As we move through the stages of our lives, our definitions of success often change. In our early years, success might be measured by academic achievements, career milestones, or material acquisitions. But as we reach mid-life, a new dimension often emerges in our quest for fulfillment: the movement from success alone to greater significance. This shift reflects a deeper yearning to leave a lasting impact on the world and to be remembered not just for what we accomplished, but for how we influenced the lives of others.
Understanding the Shift: Research Insights
The need for this transition is more than a personal desire; it’s a phenomenon supported by research. Studies in developmental psychology, particularly those building on Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, suggest that as individuals age, their focus naturally shifts from personal achievements to contributing to future generations. This shift is often accompanied by a reevaluation of what truly matters.
A Harvard Business Review article highlight how many successful individuals seek to pivot their skills and resources toward philanthropy, mentoring, or social entrepreneurship in their later years. The desire for a legacy becomes a powerful motivator, influencing decisions and driving new ventures that align with deeper values and societal contributions.
Practical Steps Towards Making the Movement
For those in mid-life seeking to transition from success to significance, the journey involves several key steps:
- Reflect on Your Values and Passions: Start by identifying what you’re truly passionate about, both inside and outside of work. What issues or causes resonate with you? What values have guided your life, and how do you wish these to be reflected in your legacy?
- Assess Your Skills and Resources: Consider what skills, knowledge, and resources you have that can be leveraged for greater impact. This could be your professional expertise, your network, or financial resources.
- Set Concrete Goals: What does significance look like to you? Is it starting a charitable foundation, mentoring young professionals, or engaging in community service? Set clear, flexible goals for how you want to make an impact.
- Seek Mentorship and Community: Connect with others who have successfully made this transition. Learn from their experiences and build a community of like-minded individuals. This network can provide support, inspiration, and practical advice.
- Embrace Lifelong Learning: Be open to learning new skills or gaining knowledge in areas related to your new goals. This could involve formal education, workshops, or self-directed learning.
- Integrate Continuity with Change: While embracing this new chapter, it’s also important to maintain aspects of your life that continue to bring fulfillment and joy. This balance ensures a healthy transition and sustainability in your efforts.
- Implement and Iterate: Start small with your initiatives and be prepared to learn and adjust along the way. Success in this new phase is not about perfection but progress and impact.
A Journey of Continual Growth
Moving from success alone to the inclusion of significance is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. It’s about continually aligning your actions with your evolving sense of purpose. This transition can be incredibly rewarding, offering a sense of fulfillment that complements the achievements of your earlier years. By focusing on legacy, you not only enrich your own life but also contribute to a better world for future generations.
Resources & References
- The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change”: This article discusses how midlife is often perceived as a period of decline, but it can also be a time of significant change and development.
- “It’s Time to Rethink Traditional Career Trajectories”: This piece suggests a societal shift in perception of the mid-life crisis, viewing it more as a period of transformation and rebirth.
- “Finding Direction When You’re Feeling Lost” by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries: This article mentions the transition people undergo from focusing on “time to live” to “time left to live,” emphasizing the urgency this creates in identifying and pursuing meaningful goals.
- “Success That Lasts”: According to Nash and Stevenson, successful individuals who find real satisfaction often do so by deliberately setting limits and cultivating a sense of “just enough”.
- “Three Vice Presidents in Mid-Life”: This article highlights the mid-life transition as a particularly powerful period of change, distinct from other transition periods due to the nature of the developmental tasks individuals must perform.
These articles collectively suggest that mid-life is a time of potential transformation and rebirth, where individuals often reevaluate their goals and seek more meaningful, lasting forms of success.
- Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development: In his theory, Erikson outlines eight stages of human development, each characterized by a different psychological conflict. For adults, the relevant stages are the sixth stage (Intimacy vs. Isolation, occurring in young adulthood), the seventh stage (Generativity vs. Stagnation, in middle adulthood), and the eighth stage (Integrity vs. Despair, in later adulthood). The seventh stage, Generativity vs. Stagnation, is particularly pertinent to the mid-life transition, as it deals with the need to create or nurture things that will outlast the individual, often leading to a focus on mentoring, legacy building, and societal contributions.Reference: Erikson, E. H. (1959). Identity and the life cycle. Psychological Issues, 1, 18-164.
- Empirical Studies on Erikson’s Theories: Numerous empirical studies have been conducted on Erikson’s theories, supporting the idea that mid-life is a time for focusing on generativity and legacy. These studies often explore how individuals in their middle years seek to contribute to the next generation and find a sense of purpose beyond personal achievements.Reference: McAdams, D. P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(6), 1003-1015.
- Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes”: This is one of William Bridges’ most well-known books, where he explores the process of transition as a psychological reorientation that people go through when adapting to change. Bridges differentiates between “change,” which is situational, and “transition,” which is psychological. This book is particularly insightful for understanding how individuals emotionally and mentally navigate periods of significant change, like career shifts, personal life changes, and other major life events.Reference: Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Da Capo Press.
- “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change”: In this book, Bridges provides a guide for managing transitions in the workplace. He outlines a three-phase process of transition: ending, losing, and letting go; the neutral zone; and the new beginning. This framework is designed to help leaders and organizations navigate change more effectively, recognizing the human side of change management.Reference: Bridges, W. (2009). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Da Capo Lifelong Books.