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Changing One’s Course in Midlife

September 03, 2011   •   By Master Hobbit

Posted under: Mind, Spirit, Lifestyle, Relationships


Changing One’s Course in Midlife

I find that as a midlife man, I value autonomy more and more. I chose the word autonomy over a word that at first seems quite similar - independence.  I felt that in some sense there was a real difference between the two, one that I wanted to use. 


As part of my pre-writing reading, I Google these two words to see if any meaningful differences had been discussed elsewhere and came upon an interesting discussion of these two ideas from a blog called Be In Wonder, discussing motherhood and her goals as a parent.  In the spirit of not re-inventing the wheel and giving due credit, I will quote directly a few lines from her blog (which seems to have been dormant since 2008).


“Eric Berne wrote that “autonomy is manifested by the release or recovery of three capacities: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy.”

Independence, as defined by, refers to ‘freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.’ Another, more scientific definition, found at, describes independence as a state in which ‘no relationship ... (between two or more variables) is observed.’


The first notable difference is that in a state of independence, the element of relationship can be -- and in a scientific instance is necessarily -- removed. In contrast, relationship is central to the state of autonomy.”


After arguing that relationship (non-independence) was essential to the exercise of autonomy, she concludes with the following:


“Therefore, it is safe to assume that autonomy cannot be achieved or demonstrated in isolation of relationship.”


What is my point in taking this long way to get to my discussion for today?  I am not trying to be an island separate and unrelated to other ‘islands’, or a ‘rock that feels no pain’ – couldn’t resist the Simon and Garfunkel classic here.


When I speak of autonomy, I am talking about the capacity to determine the engagements, commitments, and yes, the relationships I get involved with, and maintain.  And this would include the power to disengage from those very same things when it seems the best thing to do.


It is summed up as the power to choose, and un-choose. It seems easier to choose a commitment than it does to un-choose one.  At least that seems to be the case for me.  I’m a guy who prides himself in fulfilling commitments, even stupid ones, and being ‘a man of my word’.


About a year ago I chose to get involved in authoring a textbook with some former colleagues.  Now, there is inside me somewhere a desire to do something like that someday, so I was at least vaguely interested.  The initial conversations left me with the impression that it was a 50-50 proposition of happening at all, and that if it did get approved by the publisher, it would take awhile to unfold.  I was not thrilled about the content but signed on for a third-author role.


Within a month or so, the publisher agreed to the proposal and deadlines were set and contracts signed.  I was immediately uncomfortable with the commitment.  What should have been the beginning of a success had somehow turned into a burden.  The burden was more mental than anything else, though the writing was no little matter.


As the deadline moved closer, I became more frustrated about the project.  I probably spent more time thinking about the project than actually writing for it – a clear sign that something is just plain wrong with the whole thing.


About a month or so before the deadline, I informed my lead author that I was not going to make the deadline and proposed a few options to him.  One of these options was to drop me from the project altogether and I would just give him the content I had already written, uncredited.


In the end, we reduced my commitment to a single-chapter, removing me as co-author, and giving me an extension to even complete that.  While I would have preferred to just walk away, I did feel some obligation to my colleagues.


Immediately after the new agreement, I noticed a lifting of spirit and a restoration of energy in my life and work.  I regret taking so long to change my commitment on this project.  Old habits are hard to break.


I often hear the phrase ‘Life is short’. It’s used to refer to the importance of doing what we really want to be doing with our lives.  I’ve used it myself quite frequently.  Life really IS short for each of us.


At midlife, we really begin to feel the practical truth of this statement and why I think autonomy becomes more and more important to us.  It is part of that ‘crisis’ some of us feel as we age and struggle to re-order our lives accordingly. 


Not all choices are created equal.  Some will matter in eternity, I believe, and others will, well, matter much less.


For my part, I want to be more careful when it comes to choosing my commitments and be more willing to change course when I’ve made a mistake. I don't have time to be screwing around with things that just don't grab me as they should, whatever the reason.


I am not a rock or an island, and really have no desire to be such.  I do want to fill my days with those commitments, those activities, that I value and that bring the most value to my relatively small world of influence.

Read More About: choices transitions legacy

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About the Author: Master Hobbit

Master Hobbit is the creator of 4060men. After a marriage of over 30 years ended in divorce, he journeyed for over 5 years as a single midlife man. He remarried in 2012. He is also the owner of the blog platform,, and a blog platform review site,

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