Awak­en­ing your vo­ca­tion in the af­ter­noon of life

The af­ter­noon of life refers to a stage of ma­tu­rity where we feel like this time has passed or must pass, and a new time is be­gin­ning – rather than one’s chrono­log­i­cal age.

Living Now - - Editorial - by Suzanne Cre­men David­son

The af­ter­noon of life refers to a stage of ma­tu­rity where we feel like this time has passed or must pass, and a new time is be­gin­ning – rather than one’s chrono­log­i­cal age.

Depth psy­chol­o­gist CG Jung wrote, “The af­ter­noon of life is just as full of mean­ing as the morn­ing; only its mean­ing and pur­pose are dif­fer­ent… What youth found and must find out­side, the man [and woman] of life’s af­ter­noon must find within”.

Vo­ca­tion (as dis­tinct from ca­reer) is a call­ing to be our most au­then­tic selves in the work (as dis­tinct from a job) we do in the world. Jung termed this call­ing in­di­vid­u­a­tion; hu­man­is­tic psy­chol­o­gist Abra­ham Maslow termed it self-ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion; and ar­che­typal psy­chol­o­gist James Hill­man termed it soul-mak­ing. My col­league Dr Jennifer Selig writes that, re­gard­less of the term they used, all three psy­chol­o­gists be­lieved that peo­ple of­ten live lives far too small for them, giv­ing in to the dayto-day de­mands of liv­ing (and earn­ing a liv­ing) at the ex­pense of the ex­pres­sion of their larger selves and their deeper souls.

To­day in Aus­tralia the phrase ‘vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion’ has be­come syn­ony­mous with skill train­ing for a spe­cific job or oc­cu­pa­tion, but if you dig more deeply into the orig­i­nal mean­ing of the word vo­ca­tion you’ll find quite a dif­fer­ent story. Vo­ca­tion comes from the Latin vo­ca­tio, mean­ing “to be ad­dressed by a voice” — but it’s also a call­ing or sum­mons to give voice, to ex­press one’s voice.

Jung be­lieved that a defin­ing fea­ture of vo­ca­tion, be­yond hered­ity or environment, was an ir­ra­tional fac­tor, which he likened to the in­ner voice. “The in­ner voice is the voice of a fuller life, of a wider, more com­pre­hen­sive con­scious­ness.”

Tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with re­li­gious or spir­i­tual work, the idea of vo­ca­tion

So for in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing to get in touch with their au­then­tic vo­ca­tion, ap­pre­ci­at­ing the role of the un­con­scious is es­sen­tial.

Most sim­ply, while the ego is what we are and know about con­sciously, the shadow is that part of our­selves that we fail to see or know.

has gone through many trans­for­ma­tions over the cen­turies, and many learned peo­ple have puz­zled over what this mys­te­ri­ous term re­ally means. One quite sim­ple de­scrip­tion I rather like, from Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak, is that vo­ca­tion is “some­thing I can’t not do, for rea­sons I’m un­able to ex­plain to any­one else and don’t fully un­der­stand my­self but that are none the less com­pelling”.

Many peo­ple are called be­yond their ex­ist­ing work or ca­reer path into a deeper sense of vo­ca­tion at midlife, as they en­counter the shadow parts of them­selves that have been re­pressed. The con­cept of the shadow flows from Jung’s dis­cov­er­ies of the split be­tween the light and dark sides of the hu­man psy­che. Jung de­scribed this per­sonal shadow as the other in us: “the ‘neg­a­tive’ side of the per­son­al­ity, the sum of all those un­pleas­ant qual­i­ties we like to hide”.

In ev­ery oc­cu­pa­tion, cer­tain skills and ap­ti­tudes are en­cour­aged and de­vel­oped while others are rel­e­gated to the shadow. In many oc­cu­pa­tions and work­places, qual­i­ties such as log­i­cal thought, plan­ning, as­sertive­ness, pro­fes­sional de­tach­ment and a fo­cus on goals are re­garded as de­sir­able. This means that, for many men and women, their coun­ter­vail­ing qual­i­ties, tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with the ‘ fem­i­nine’, such as feel­ing, in­tu­ition, sen­si­tiv­ity and cre­ativ­ity, are dis­counted and re­pressed in the pur­suit of a ca­reer.

Jung ob­served that what is re­pressed, ig­nored or de­val­ued, grad­u­ally ac­cu­mu­lates and over time be­gins to in­flu­ence con­scious­ness, of­ten get­ting our at­ten­tion through symp­toms such as de­pres­sion. Al­though our shadow will usu­ally con­sist of what we con­sider to be in­fe­ri­or­i­ties or neg­a­tive qual­i­ties (be­cause of shame, so­cial pres­sure, or fam­ily and so­ci­etal at­ti­tudes), it may also con­tain pos­i­tive el­e­ments. In Own­ing your own shadow: Un­der­stand­ing the dark side of the psy­che, Robert John­son wrote about the ‘gold’ in the shadow, which oc­curs for ex­am­ple in the phe­nom­e­non of hero wor­ship, where an in­di­vid­ual’s finest qual­i­ties are pro­jected onto another.

So our shadow con­tains much psy­chic en­ergy and un­lived life po­ten­tial!

Per­haps one of Jung’s most sig­nif­i­cant ac­com­plish­ments was to re­veal the shad­owy realm of the un­con­scious as the cre­ative source of that all that we even­tu­ally be­come as in­di­vid­u­als. “The un­con­scious also con­tains the dark springs of in­stinct and in­tu­ition, it con­tains all those forces which mere rea­son­able­ness, pro­pri­ety, and the or­derly course of bour­geois ex­is­tence could never call awake, all those cre­ative forces which lead man on­wards to new de­vel­op­ments, new forms, and new goals…. The in­flu­ence of the un­con­scious…adds to con­scious­ness every­thing that has been ex­cluded by the dry­ing up of the springs of in­tu­ition and by the fixed pur­suit of a sin­gle goal.” (Jung CW10, para. 25) Jun­gian and ar­che­typal (or depth) psy­chol­ogy calls our at­ten­tion to the im­por­tance of what lies in the shadow, be­low the sur­face of con­scious aware­ness. It is a dis­ci­pline which val­ues the cre­ative imag­i­na­tion as a source of wis­dom and knowl­edge. Depth psy­cho­log­i­cal tools in­clude work­ing with dreams, notic­ing syn­chronic­i­ties (or mean­ing­ful co­in­ci­dences) as they oc­cur in our lives, and en­gag­ing ar­che­typal pat­terns and fig­ures that are most rel­e­vant to the dis­cov­ery of deeper pur­pose.

To help us live into (and out of) our au­then­tic vo­ca­tion, draw­ing on these prac­tices to com­ple­ment other ca­reer strate­gies can be trans­for­ma­tive in the af­ter­noon of life. We are beck­oned into au­then­tic vo­ca­tion in many ways that go be­yond our con­scious minds. n

Suzanne Cre­men David­son, MA (Jun­gian and ar­che­typal stud­ies), MA (hu­man­i­ties and mythol­ogy), BA/LLB, is founder of the Life Artistry Cen­tre for Archetype, Imag­i­na­tion and Vo­ca­tion in Mel­bourne and ad­junct fac­ulty at Paci­fica Grad­u­ate In­sti­tute USA. She is co-pre­sent­ing “The af­ter­noon of life: A coun­try re­treat to awaken au­then­tic vo­ca­tion” in the Dan­de­nong Ranges, Vic­to­ria in July 2016.

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