Have you turned 50, or are you living with someone who has and seems to be morphing before your eyes into a different person? Educator and consultant, Noel McNaughton, begins a new monthly column this month to help an aging ranching population recognize and navigate the changing landscape ahead.

I'm 59 years old. Normally I'm a high-energy person who loves new ideas and challenges, and thrives on having “too many things to do.”

Around the time of my 50th birthday, though, things began to change.

I didn't notice it a first because I was distracted with running my business, which provides training in Holistic Management. I was also running a custom-grazing operation on our farm in west central Alberta, which my wife, Elizabeth, and I had recently bought from my parents.

Then I noticed the training program I'd been so passionate about when I started it in 1991 had lost its appeal. I still loved the idea of teaching people a better way to manage, but I didn't have the energy to market and carry out the program. At the time, I attributed it to the “entrepreneur's curse” of becoming bored with a business project once it is running successfully.

A drastic change

But it was more than that.

Elizabeth and I decided to leave the farm, which wasn't an easy decision. We moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where we had invested in a start-up company a year or so before. It wasn't yet profitable, but it looked promising and the management team asked me to join them. With no better plan, I said “OK.” We rented the farm to a neighbor who manages it to our specifications.

After a few months in Vancouver, I began to notice I didn't have any passion for launching the new company. Eventually, the company failed.

In fact, I didn't seem to have any passion for anything in particular. I also noticed I didn't have the energy I used to have, and I found it hard to focus on my goals. I began to experience symptoms similar to those of menopause that Elizabeth previously had described to me.

I began to talk to other men my age, and found they were experiencing similar symptoms — loss of energy, loss of interest in things they had been passionate about, and even a decreased sex drive. Some confided that they'd become more emotional and more irritable, which I was also experiencing. Many were tiring of what they'd been doing, and wanted to try something new.

It wasn't just my farm and ranch friends feeling these changes. City friends claimed they could hardly stand to put in another day on the job. In fact, one friend closed his consulting business because he couldn't force himself to keep up the pace any more, and was nearing bankruptcy. Others downsized. And most were feeling a vague urge to explore their spiritual life more deeply, but weren't sure how to go about it.

The 50s decade

Upon learning I wasn't alone in experiencing these changes, I decided to do some research. What I found surprised me.

For many men, the “50s decade” is a time of change that can be frightening and at times exhilarating. But it's also a time of gaining a new perspective on life, even of gaining some wisdom.

The 50s can also be dangerous to your health, and very hard on your bank account! While there are dozens of books about menopause for women, there are very few to help men get through this transition.

The French call the years after 50, “the third life.” They cite the first 20-30 years of life for studying, finding your feet and, in general, growing up. The middle segment (ages 40-50) is devoted to expectations of society (marriage, kids, work). The third life (50+) is a time to enjoy life and share what we've learned with others.

In North America, however, this stage (50+) is sometimes called “the second life.” Menopause in women, the “empty nest” syndrome for couples, and retirement are the admission signs at the gatepost.

Negotiating this “interesting” time will be the subject of further articles.

Edmonton-based Noel McNaughton lectures to groups on “Farming/Ranching at Midlife — Strategies for a Successful Second Age.” For more information, call 780/432-5492, e-mail noel@midlife-men.com, or visit www.midlife-men.com. Watch for his column, “Ranching After 50,” monthly in BEEF magazine.