…says a mother to her son. He was 40 years old and had no idea what she was talking about, but he knew he didn’t like it.

My friend shared this with me in a Seoul restaurant. As we had facilitated /translated emotional intelligence together over some years, he had clearly started to apply some of the reflection skills for himself. He became aware that at times he had certain feelings in his stomach that he did not understand and that until now he just pushed down. Suppressed. Gagged.

As he started to pay attention to them, he realised the feelings were not all the same, and that they could sit there without the need to push them away. They weren’t always useless. He then started to differentiate between them. The penny dropped, and at the age of 40, he realised he had emotions.

He started to name them, and noticed they could occur together, and even contradict each other.
He’d tried to tell his friends, but he got two types of responses: complete non-recognition, as if he spoke another language , or laughter and ridicule.

So the person he tells is from outside his culture. The good news is he is still learning at 40.

For an older man, how did this begin? The trigger was a comment from his mum that got to him. For me, it was the death of a close mate in the Christchurch earthquake that forced me to address my attachments. For others, its being threatened to lose their job (redundancy/redeployment), a workplace injury.

But men, confronting challenges at 50 – is that always crisis-driven? I think we’ve lost touch with the stages of adult development. Vaillant describes them:

  1. Identity / Separating from parents (social, economic and values independence)
  2. Attaching to a life partner/network (intimacy or isolation)
  3. Career consolidation (competence, compensation, satisfaction, parenting)
  4. Generativity or stagnation (reinvention, life review, retirement planning mentoring others) – and its here many men get stuck – unable to take the risk
  5. Wisdom / Guardianship

The challenges with these models are always about their dynamics:

  • successful completion of each stage
  • impact of non or partial completion.
  • premature commencement of a stage,
  • the stress of coping with overlapping stages

What we see, from men particularly, are careers commenced without the independence or intimacy to support it, 30 year careers that are suddenly thrown into reinvention, without any idea what that is.

For my friend, it began from the beginning – successfully or not marking independence from parents and growing awareness of emotions / intimacy.

Men don’t need to remain stuck. Stages can be facilitated with the right help. Men need to be reintroduced to developing more than their corporate skills without needing a crisis, or the stigma of embarrassment or ridicule.

How does your company target your corporate training menu on these issues?

How will you finish your working life? Will you still be building and creating, or floating to old age like a twig on the ebb tide? Those last 10 years of work are not the slow down they once were. The old narrative was that these were the glory years – working, living on kudos, building up wealth, kid-free independence, enjoy the grandkids, give them back, second honeymoon or even second marriage. These days there is still a lot to do – pay off debt, build financial security, see off the kids, stay employed.

And at 50 that may be harder than it looks. Redundancy, redeployment may force your hand to come up with something else – but what else? What could you do apart from what you are doing now? How much do you love what you are doing now anyway? In the meantime, just hang in there?

‘Hanging in there’ sounds a lot like hoping – and hope is not a strategy. What is your back-up plan? You need one for these reasons. Your employment is not secure like it was. Getting another job at 50 is a challenge for all 50 yr olds. Maybe you don’t love what you do anymore – you’re even more vulnerable now.

Its time to come up with something else – now – while you are working, while you are secure. You’ve got 50 good reasons to start something – something that you will really love to do, that is maybe not conventional but more rewarding, developed in the safety of your current job. And it may take time. Start now.

Solve a problem. Back yourself.

“Oh the pain, the pain”. Channeling Dr Zachary Smith, from the 60s TV show Lost in Space. Our archetypal languishing man. Outwardly well-meaning, able to enjoy the strengths of family.

Inwardly desperate and dependent. “I didn’t intend to end up here. I’m a fraud. Who will save me?”  Unable to learn, but able to steal a benefit. Reward for laziness, for sponging. Learning the wrong lessons.

Who will you be when the moment arrives? The trapped technical specialist – an expert, but so bitter, people avoid you, and your skill worthless. An indulged executive – redundant, shocked and suddenly over-qualified?

Suddenly Pain. I thought I was immune from that. Its always been there. Just not listened to. Start listening.