parents with our own health and mortality as a looming and growing concern.

That’s why leading up to 50 is such an important milestone – a mark in the road. A point of reflection, half way between where we’ve been and where we are going.

Spiritual scholars like Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward believe we have two halves of life. The first is about establishing our status and identity – climbing, achieving, performing.

He believes our culture is so preoccupied with the first half of surviving successfully that most of us never go on the further journey that is required to do the second half well. The challenges of midlife can throw us off course leading to crisis and living an incomplete life. “In my opinion the first-half-of-life task is no more than finding the starting gate. It is merely the warm up act, not the full journey,” he writes.

Bob Buford, in his book Halftime talks of the further journey as moving from success to significance. “We want more meaning in the second half of life, something that rises above perks and paychecks into the stratosphere of significance.”

We all want to climb to the top of Maslow’s pyramid where our entire experience, that is the levels beneath can make a difference to others. We also want to be happier, and healthier as we make time for the people we love, doing the stuff that matters. This is what it means to leave a lasting legacy and make our mark on the world.

I think this is even truer-than-true post pandemic. But is it even possible?

Leading up to my 50th reinvention

Having grown up in a remote village in apartheid South Africa, I had reached a success by the time I was 40 that I never thought possible for someone like me. I was working for a global company, travelling the world, being led, coached, and mentored by world-class leaders.

But I began to feel the path I was on might not be enough as I looked into the future. Even with all my outward success, I also felt the emptiness of the rat race, the constant pressure to run the hamster wheel in competition with others, the need to break yet another glass ceiling as a woman of colour climbing the corporate ladder. I was being driven to achieve more with less and losing myself along the way.

I felt the call to something new but I had no idea what that was.

I read extensively on the subjects of halftime, leadership, and purpose and came across books and authors who talked about this second half experience. It’s actually a well documented journey of deep authenticity, courageous exploration, and taking uncomfortable leaps. You never know what this new future could hold but you also know that staying where you are will no longer satisfy.

So, I took a leap because I had a window in time and the means to do it. I am not professing to have arrived. There have been lots of trials and errors along the way. Writing a book that still hasn’t found a publisher. Starting a business before COVID. Moving across the world into a country with a limited network. The self-doubt that comes with entrepreneurship.

But I am reminded it’s a journey, not a destination.

From success to significance

I do believe in my search for purpose and a significant second half experience, I do hold a few keys for those feeling a call to something new at halftime.

  1. Firstly, purpose is key. Simon Sinek says start with why. And he is right. Purpose creates the catalyst for change on your journey from success to significance. The Ikigai model is a brilliant tool in consolidating what you love doing, what you’re good at, and what the world needs so that you can make money more meaningfully in your second half. We’ve integrated this model and others into PX™ – The Purpose Experience designed specifically for leaders at halftime who want to move from success to significance in business and life.
  2. On the work you do. Work gives us meaning and allows us to use our gifts and talents. According to Gallup, only 13% of people are engaged in their work causing an unnecessary drain on company resources, human capital, and our global economy. Part of your reinvention is making sure your work is aligned to your vision, purpose, and values. The leaders we work with seek change with meaning – they go on to establish more authentic personal brands, seek roles and promotions that are values-aligned, move to new companies and industries, adapt existing business models to incorporate people and planet, launch new products and services, and even start new businesses.
  3. On finding mentors. The second half has been described as a hero’s journey. In this storytelling theme, once the protagonist responds to their call to adventure, they find a mentor. We all need mentors when doing something new – people who believe in us, or have gone through a similar experience or are living the second half experience we seek. It should be more than a single person but extend to the company we keep. As the saying goes, we are the average of the people we spend most of our time with.
  4. On health and wellbeing. We need energy to live happier and healthier lives free from chronic disease. This comes from what we eat and how we move. As part of my halftime reinvention, I worked with an executive health coach to plan my daily routine which included meditation, exercise, and adopting a flexitarian diet. We need to build more self-care at halftime to prevent burnout and protect our mental and physical wellbeing.
  5. On developing presence. We all have a story to tell by the time we get to halftime. It should inform our communication and how we express ourselves. At Markd Global we work alongside stylists, photographers, and videographers to help leaders find their unique sense of style, tone of voice, and self-expression. We also create different types of content across channels and platforms. We are communicating all the time and should be intentional about who we are and what we stand for.
  6. On leaving a legacy. I love Richard’s Rohr perspective, “Without elders, a society perishes socially and spiritually.” In our obsession with the first half of life, we forget that our role is to pass on the wisdom of our experience to the next generation. You can become the elder, leader, coach, mentor you always wanted to have in your first half of life experience. The next generation is hungry for our lived experience which they will turn into their own. So, halftime is not about putting ourselves on the shelf, even though it feels like this is what society wants from us.

Wrapping up

I feel more excited about the future in my 50s than I did in my 20s. In a way I am proving to my younger self that the best days are indeed ahead of me.

Yes, I am going to leave planet Earth one day. But when I do I want it to be like Queen Elizabeth in my bed surrounded by loved ones with few regrets. Full of days, it’s been called. The recent Live to 100 series on Netflix shows this is possible without having to live in the nine Blue Zones.

It does take purpose and intention to move into this further journey of life. In a western context, so few of us get to experience it because we don’t know that it even exists or how to get there. Our culture is so driven by establishing pillars of personal success that we forget that we are meant to use our success to benefit others, our home planet, and even the next generation.

A second half of life led by purpose moves leaders beyond success to significance. I am seeing the fruit of this in my own life and in the lives of the leaders our team works with.

If you are a leader that believes you could benefit from a purposeful halftime experience or a 50th year reinvention, lets chat at sibon@markdglobal.com

Sibon Schouten - Markd Global

Sibon Schouten

CEO and Founder Markd Global