The Sec­ond Half of Life

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

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