A growing number of us reach midlife and find there is something missing. We have accomplished much of what we set out to do and yet it has not completely delivered the satisfaction we anticipated. We wonder what would give our second half more significance. This brand new social phenomenon is now commonly called Halftime—named after a best selling book that came out fifteen years ago. As in football, the Halftime of life is a pause to look back and take stock, look forward and dream, and then chart a new course.
Halftime is relatively new to the human experience because of three converging factors, the most important of which is longevity. One hundred years ago the average life expectancy in America was 47 years, and today boomers statistically have thirty bonus years. Secondly this is the healthiest, wealthiest (until recently), and best educated generation to ever reach midlife. Third, this is a generation who in our youth wanted to change the world—and those dreams still smolder under blankets of business, obligation, and responsibility.
For that reason, Baby Boomers represent the first generation, arguably in human history, that needs training at midlife to navigate their second half successfully. Retaining your best leaders, and continuing to reposition them for their best contribution on the team, will require training components that weren’t needed with previous generations.
We've recently seen wealth disappear overnight, and it’s hard not to wonder if there is more to life than this. While a crisis like this can be unsettling, it also can be a springboard. It can be a primary driver that causes us to infuse all of our success with another important ingredient: significance.
Going through the halftime experience doesn’t necessarily mean one has to leave his or her current employer and launch out in a new and uncharted direction. In fact, many successful business and professional leaders can remain productively engaged within their current organization with a little help addressing their desire for more meaning and purpose.
Take Chris Danzi. He had his sites set on becoming a senior vice-president of Bank of America and acquiring a few important toys such as a new BMW and a larger boat, but when he got them, he felt like the dog that finally caught the car. It didn’t fully deliver. He loved his work and his company but needed another dimension of impact. With a little coaching he was able to carve out ten hours per week in his life (mostly from non-productive down time) to launch a program in his church that today sponsors more than 600 AIDS orphans in impoverished communities in Africa. Unlike other hobbies, giving back in this way reenergizes your leaders and teaches them new leadership skills in a volunteer setting that also can be helpful in the corporate world.
Employers who ignore this desire for second half significance run the risk of losing many of their most talented leaders who will set out to reinvent themselves within the social sector. Leaving the business world is not always the best solution for their need or the best for the company. Training your best leaders as they reach midlife can be a win-win solution. So, without becoming an expert in this arena, how can you simply and effectively address this issue?
Open the conversation
Your top leaders are having these "halftime" thoughts, but they have no idea anyone else on the team is having the same experience. The most freeing thing you can do is raise the topic, make it acceptable to discuss openly, and allow those who are considering a midlife overhaul to raise their hand and ask for help. Perhaps the best way to raise this topic, and identify those who are at halftime, are to share stories of others who have made a midlife transition to infuse more meaning into their second half without leaving the company. You can do this on your internal Website, in eNews communication, or direct communication with leaders who are between ages 45 to 60. Secondly, you can create a simple 90-minute training session or Webinar designed to open the conversation, whet their appetite, and allow those who need this help to let you know.
Within small to medium size companies, look and listen for them. You will hear them say things such as, "Our last kid is about to graduate, and we're beginning to wonder what's next for us" or "What are the financial implications of early retirement?" Or, "We're getting ready to go on a month-long vacation to clear our head and think about this next season of life."
Look for halftimers at your company by having your antenna up for those who are in midlife and recently experienced a major health change or death of a parent or peer that made them think about their own mortality. Also, watch for those normally high performers who have hit a plateau—not growing or declining. Another clue: those who are selling their home to downsize.
Open the conversation with the following questions:
"Do you ever find yourself wondering what would give the second half of life more meaning and purpose?"
"If you're 50 today, you're probably going to live until you're 90. Can you see yourself doing what you're doing today for the next 40 years?"
"If money were no object, what would you do with the rest of your life?"
Provide a compelling vision with examples
What men and women in halftime need most at the start of this perplexing journey is vision—a compelling vision of what a more significant second half might look like.
Invite them into the process
There are three important things your best leaders need to solve as they reinvent themselves for a sustainable second half contribution to your organization: core, capacity, and context.
They need to get clear about who they are at the core, including their top strengths and skills, passions, and their optimal role within an organization. This process should lead to an overriding personal mission statement. With that clarity they can use their disposable time to pursue significance. I coach senior executives every week in midlife transition, and it is surprising how few are clear on their core.
It requires extra time, energy, and resources to make a difference in the lives of others. Your training can enable them to de-clutter their lives enough to carve out hours to pursue their area of service, even if it’s as simple as mentoring an at-risk teen, coaching a team, or encouraging younger leaders within your organization.
Finding the right organizations for them to align with to make the contributions they desire often is challenging. Corporations frequently think only in terms of the money they can contribute toward local non-profits, but an even more powerful contribution is to link your best leaders to help them build their effectiveness. What organizations do you already give to, and how could your leaders help them improve their effectiveness?
Connect them with resources
When you find someone like this in your organization, give him or her "Halftime" by Bob Buford. It has helped hundreds of thousands of executives work through this midlife dilemma. But many need more help than that. Every tool your midlife-transitioning leaders need is available online at www.halftime.org , a non-profit organization designed to help your leaders with this complex journey. I encourage you to consider developing a Webinar, seminar, or conference call series to train your leaders in preparation for a second half of continued contribution to your team.
In observing this halftime phenomenon, Peter Drucker said, "we are over-prepared for the first half of life, and under-prepared for the second half…and there's no university for the second half of life."
Why not move to the cutting edge of this phenomenon, and lead the way in corporate second half training?
Lloyd Reeb is the author of "From Success to Significance" and "The Second Half: Real stories. Real adventures. Real significance."