It seems like so many people I know these days are living in a transitional “wilderness” state. And it is not just Halftime, though that has been my field of concentration for several years. Every day I hear stories of things that happen that knock people off their feet and paralyze them with uncertainty:
- A young superstar in the nonprofit world is ambushed with a devastating divorce. I get a letter saying she has engaged in some “inappropriate behavior” and has resigned from the dream job that she had executed so successfully.
- My Director of Information Technology at 100X gets held at gunpoint and car stolen in front of her suburban Dallas home. Her daughter is battling cancer.
On a broader scale the cover story on The Economist magazine, titled “Angry America,” shows a cartoon of a beleaguered Barack Obama surrounded by enraged voters bearing placards saying “No-bama,” “throw the bums out,” and “jobs now.” It is not going to be an easy fix.
I could go on and so could you.
In Jeff Manion’s book, The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions, surely a book for our time, the author states, “I firmly believe that the land between – the space where we feel lost, lonely or deeply hurt – is fertile ground for our spiritual transformation and for God’s grace to be revealed.” He skillfully parallels the story of the Israelites in the desert wilderness to our periods of hardships and doubts, complaints and struggles to hold on. Manion also shows us that this period is a time when our lives are pruned back to essentials and prepared for new growth. He says, “The habits of the heart that we foster in this space – our responses and reactions – will determine whether the Land Between results in spiritual life or spiritual death. We choose.”
The Quarterlife Crisis
I have been reading up lately on the 20/30-Something generation where I found something surprising and remarkable. The Millennials, especially recently college graduates, are asking almost the same questions as the 50/60-Somethings. Both groups are, at the heart of it, working on questions of self-identity and context. After twenty or so years working in a highly structured context – college and graduate school in the case of 20/30’s and an organizational world (military, corporate or professional) in the case of Halftimers – people undergo a kind of formless culture shock when they step out of their structured environments. In the academic or corporate environment, the where-to-go, when-to-get-there, and what-to-do questions were mapped out by the context. I give two samples. In the research for their book, Quarterlife Crisis, authors Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner interview 100 recent college graduates. Their finding:
“When young adults emerge at graduation from almost two decades of schooling, during which each step to take is clearly marked, they encounter an overwhelming number of choices regarding their careers, finances, homes and social networks. Confronted by an often shattering whirlwind of new responsibilities, new liberties, and new options, they feel helpless, panicked, indecisive, and apprehensive. … So while the midlife crisis revolves around a doomed sense of stagnancy, of a life set on pause while the rest of the world rattles on, the quarterlife crisis is a response to overwhelming instability, constant change, too many choices, and a panicked sense of helplessness. Just as the monotony of a lifestyle stuck in idle can drive a person to question himself intently, so, too, can the uncertainty of a life thrust into chaos.”
Let me give you an unforgettable example from the other end of the life scale. Several years ago I was invited to participate in a group assembled at West Point by my Drucker Foundation partner, Frances Hesselbein. The group was an impressive mix from three sectors: one third from Army Generals, one third from corporate C-level executives, and one third from social sector leaders. As a way of structuring this experience as a productive Halftime learning experience, I decided to focus on the military, the group I knew least well. Each time I had access to a General, I asked, “What are you going to do when you quit being a General?” I found that Generals are conditioned to following orders. The Chief of Staff of the Army had retired to an idyllic, long anticipated life as a cattle rancher in his native state of Montana. One day he got a call from #### Cheney, “We want you back as Chief of Staff of the Army. He twice said no. Cheney said, “You know who the next call is coming from.” The General said, “Yes, I’ll go.”
During a break before dinner, I happened to be talking to a very articulate General with three stars on his shoulder and a chest full of medals – a very much in-command, particularly confident Princeton University graduate. I asked my “what next?” question, and to my dumbfounded surprise, the answer came, “I hope I can buy a house.” Even this extraordinary, competent leader had lived in government housing and had been told what to do next by higher authority for his whole adult life. The General was David Petraeus!
Month after month, I and my associates at Halftime, discover that seasoned marketplace executives are finding themselves, by one circumstance or another, in the Land Between. They say, “I read your book. I don’t consider retirement a favorable option. But I don’t have a clue what to do.” A few are trapped in a high expense lifestyle that makes them slaves to cash flow but most are not. The best of them open themselves to lives of service that center more on meaning than money. An example: A top medical administrator at a mega hospital who mentors younger doctors to “take one more look” to see whether patients have some illness beyond their hyper-specialty. Result: 800 lives saved in the first eighteen months. (Side note: I am probably alive today because a physical therapist named Jennifer said, “What you have is beyond my specialty. You need a second opinion.” My illness was a life threatening, fast growing staph infection of the spine, not a rib injury.) I am fine today. Alive to do the works “prepared beforehand for (me) to walk in” (Ephesians 2:10).
I could give you countless examples of those who get through the Land Between to discover that the “life after” is richer and more fruitful than the “life before.”
So What about You?
Are you in the Land Between? If so, who/what will you trust?