Midlife Years: Job vs Vocation

by Peter Milhado PHD on December 25, 2018

There are not too many mid-lifers who are at times not concerned about an impoverished retirement or worse (i.e. having a fantasy of pushing a shopping cart around).  The economic reality for most of us is that we have to work almost all of our lives.

Sisyphus was punished by the gods.  He had to push a stone uphill, watch it roll back down and push it up again for eternity.  More and more people in our highly technical society feel this way about their work and get up every morning with dread.  Often we leave our true selves behind when we enter the workplace, put on a mask and become who the corporation, or the boss wants us to be.  We follow directions from ‘above’ even when we don’t believe they will yield the desired results.  Sometimes we protect our superiors even when they don’t deserve our respect.  We look away from ethical violations and collude with others in a conspiracy of silence (Zweig).

We give up individuality to fit the mold at great expense to us.  Then we come home and impose our resentment on our families or repress our feelings via alcohol, food and television etc.

What to do?  Well, I’ve seen some folks who’ve decided to take off their masks of passive compliance and enter the workplace being more authentic and genuine with their feelings, thoughts and actions with considerable success.  It’s obviously a risk, but the pay off is equally high as soul re-enters their working life.  Others, because of their responsibilities, feel they have to stay in an unrewarding job and find soul elsewhere – in friendship, family and community.  This gets tricky, however, especially when we sacrifice our deeper creative self to neurotic fears and anxieties for safety and security.  Still others take a leap of faith, face their fears and look for work elsewhere.  The best circumstances for this change is when it is not done purely on impulse, when no stone has been left unturned to make the present job more soulful and when other possibilities have been well researched.

James Hollis Ph.D. differentiates between a job and a vocation.  A job is strictly here to earn money to meet economic demands and retirement is usually longed for, like an oasis in the desert.  A vocation is a ‘calling’ – what we are called to do.  It is a process of individuation (talked about in prior articles).  We do not really choose a vocation; rather it seems to choose us.  If we don’t respond to our ‘calling’ some form of damage to the soul occurs, and it is in mid-life that suffering over this issue becomes acute.  That is why more people make more profound changes in mid-life than at any other time.  The greatest inner creative unfolding is possible in the middle years.

There are many people, who at best for awhile, have a job to meet the escalating economic demands.  They might drive a cab, deliver morning papers, work in a coffee shop and after work pursue their calling which might be playing music, painting studying acting, going to school for forestry, taking a creative writing course etc.  It is in the pursuit of our ‘calling’ that our souls get replenished.  The ‘search for meaning’ can be greatly satisfied when our ‘calling’ comes knocking on our door and we say ‘yes’.

Sometimes we don’t know what our ‘calling’ is, therefore we periodically have to ask ourselves, “What am I called to do?”.  Then we humbly wait and listen to our dreams, daydreams, visions, feelings, intuitions and passions to arise from within.

Of course when the call comes, we have to be willing to sacrifice our ego comforts and security and pay our dues, which all vocations require.  It takes courage and is often painful, but not as painful as regretting that we have failed to answer the call and are stuck in inertia, boredom and despair.

Our calling allows us to become more fully ourselves.  “The soul has its needs, which are often not served well by paychecks and perks.” (Hollis)  Relinquishing securities and the status quo might be fulfilling, but in this case the fullness of our courage is equally important to the goodness of our hearts.

One for all and all for one. Love to Mother Meera

Peter Milhado © 2018


Midlife’s Main Confrontation: Persona vs. Shadow

by Peter Milhado PHD on October 25, 2018

All of us wear masks at different times.  For example, we are one way at work, different with our friends, still different with our lovers, children, mothers in law, etc… Our masks, or in modern parlance our Personas, are usually developed to gain affirmation and acceptance in the outside world i.e. ‘Nice Guy’, ‘Good Girl’, ‘Loyal Employee’, ‘Humanitarian Boss’, ‘Compassionate Therapist’, ‘Super Mom’ etc.  Even those who are oppositional by disposition and wear the Personas of ‘Rebel’, ‘Loner’, “Macho Individualist’, ‘I don’t need anybody Career Woman’ are only wearing reactive personalities not yet healed from brutal, early authority conflicts.  I’m especially leery of those who boisterously announce, “I’m up front, I tell it like it is!” “I don’t pull any punches.” “I am always honest.”  Their claim to ‘candor’ is often a disguise for rage, cruelty and a need for control over others.  Despotic control is always a compensation for tremendous feelings of inferiority, unworthiness and often feeling unlovable.

Profiles for Personas are formed early in life, primarily to manage fear and anxiety and often are reactions to early trauma, including responses to childhood authoritative figures (parents, religious institutions, teachers…). There are three unconscious responses to early overwhelming authority figures: (1) obedience (2) defiance (3) passive- aggressiveness± i.e. “I will do the dishes at three o’clock”(fearful obedience).  At three o’clock “Oh I forgot”  (cowardly defiance).  Personas only fake individuality – they’re a compromise between our individual needs and the demands of society and authority figures.

I don’t mean to trash Personas per se, because they are a reality of life for all of us.  I certainly behaved differently at a seminar with colleagues last Saturday morning, than I did with my comrades around the campfire that same night.  As always, the critical point is consciousness.  Once we reach mid-life we are strongly requested to become fully aware what Personas we are wearing and especially what our motivation is for wearing them.  Overall, the need for wearing Personas lessens and lessens as we get older, there is something bigger going on in our psyches than our Personas.  If we’re unconscious of our Personas we become neurotic like the 24 hours a day ‘dutiful daughter’ ‘misunderstood artist’ ‘compliant city council member’ ‘selfless minister’…


When we hit 40, the capacity for self-deception is exhausted.  If self-deception continues, there is hell to pay!  In midlife a radical change needs to take place, because the depressions, anxieties and general suffering are a summons to move from the Persona to authenticity.  Nobody but ourselves can save us from ourselves – the main enemy is always WITHIN. The answer is simple – take a long, deep and genuine look in the mirror… again and again and again and again.  Of course this whole initiation ritual is advisable only for those who have some inner authority already.  The company of a fellow pilgrim, who knows about the ‘night sea journey’, is strongly recommended.

This pilgrimage is hard and painful, but if you hang in there…keep on looking…there is soul there.  If we can eventually cop to our own weaknesses, fears, dependencies, manipulation, power plays, cruel streaks etc. something incredible happens.  Many of our psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, somatic complaints lessen or vanish.  Our ‘Shadow’ is not something we can choose to have; it’s there just like our noses and feet.

Persona vs. Shadow Confrontation

Look at it from an energy viewpoint.  The amount of energy we put into our Personas looking industrious, entertaining, responsible, good or oppositional, macho, non-needy, and rebellious, is absolutely awesome.  Doing ‘Inner Shadow Work’ liberates all of this energy to live a much more soulful and creative life.  We become free to live according to our natural self, no longer living up to or impetuously opposing the demands and expectations of others, or how we ought to live.

As I am writing this I just remembered criticisms from two old friends of mine, Mountain Man Leo and Seminary James ( AKA Los Cabos Jaime).  According to them, my recent articles have been “too heady” and “ too intellectual”.  “You’re losing touch with the people, brother, who I thought you were writing it for to begin with.”  “Keep it simple, amigo!”  I believe they were gentle with me this time (which is not always the case).   In reality they probably felt I was on my soapbox, a bit arrogant, yet affirmation seeking, self-serving and ego strutting.  Of course, all of these traits are in my personal Shadow’s agenda. The Shadow is both powerful and tricky and even though I’ve been doing this work for many moons, I still get overrun more times than I like to admit.  Shadow work is a lifelong commitment; like the poet said, “Imagine Sisyphus happy!”… Here we go again.


When we run with our Personas in the first half of life to meet the demands of our parents, culture and religious institutions, we’ve pushed away and repressed large portions of our personalities.  To make it in the outer world, we neglect our inner world and in midlife we pay the price, as our suffering becomes acute.  The neglected parts of our souls (Levinson calls them ‘other voices in other rooms’) start screaming, if we can only hear!

When we repress sensitivity it shows up as sugarcoated sentimentality  or numbness; when we repress anger it shows up as passive- aggressiveness, cruelty and/or depression; when we repress spontaneity it shows up as boredom; when we repress creativity it shows up as inertia and resentment.

The shadow not only includes our unacknowledged negative characteristics; it also includes our repressed positive traits and creativity.  The shadow embodies all which has not been allowed expression.  Here is a major point in mid-life psychology!  The negative shadow has to be owned first, before our positive shadow and creativity can show up.  This appears in nighttime dreams when the threatening, power driven, ruthless characters are slowly replaced by strong, humanitarian, creative and helpful characters.  When we own our darkest impulses we gain new energy and get our creativity back!  Bingo!  That’s it – no mas!  Only when we begin to tap our repressed potential do we free ourselves from  the agenda of others!  The more we know  ourselves, our masks and our dark side, including scars, blemishes and warts, the richer our life will be.  It’s about wholeness, not about perfection!

One for all and all for one. Love to Mother Meera

Peter Milhado © 2018



Midlife Years: Reflections on Midlife Affairs

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No one can do our soul work for us and from mid-life on, soul work includes the search for meaning.  Only when we stop expecting our spouses to bring meaning to our lives can we begin to tap our own potential.  If our primary measures of self-worth and security depend solely on the affirmation and [...]

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Midlife Years: Relationships

July 10, 2018

Because so much hope and so much need is invested in our relationships, the opportunity for disappointment is tremendous.  Most marriages who even make it to mid-life are under great strain.  It is pretty amazing, for those who can admit it, to realize that the enormity of such choices as picking a marriage partner were [...]

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True Guilt, False Guilt & Sociopaths

May 25, 2018

There are people who never experience guilt. They are not, however, the lucky ones nor do we want to be around them.  The inability to feel guilt is the basic flaw of sociopaths, who are truly ‘empty souls’.  In this article I’m not writing about the criminal sociopath, who makes newspaper headlines and commits the [...]

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Reflections on Innocence

November 3, 2017

There are quite a few people who are tremendously influenced by the archetype of Innocence.  After all, we are born as innocents, aren’t we?  People who believe in reincarnation might argue that point, but I’ll hang with Sheldon Kopp on this one.  He takes the ‘concept of reincarnation’ to be a symbol of the many [...]

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I Don’t Want to Be Part of This Revolution if I Can’t Dance

October 3, 2017

Are you a Fool?  For God’s sake let’s hope so, because it is the Fool inside of us who lives more in the ‘here and now’ than any of the many of our ‘inner personalities’.  The Fool inside doesn’t care whether we’re good looking enough, healthy enough, wealthy enough, working hard enough, smart enough, man [...]

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Reflections on Creativity

September 3, 2017

When we’re involved in a creative task, there is a sense of time. Being fully in the now is a blessing that keeps our soul alive, because in that moment we are in touch with the eternal, we hone into home.  Matisse said, “I believe in God when I’m working.”  The great mystic William Blake [...]

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Are You Afraid of Your Own Shadow?

August 2, 2017

In the darkness of anything external to me, I find an interior psychic life that is my own. (C.G. Jung) One of the most painful and rewarding experiences in life is to unblinkingly look in the mirror and see who we really are, not who we would like to be.  There we truly stand alone; [...]

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Where Is Your Passion?

December 12, 2015

“What Fascinates and Terrifies At The Same Time Is The Way Of The Soul” -Unknown Poet   Obviously this statement doesn’t suggest that we act out some form of neurotic or deviant obsession, nor is it a call to sell the farm and hightail it to Tahiti with a 22-year-old.  This poetic line refers to [...]

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