The first half of life is a time of accumulation: acquiring knowledge, learning skills, gaining experience, raising a family, building a career. But in the second half, the experience of our earlier years should bring the wisdom to know what is important and the desire to concentrate on what matters most. And that always involves letting go: simplifying our lives, doing fewer things better, turning away from the thousand and one activities with which all of us experiment in our younger years and which we have learned are, at best, blind alleys.
In this sense, the second half of life begins when we’re ready to put aside the toys we have been playing with and focus our experience, vitality, and skills on what matters most. This has nothing to do with age; it means we’re done playing: we have learned that what really matters is within us, and that every contribution we can make to life is enhanced if we turn inwards. Merely understanding this could transform our society, which is wasting the resources of millions of people in the second half of life with skills and resources the world needs.
Most of us are still active at this stage of life, perhaps even at the zenith of a career. We have experience, skills, and a measure of wisdom in our field. Simplifying and focusing our lives often releases even more energy and creativity. It isn’t practical to learn detachment by retiring into a forest hermitage like those ancient sages; we need to work. The secret is to work for a goal far loftier than ourselves, preferably with others, in a job that benefits society without compensation, reward, or even recognition.
To me, this means that the second half of life is a triumph. This is when life really begins: a time for creativity and fulfillment in giving back to life from our rich accumulation of experience, wisdom, and resources. When we continue to live for ourselves alone, we are depriving society of this precious legacy. It always pleases me to see so many of my friends giving back to life what they have gained: medical and legal professionals making second careers of community service, for example, or business people donating skills and resources to support nonprofit work such as ours. In fact, looking back, I can see with some surprise that this is what I did myself when I retired from education for degrees to begin my own second career: education for living.
– Eknath Easwaran