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How losing track of your values can screw up midlife, and how reclaiming them will give you control

By | Masculinity, Mission, Relationships, Work | No Comments

midlife manBefore I became a coach for men in midlife I never gave much thought to my values. Don’t worry, my internal conscience, Jiminy Cricket, has kept me morally on the straight and narrow. By values I don’t mean morals or virtues. I’m speaking here about the deep-seated motivators that make us unique and who we are at our core as men.

For me, the simple process of clarifying and understanding core values has given a greater sense of freedom, personal well-being, and deeper relationships. I would also argue that a closer connection to one’s values can give men in midlife greater choice and freedom than options sometimes sought through the stereotypically poor decisions associated with the midlife crisis.

Values vs. virtues

Looking back on my life I always thought of values as understanding the difference between right and wrong. You know, the basic moral compass stuff that most parents try to pass along like don’t lie, cheat, or steal; always keep your word; treat others as you’d like to be treated. Or perhaps values were those moral and intellectual virtues like courage, temperance, liberality, understanding, and wisdom received as part of one’s spiritual or philosophical upbringing.

So if we’re not talking about values as morals or virtues, what are we talking about?

I refer to values as the personal drivers, the core motivators, and deeply held beliefs that make us uniquely who we are. They are the words or terms we would use (as opposed to the external expectations or projections of others) to answer the question:

“Who am I and what’s most important to me?”

For many men in midlife this is THE question that heralds the primary midlife transitions: in our careers, in our marriage or significant relations, in our public personae, in our over commitment to pursuits that no longer bring contentment or a sense of satisfaction.

Our values inform all of our decisions. They are often working at a subconscious level, especially when we haven’t taken the time to identify and clarify what they are. These values, or intrinsic motivators, have been a core part of who we are since our teenage years.

I’m kind of needing an illustration of what the heck you’re talking about here …

Okay, here’s a quick example … early in my midlife quest I identified my top five values as Integrity, Community, Adventure, Impact, and Compassion. Actually, I identified over 40 and narrowed them down to a solid dozen. But these five were the primary values that motivated me and informed the decisions I made and significantly impacted my sense of who I was and how I showed up in the world.

The importance of clarifying values – especially in midlife

When aspects of our lives are out of alignment with our values, things just don’t feel right. We can experience a deep sense of dis-ease and internal or external conflict can show up. When we are living in alignment with our values we have a greater sense of contentment, engagement, and life satisfaction.

Why is understanding our personal values important? It’s important because if we don’t know what our personal values are we can feel adrift on the sea of unmet expectations, lost in midlife meanderings, and experience a hollowness inside suggesting that something is amiss.

Hmm, kind of sounds like my midlife malaise …

More importantly, when we don’t know what our personal values are we are unable to articulate, let alone begin to effectively address, those aspects of our lives that are out of alignment and keeping us from being content at a most basic level.

Once I articulated my values I began to examine aspects of my life through the lense of these values. For example when I looked at my then-career through the lenses of Integrity and Community, I found that the people I worked with and the company I worked for also had a strong commitment to Integrity (in part defined by doing the right things for the right reason) and Community (a robust network of outstanding professionals). The alignment with these values were strong reasons to stay in that career.

However, I was not able to fully realize my internal sense of Integrity (as I define it through my ability to express my full self) and also was not able to live into my value of Impact/Change (as I define it by the ability to push boundaries and unleash greater consciousness in the world). It was these two unexpressed values that were really at the heart of my growing discontent with that career.

My inability to live in alignment with my values of Integrity and Impact/Change began to shake the foundations of my previously enviable career path. Choosing to live through them more fully supported my conscious transition to leadership coaching. This career transition allowed me to live my primary values more fully and ultimately brought me greater professional freedom, engagement in a more fulfilling career, and significantly more life satisfaction.

Hey that’s great, but my midlife crisis isn’t about my career …

I then began to use my values to examine my marriage, my relationships with my two sons, my sense of being over committed in other areas of my life, sibling relations, you name it. While many are still a work in progress, being in alignment with my core values has consistently resulted in deeper connections and greater contentment.

So that’s a simple example of how unconsciously denied values, when explored and identified, led to a successful career transition. Had I not clarified and articulated my values I likely would have continued in my previous career, feeling okay but not truly satisfied … and that unanswered gnawing could have resulted in a serious midlife meltdown and ruined my life.

Are you interested in better understanding how your values may be unconsciously impacting you and how to shift to greater choice in midlife? Grab a spot on my calendar for a Midlife Meetup and let’s see what’s possible!

Even the Best Days Skiing Can Be the Worst Days of Marriage

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships | No Comments

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Three tools that men can use to recover from marital face-plants

I’m pretty sure that my wife and I got to the bottom of the mountain thinking that a divorce was eminent. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but I found the situation ironic because we fell in love skiing. Amazing how unmet expectations can lead to a midlife marital blowup … even after 20 years of skiing together.

It was a blue-bird day and bitterly cold with the wind blowing temperatures down to minus 10 degrees. But we were out for the third weekend in a row backcountry skiing with our two young boys. It was the first time since our eldest was born that my wife and I had been on skis together for three consecutive weekends and we were both giddy.

Our 8-year-old is the weak link in our backcountry adventures. He’s still getting his mountain legs and tires just as the slopes start to get steep enough to be fun. On this trip he soon peters out, hits the deck, and won’t get up. I did my best to cajole him to press on, but he wasn’t buying what I was selling. So my wife was left to soothsay him to a recovery and back on his skis. But even she was challenged because he was headed toward a full-blown meltdown. I had missed out on the luscious higher slopes the week before because I had stayed behind when he was overcome by inertia in this exact same spot.

This time I ski on and catch up with our 12-year old who’s up ahead and has been shredding it on the telemark gear he got for Christmas. He’s waiting patiently but getting cold. So my wife and I agree that I will continue on with our oldest so I can get the turns that she enjoyed the previous weekend.

My eldest and I topped out about 20 minutes later, got an awesome view and the obligatory selfie, ditched our skins and pointed our skis down. Yeehaw! The snow was bliss and I was really enjoying the first true backcountry ski with my son. It was a winter highlight for me.

We soon rejoined my wife and youngest at mid-mountain. My wife was clearly agitated and her first words were a sharp “I didn’t expect that you’d be gone so long …” I heard accusation, disappointment, and blame in her tone. I felt attacked so I parried and the war of words began … it was a major marital face plant. And that’s how we ended up at the bottom of the hill far from the giddiness that started our day. But it didn’t have to go that way.

In my work with men in midlife I help men find ways to increase connection with their partners, kids, and even co-workers. On the drive home that afternoon I recalled the tools that could have avoided that mid-slope disaster. I share them with you here in the hopes that you’ll be successful should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Tool #1: Don’t Assume It’s About You

That’s often my first mistake … I take my wife’s disappointment and unmet need personally and then take responsibility for her feelings. ACK! Then I feel guilty and then I get angry, both at her for dumping her unmet expectation on me and at myself for immediately thinking I had done something wrong. Yes, she was disappointed, but remember, we had agreed that I would go up and get some turns with our oldest.

To diffuse it, I needed to recognize that her disappointment (and more importantly, what was underneath it) may not have even been about me. It turns out it wasn’t. And rather than get defensive or mount a counter attack, I needed to play the name game …

Tool #2: Name what you hear

Instead of taking it personally, I needed to reflect what I was hearing. Something like, “Huh, sounds like you had an expectation that …” Or, I could have named the tone, “I’m hearing a lot of frustration right now.”

Just identifying what’s in the space between the two of us could have diffused the situation by allowing objectivity, rather than defensiveness, to guide the conversation.

Tool #3: Be curious about what you hear

Once you name it, you can get curious about what it might be, and more importantly, what’s underneath it. So instead of defending I could have asked, “How did it go with the youngest?” Then “Oh wow, he had a complete meltdown and ranted for 15 minutes? Sounds like a nightmare! Poor you, I imagine that you must be tired/frustrated/exhausted/etc.”

From a place of curiosity I could have been much more empathetic and much less defensive.

Bonus Tool: The Repair

The repair is another great tool for marriage in midlife (or any phase!). Rather than stew on it (or avoid it), I broached the subject of our face plant during our drive home. I owned up to my part of it (immediately going on the defensive) and she, hers (forgetting to employ a soft start). We also explored what we could do differently “next time.” Thankfully we were able to repair the damages of our war of words and recover so that our family evening was salvaged.

Lesson learned: while repairs can be helpful, avoiding war in the first place is always less painful.

I hope that you found these tools useful! Have you ever found yourself regretting a response or headed pell-mell for a marital face plant? What did you do to recover? Share out in the comment section below!

 

 

Three things you can do to make America great … again.

By | Mirror, Relationships | No Comments

conflict-405744_1280Having difficult discussions with your fellow Americans can help close the rifts that keep us divided.

If America is broken, it has been for some time. Our need for safety on whatever side of the dialectic with which we agree keeps us from reaching across the aisle in our politics and across the fence in our neighborhoods. As societal complexity increases there appears to be an even greater need for an “other” on which to pin the blame for our national and global woes. We just can’t seem to understand why anyone would think “that way.”

In creating the “other” we conveniently create a scapegoat that allows us to shirk our own part in the great unraveling. I say, ENOUGH!

If we want to make America great again, we will need to stand together. We will need to roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side to uncover our shared values, understand what drives each other’s choices, and work towards a common good on multiple fronts. We need to shut off our computers, televisions, and radios and go back to a tool that past generations of Americans used to fight for truth and justice, for all.

What is that tool you might ask? A tractor? A gun? A sewing machine? No.

The tool I’m referring to is conversation, the kind that occurs face-to-face. Perhaps it’s only wistful thinking but it seems in times past that American’s used to have conversations with each other, around a kitchen table, or on a porch, or in a living room. Conversations with neighbors were about difficult subjects like slavery, taxes, war, or women’s suffrage; they’d have discussions even when opinions differed. American’s would share thoughts and ideas in common places where people could come together to talk, tell stories, and create relationships of understanding, even if the understanding was that there were agreed upon differences.

In a recent conversation I had with musician, author, and master of difficult dialogues, Libby Roderick, we explored ways that American’s can come together again as individuals to rid ourselves of the shadow “other.” It will require having difficult dialogues. It will require exploration of topics on which we may not see eye to eye. But this is the way to healing and the way to make our great nation whole again.

What does this have to do with men in midlife you might ask? A lot actually. As men in midlife we often hold leadership roles within our community, at our workplaces, within professional organizations, non-profits, and places of worship. As leaders we need to step up and initiate these conversations rather than stick to the safe talk about the weather or sports.

If you feel called, below are three things to consider when starting your own journey of understanding through conversations with your family, friends, or neighbors.

Clarify the ground rules

Before having a crucial conversation it is important to provide a set of mutually agreeable ground rules. Such rules increase the likelihood of civil discourse and reduce potential for an unraveling of civility. Having ground rules is an important step to build a safe environment for people to engage openly and fully. These ground rules can be developed prior to the conversation and can be found online (such as these excellent examples from New Hampshire’s Rye Public Library and LivingRoom Conversations). You might also begin a conversation by asking each participant to share a couple of things they need to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

Share experiences, not opinions or positions

When having a potentially difficult conversation the goal is to get an understanding of how a person has arrived at their position or opinion. By understanding the unique situation of the other participants you understand their story and their human experience. You get a sense of their underlying shared humanity. The goal of conversation is understanding, not to convince others of your position or to convert them to your perspective.

Get curious

Seek understanding through clarifying questions. To be clear, “What the f*ck were you thinking?” and “Why are you such a spineless whiner?” are not clarifying questions. What is it about their family history, their social status, their life challenges that have defined their values and made them who they are? What is it about their unique life experiences that might unlock greater understanding of possible shared goals? This understanding might then allow for collaborative work towards mutual goals for common good.

The word “discussion” has its roots in Latin and means “to shake apart.” When we approach each other with curiosity and civility we can shake up our preconceived notions of the “other” and piece together a reality based on personal story and mutual understanding. Our country is made stronger by our differences, but only when they are understood as coming from our fellow Americans not some faceless “other” who can be easily vilified and condemned as an enemy.

Stand strong together America. Let’s start the discussion!

Have you ever had a crucial conversation unravel or succeed beyond your expectations? Share out about your experience, what worked and what didn’t, in the comment section below.

Be A Man And Tell Her How You Feel, Damn It! Three Tips That Strengthen Connection and Lead to Better Sex With Your Partner

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

midlife_couch

On a recent full moon I was in a grumpy mood, sleeping in my home office, unable to connect with my wife. I’m sometimes like that around the full moon, either slightly off and not as outgoing and engaging or sometimes fully disengaged and needing time apart. Whoever says it’s just women that are affected by the pull of that great, beautiful orb should talk with my wife. She’ll give them an ear full.

It’s often the time that the wife and I have our biggest rows too. Not that we have any knock-down drag-outs or anything, but heated words have been exchanged by the light of the moon. Usually, they’re followed by repairing apologies and a warm embrace after things cool off. She’s become a bit wary of the full moon; maybe I’m a beware-wolf.

During this most recent full-moon episode things she would do really agitated me and I found myself pretty annoyed by her. What really drove me crazy though was that I couldn’t figure out what it was that was bothering me. I knew it wasn’t the small things she was doing, they were just the symptom of something bigger. But I couldn’t figure out what that bigger thing was.

 

Tip 1: Sometimes a guy just needs some time in the cave …

So that’s where I went, for four nights, to my man cave. Getting away is an important way to get clarity, and it doesn’t have to be out of the house or out of state. Just sleeping in another room can break some of the bedroom patterns that distract you from focusing on what’s going on inside yourself. You know the old patterns … Are we going to have sex tonight or will she want to be held? Can I sleep any farther away from her without falling out of bed? Can she feel that the silence between us weighs 16 tons?

Sleeping alone can help to get clear of these distracting patterns. It can also help you get a good night’s sleep which helps clarity and mood.

Tip 2: Give the head a break … try out another center of intelligence.

To be clear I’m talking about giving both of your heads a break. The other centers of intelligence I’m referring to are your heart and your gut. Science is confirming what eastern cultures have known for millennia, our guts and our heart are separate centers of intelligence. Both have their own neural networks and are capable of processing information apart from the brain.

And as men, we’ve been given no end of erroneous social conditioning that what makes us men is our logic and a tight reign on our emotions. We’ve been cut off from two important sources of corporeal information. For emotional intelligence, the heart can’t be beat (that’s not really intended to be a pun).

I couldn’t really think about what was bothering me, because it wasn’t something in my head. In fact, thinking about it just made it worse because thoughts would swirl around and the same old internal playbacks about our relationship challenges would come up, play back, rewind, replay. That wasn’t helpful at all.

So I just tried to breath. I focussed on where in my body my angst or broodiness was hanging out. And I found it in my heart. So I asked my heart, “Okay, so, what’s this about?” The information I got back was a surprise … I was frustrated by not being “seen” by my wife.

Whoa, dude, did you just share that on your blog? WTF?! You’re supposed to be a man … men don’t … Yeah, actually men do talk about what’s in their heart, especially with the people that they love. You can look to spiritual sages like Christ or Buddha as guides for how to be a heartfelt warrior.

If men don’t share what’s going on it’s because they haven’t yet developed the tools or because they’re too chicken shit to get real. Just saying.

Yeah, and so I was having this conversation with myself about what my heart was feeling about not being seen by my wife. It was like this, I had been doing all of this work around my transition full-time to men’s work, processing realizations from a kick ass men’s retreat I went to a couple of months ago, doing research for my blog, yadda yadda. Massive change was going on with me. But my wife was totally caught up in her stuff: being in grad school, volunteering, working … and she had stopped asking about what was going on over here, with me. (She’d only read one of my blogs … ouch.)

Tip 3: Just tell her how you feel damn it! (This is where the better sex comes in.)

Well, I am a guy, and it felt pretty awkward to try and have this conversation with her. It sounded a little weird to tell my wife that I wasn’t feeling seen, or that I didn’t feel like she was interested in what I was doing. And that lack of interest and attention was creating distance in our relationship and (ironically) causing me to withdraw. Whoa. How was sharing that going to come across?

I needed to get over my resistance to sharing and push through to a conversation. I had to get over my entanglement with the perceived social stigma of being a heartfelt man (no, I’m not a wuss) … I had to stop listening to my internal saboteurs that were ridiculing me for wanting to be seen and appreciated by my wife (nope, I wasn’t being egotistical or a wuss) … and I had to push through the ridiculous mind trap that “men don’t need,” and that we just have to buck up and go it alone (seriously, I wasn’t being needy or egotistical or a wuss). And after all that, I realized what I was wanting was connection, not isolation.

So with all of that personal heavy lifting done and having thrown off the shackles of isolation, I sat down with her and we talked about what had been going on with me. She listened as I worked my way through what I had been reflecting on over the past four days in my man cave. We both apologized and we laughed about how busy we both were, but realized together how important it is for each to feel seen and appreciated.

In the end we came away with a better understanding of each other, a closer connection, and a commitment to greater awareness of each other’s needs. And yes, totally intimate and awesome sex came about as a result of that stronger connection. Hey guys, this stuff really works!

Have you had an experience where you were unable to communicate a need? Ever felt trapped in your head over something that was going on in your heart? Share it out in the comment section below!

 
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