Money, Meaning and the Story of Life’s Two Halves

What is a normal goal to a young person becomes a neurotic hindrance in old age. – Carl Jung

This post draws from the book – Falling Upwards – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. I came across the book by chance. To be clear, this book has nothing to do with money. At least that’s what I initially thought. As I got deeper into it, what captured my attention was how the idea of life being divided into “two halves” actually had direct parallels in our money lives. More about that in a moment.

Condensing the book’s main message is a bit tricky, but I’ll do my best. Life is divided into two halves (not related directly to age). Each half has specific traits and tasks. Here’s a summary for each:

Traits: Kids, careers, competence, consuming. This is the outbound stage of life
Task: Building a strong “container”. By container the author means identity. We build an identity in the first-half to support our deeper journey in the second-half. To quote the book When you get your “Who am I?” question right, all the “What should I do?” questions tend to take care of themselves.

The author’s point is that building the “container” is not life’s end game. We invest so much in doing this work that we may not think anything important could exist beyond it. As stated in the book the two halves are cumulative and sequential.  If the first-half is about the tangible, the second-half moves beyond the tangible to embrace life’s mystery. Here’s more about the second-half:

Traits: Simplicity, completeness, meaning, being. This is the coming home stage of life
Task: “Filling” the container we built in the first-half. By filling the container, the author is referring to our quest for deeper meaning.

A central idea of the book is that for many of us, the way up starts by going down (hence the title of the book). Going down simply means letting go of first-half pursuits. One of the author’s key messages is this – we can’t move into life’s second-half until we complete our first-half work. This is where we struggle. Part of the problem as he points out is we live in a first-half of life culture.

On this point there’s a direct personal finance parallel. My realization in reading this book was that the first-half/second-half arc of life has a corresponding one in our financial lives. I’ll lay out what I see as the financial traits/task of the two halves:

Traits: Cars, houses, income, accumulation
Task: Building our financial “container” i.e. our financial foundation

Traits: Living on the financial foundation we created in the first-half
Task: Pursuing deeper meaning, free of financial worries

A first-half/second-half perspective provides insight for our financial lives. A few examples come to mind:

Dealing with debt. For most, the lifetime supply of money is limited. People in the first-half may not feel this limitation but as we move towards the second-half, money starts to take on a more finite quality. Access to easy credit has helped to dull this realization. Escaping the debt trap is a first-half task yet we see the opposite happening. Statistics show that one of the fastest growing cohort of debtors is people over 55

The “Financial Fall”: Some who get stuck in first-half pursuits are only “freed” by a financial setback. For example, job loss, illness, insolvency or divorce. Surprisingly, this is often a good thing. Some of the most contented people I know are the ones who were forced to re-evaluate their lives due to financial limitation! Minus the non-essential, their lives are now filled by the things that matter most

The Active Path: The voluntary approach to preparing for the second-half is always the preferred one. Drawing from my experience as a Money Coach, some of the worst suffering I witness arises in two situations, both of which occur on the eve of the second-half:

Those who realize they have not completed their first-half work
Those who risk second-half wellbeing by refusing to let go of first-half pursuits

The second-half of life is the most fulfilling (sorry first-halfers). Ask everyone in the second-half who’s done their first-half work and he/she will agree. This assertion is captured in this Native American aphorism – No wise man ever wanted to be younger. For first-halfers, the message regarding money and meaning is clear – start building your containers now.
For those in the second-half, a question. Whether you call it arc, stages or seasons, things are about to change. Are there corresponding shifts you should make in your financial life?

Steve Demaray is the founder of the Personal Money Coach Money and an advocate for money clarity.  Steve guides growth-minded people through a money life shift that transforms stress and frustration into simplicity and freedom. He has successfully coached people from Vancouver, Canada to Sydney, Australia and countless places in between.