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06 | Midlife shifts and rites of passage

Rites of passage in traditional societies show a firm grasp of the phases of transition. A letting go or symbolic death, followed by a wandering time until there’s a new beginning followed by a return to the new normal. 

There’s not a big signature rite of passage for midlife. Midlife is spread out over time and has lots of events that mark transitions: marriages, births, deaths, home-buying and relocations, work, children, retirement, and all the rest. 

There are SHIFTs, however, that tend to find us in midlife. The power and purpose of these shifts varies. The quality of the transformation is impacted by the effectiveness of the transition: “change” is the outward sign of the transition but “transformation” is what can take place internally. 

We discussed some of these shifts: 

  • From extrinsic goals to intrinsic ones, which typically means moving from external validation to internal validation. External referring to orientation more towards the “world” and internal hopefully referring more to God, grace, and wisdom;
  • From received values to our most important values – again, we hope that our most important values are reflecting our gifts, talents, strengths, virtues, and faith, and to the extent that they are “received” they have passed into who we are. We receive values from our family of origins, school years, peers, culture, and all sorts of places; sometimes we serve these received values more than they serve us!
  • From ambition to community, especially family, which is our first community

Curtis emphasized the process of “trading in” old expectations for new ones that are up-to-date with reality and who we are now. 

The old expectation is no longer useful. So trade it for something that is useful; something that’s important to you, that inspires you! 

Trading is a wonderful thing. Everyone gets something they want from it. You may have a perfectly decent but old expectation that doesn’t fit anymore, and maybe NEVER could have fit you. There are new expectations waiting for you. Don’t hold the new ones TOO closely, however, because life isn’t linear and you need to watch out for the new wine! 

Our youthful expectations can be very unrealistic. We have a bunch of them. At least some of them are going to exceed the reality of your present day life. In other words, reality will fall short of many of our expectations. 

THOSE will be the expectations your mind keeps returning to, and poking at you. 

Letting those unrealistic expectations come to an END will create a new beginning for you. Not right away, because you have that messy middle to traverse. Yikes. 

Karen shared how a new focus in purpose and values was central in a midlife transformation (remember we are aiming for “transformation” and not just “transition.”) We shared a couple stories about that. 

Rites of passage remind us of rites more generally. 

Rites are helpful to embodied beings, like us humans. The sacraments, for instance, have outward signs and ceremonies that mark the actual grace provided through the sacrament. 

Seasonal rites were, historically, a big part of most cultures. Western culture had these through the middle ages and, I suppose, beyond.

Catholics, of course, have liturgical cycles tied to the seasons. There’s a lot of wisdom in that approach; wisdom that our modern perspective can have difficulty appreciating. 

 We are looking forward to digging into hope! That’s on tap for our next couple of episodes. 

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karen and curtis herbert as a midlife coaches

We are Karen and Curtis Herbert, founders of The Catholic Midlife. Our mission is to spark a catholic midlife renewal and help YOU to step into your next season with purpose, hope, and a clear vision for the rest of your life.

Because the rest of
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