A Review of “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life” by James Hollis

James Hollis has profoundly shaped my thinking. He has helped me along the process of waking up, becoming more self-aware, and asking difficult questions of myself. Hollis is a wise man who combines Jungian psychology with a deep focus on meaning. His writing is engaging, insightful, and comes from the depths. His books are not for the faint of heart. My wife complains, I read a few pages of Hollis and I have to go think about it for a few days. Yep. That’s the idea. Gold needs to be unearthed, and it takes intention, work, active reflection and commitment to go in deep to fully soak in all Hollis has to offer. He can use unique words at times, which I do find frustrating, but it is also an invitation to learn, explore, be curious and expand one’s thinking.

Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life is one of my favourite Hollis books. This book integrates works from his other books. This book invites the reader to ask deep questions of themselves: What has brought you to this point in your life? What forces have shaped you, perhaps diverted you, wounded and distorted you, what forces perhaps supported you, and are still at work within you whether you acknowledge them or not? (p.18). These questions require deep self-reflection. They are often the work of therapy – becoming more conscious, self-aware, and more mindful of one’s patterns. Sometimes the answers to these questions stir shame or frustration, but often in waking up, a new freedom is found, a new level of wisdom.

None of us escapes life unscathed. Certainly by mid-life most or all of us have battle wounds – failures, hurts, betrayals, mistakes, scars. How do we learn from these? What wisdom can we gain to grow, heal, and find a path to new choices, creativity and connection? What changes might be required of us if we become more self-aware? What responsibility may come with new psychological freedom and insight?

What brings most people into my office? Usually some degree of distress in their relationships – both at home, and work. I find many people want quick fixes – tell me what to do to fix this, and quick! They want the gold, but not to dig for it, to mine for it. It is not easy to look deep inside themselves and explore what factors have led them to this place in their life, and career. Often they are struggling with the difficult realities of their life, and difficult dynamics in their relationships. Very often I find my role is to encourage people – to find the courage to have a difficult conversation, to be deeply honest with themselves, or to make courageous decisions – to change careers, or relationships. No relationship or career is perfect. When to leave, when to stay, when to have a difficult conversation? What is my role in this dynamic, what patterns do I find myself repeating, how can I learn from this situation to grow and work through whatever challenges I face with integrity, wisdom and kindness?

Hollis does not give us all the answers for our lives, but he invites deep and meaningful questions that call us to grow, self-reflect and take more and more responsibility for our lives. It is a great privilege to work with people in my practice who are practicing courage and doing their work to become wiser, stronger and kinder human beings.