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It was Jack's fortieth birthday, but he didn't feel like celebrating. In the last seven days his grandfather and Frank, his closest childhood friend, had died. He and Frank had seen their first X-rated film together. Jack's grandfather had been a strong man, and Jack had felt he was indestructible. Now both were gone, and his birthday convinced him that he himself might be next. He had never worried about aging before this. Today he did. He looked around and saw that his teenage son was the gorgeous guy the girls were looking at in the street. It made him feel proud and irritable at the same time. The "pretty boy" had become a middle-aged man.
Jack was experiencing many transitional stresses simultaneously. With the death of his grandfather, the composition of his family changed. With the death of his friend, a tie with his past was severed. With his decade birthday came a reassessment of his appearance. With the maturation of his son came Jack's shift to a different generational stratum. His son still had a grandfather, Jack did not. His son was a "hunk," Jack was not. Without fully realizing it, Jack had become a grown-up. Where was there to go after that?
Jack's answer was to go into a holding pattern for a year. He began to exercise and work out in a gym. This made him feel better about his body, used up some of the irritability he had been bringing home, and gave him relief from competitive sports, which had begun to drain him. He then began to rethink his life pattern. He had always done what was expected of him. Now he asked what he expected of himself. He found that he wanted to change very little about his life pattern, but at least he started to feel that he was living it by choice.
Jack's experiences are not uncommon. Researchers using surveys, biographies, autobiographies, and case studies have come to similar conclusions about a man's stresses in his middle years. Whereas early adulthood stresses center around career and marriage decisions, later stresses do not seem to center around decisions at all. Later stresses seem to reflect an awareness that "do-overs" and "years to come" and "other chances" are less than realistic! Men in their middle years begin to realize that this is their life. Now. Not later.
Midlife is the "noon of life," according to psychology pioneer Carl Jung, with the "afternoon and evening to come"-the time when men awaken from The Dream. Success doesn't always lead to "happily ever after," and hard work may not even lead to success. Men become part of the "older generation" to their children, become "mentors" to employees and students, and become "responsible leaders" to their communities. This is their final chance to rechart or reconstruct their lives in a way that can still span decades.
With one foot in youth and the other in maturity, the middle years, then, are a time of readjustment for most men. Just like the mixed messages about manhood that cause so much male stress, the messages about a middle-aged man's future are mixed also:
o It will be a time to bask in public acclaim or suffer public shame. This is
when you will have made it or, if not, when you missed your shot.
In other words, what is to
come is largely predictable-which in itself, of course, creates anxiety. There
is no clearly defined role from this point on. There is no assurance of health
or wealth. Any man may be forced into retirement; may confront economic recession,
depression, or inflation when he is on a pension or social security; may be institutionalized
or become dependent because of a stroke, heart condition, or other illness; may
find himself isolated or his children's ward; may have to deal with the death
of his child or even grandchild; may lose his sexual partner and feel guilty about
Reflection Exercise #9
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
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