On Entering Middle Adulthood (the 40s)

As a man enters his 40s, he probably has accomplished much of the goals he had while in his 20s and 30s (marriage, kids, career), or he has found that some of those goals may never be realized. As a result, he may feel unsatisfied with his life and there may be a period of stagnation. Often, a man in his 40s must take stock of his life and decide where he wants to go from there. If he doesn’t let stagnation take over, his 40s could be the beginning of the most fulfilling time of his whole life.

“As a man passes 40, his task is to assume responsibility for new generations of adults… He must become paternal in new ways to younger adults. He cannot treat them as if they were children under his benign control. He must find new ways to combine authority and mutuality — accepting his own responsibility and offering leadership, yet also taking them seriously as adults, inviting their participation and fostering their growth toward greater independence and authority. While he is becoming a senior member of the adult world, he must relate to persons in their thirties as junior but fully adult members who will soon succeed him, and to persons in their twenties as novices going through their initial formative period within the adult world.

“In every stage [of age development], developing is a process in which opposite extremes are to some degree reconciled and integrated. Both generativity and its opposite pole, stagnation, are vital to a man’s development. To become generative, a man must know how it feels to stagnate — to have a sense of not growing, of being static, stuck, drying up, bogged down in a life full of obligation and devoid of self-fulfillment. He must know the experience of dying, of living in the shadow of death.

“The capacity to experience, endure and fight against stagnation is an intrinsic aspect of the struggle toward generativity in middle adulthood. Stagnation is not purely negative nor to be totally avoided. It plays a necessary and continuing part in mid-life development. The recognition of vulnerability in myself becomes a source of wisdom, empathy and compassion for others. I can truly understand the suffering of others only if I can identify with them through an awareness of my own weakness and destructiveness. Without this self-awareness, I am capable only of the kind of sympathy, pity and altruism that reduces the other’s hardship but leaves him still a victim.”

~from The Seasons of a Man’s Life by Daniel L. Levinson, page 29-30

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