I was recently interviewed on Maryanne Live!, a radio show that asks experts for “insights and common-sense truths” about life. This time, it was Maryanne who delivered the most intriguing insight. She asked me:“Barbara, is America going through a midlife crisis?”
I hadn’t thought about it like that, but when I did, I realized Maryanne was on to something. No matter your politics, there’s no denying that our country has hit a rough patch. We’re acting out. We’re dreading an uncertain future. We’re struggling to find our place in the world, and struggling even more to figure out how we can make a difference.
The more I thought about it, the more I saw parallels between our country and my middlescent clients. Look at the numbers: At 241 years old as a country, we’re not young. But we’re certainly not old either. We’re in that awkward middle stage, with the potential to get hijacked by emotion or determined by our commitment to make our country better.
So I told Maryanne, “The answer is yes.” Since then, I’ve been asking myself a different question: What are we going to do about it? The coaching tools and strategies I offer my clients apply now more than ever. Here are three tips that will help our country as we help ourselves:
Three Tips for Overcoming Our National Midlife Crisis
1. Be Wise
Whether we’re talking about one person or three hundred million, it’s critical that we don’t lose track of our history. Wisdom is born of experience, and we’ve got plenty of experience to go around. Can you believe the Civil Rights Movement was only about 50 years ago? That means that just about every current middlescent was alive when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. peacefully overcame obstacles that had been ingrained over centuries. To overlook the wisdom of experience in our citizens, and our experience as a country, is to overlook one of our greatest resources. That’s not in anyone’s best interest.
The sense of crisis in the air breeds fear, which in turn, makes things chaotic and confusing. Finding our way to clarity is paramount. In a recent letter to the Obamas I encouraged them to plant their guideposts deeply. That means taking some time to consider what it is you most care about, and focus on how those important things will drive our choices. Behaving in accordance with our values creates a kind of compass that points us towards a life of truth, compassion and courage. Just as important: it points us away from the toxic distractions that seem to be lurking at every turn.
Once we’ve channeled the wisdom born of our personal experiences and the history of our country, once we’ve derived clarity from identifying what values we hold, we must peacefully, purposefully and practically engage for good. I often tell clients not to get hung up on finding some monumental sense of purpose—but instead, to engage with the sense of purpose they feel resonates right now. Big things are happening at the highest levels of government, and that can make it feel impossible to make a difference as a regular person.
But you don’t have to pass federal legislation or organize a million-person demonstration to engage with the world. If there’s a cause you care about, spread the word. If there’s a person you care about, offer them some help in whatever capacity you can. Our character as a nation is defined by millions of small acts by regular people, even more than by a few large acts by those in power.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
- Martin Luther King
At our very best, the US is a melting pot. We the people are the ingredients, and together we continue to create the secret sauce that has made us so great: Be Wise. Be Clear. Be Engaged.
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