After a long, long year, its springtime, and at last, we’re starting to take a deep breath and sigh out a big collective exhale. I can hear it when I venture out into my beloved garden and the morning birdsong greets me, somehow more noticeable and joyous than in the past. I can hear it in the voices of friends and family I’m so happy to see again finally and maybe even embrace. Moments of joy, after so much isolation, fear –so much stuck-ness. This spring, as vaccinations roll out and pandemic restrictions lift, there is a visceral sense of rebirth and hope.

As we begin to embrace new possibilities, new horizons, new ways of being and living, it’s also essential to recognize how the pandemic leaves us changed, emerging into a different season in our lives. One where we’ll keep masks at the ready, and one, more significantly, in which we now know the old rules no longer apply.

Thank goodness we’ve arrived here. It’s indeed an exhale-worthy time, but it is also daunting. We are fearful about re-entry, about falling back into old habits that didn’t serve us then and certainly don’t now. To “emerge” is an active verb—it requires effort, implies change. And it demands that we don’t let old mindsets hold us back.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

For poet Mary Oliver, emergence (and its sister practices, wonder, and reverence) was her way of being in the world. She was attentive to wild geese and “a certain sharpness to the morning air.” And always, always, she came back to one central question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

In speaking with clients, I find that some form of Oliver’s question typically lies at the heart of our work. It did for Debbie, a recently married physician in her early 50’s, who, by all measures, looked successful from the outside. Purposeful and rewarding work ✓. Financial security ✓. Meaningful relationships ✓. But when she took the Five to Thrive Quiz© Debbie rated in the Blah Zone.

After working with hundreds of people over the past year, I know that many of us have gotten a taste of what the Blah Zone feels like. But for Debbie, it was more existential than circumstantial. Professionally, she felt burnt out from soul-crushing administrative demands that diminished her patient and personal care energy. After decades of longing for a soulmate, she questioned whether marriage and the sacrifices it demanded were all they were cracked up to be. Debbie’s MOJO was at an all-time low, while her stress was at an all-time high. And when she looked around, she saw many of her peers languishing in a similar Blah Zone. So, this must be midlife, she surmised. It is what it is. I’m too committed to these choices. It’s too late to change anything.

I’ve spent most of my career listening to people like Debbie—those at the midpoint of their lives who find themselves in a spot more Blah than where they imagined and hoped they’d be. People are trying to make sense of how they got stuck and where to go from here. However, I believe that to call this a crisis is holdover language associated with the old rules.

But those are the old rules: The myth of midlife—crisis and all.

Emergence is a whole other, beautiful, spring-like, wild, and precious way to think about it.

In his recent book, Think Again, Adam Grant describes how fraught it can be when we realize old rules no longer serve us: “Reconsidering something we believe deeply can threaten our identities, making it feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves.” Or, as Terry, another client, said so well, “Once you reach midlife, there is a sticky commitment to conformity that cements you into place.”

It’s hard to break free from the myth that we should have things figured out by midlife that we should be well established on our course and sailing toward some fantasy sunset. Instead, why not aim for the sunrise? New rules for a new day may break you out of the Blah Zone and toward thriving.

The spring is the perfect time to ask yourself:

Given all I’ve learned in the past year, what do I want to do with my one wild and precious life?

I know it’s not easy to dismantle myths, let go of excuses and rationalizations, and settle for Blah. But I also know, with utmost clarity, that midlife may be one of the richest, most potential-filled times of your life. Are you ready to emerge beyond old myths and into that reality? If so, my recent TEDx talk offers some glimpses into what that can look like.

It’s time to dismantle the Myth.


The Future of Resilient Leadership

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