3 Stages of Life: Getting Your Identity Right in the World

Billy Morton quit football at Penn State. He was 19 years old and no longer wanted football to be his identity. Now he is 41 years old and a successful businessman with several million in the bank.

Over lunch, Billy (not his real name) said to me, “I want to serve God in a bigger way, yet I want to honor my family.”

“That makes sense. So what are you going to do next?” I asked.

He said, “I have no idea. Can you help me?”

Here’s what I’ve discovered about life stages. Every 20 years we go through the “reimaging your life” process.

  • The first stage occurs right after college.
  • The second is in the late thirties and early forties.
  • The third stage is around sixty.

Stage 1 – Establishing an identity in the world.

This stage is all about you and your career. It happens as you graduate from college. The world is your oyster. “What do I do now?” is the question asked with both boldness and uncertainty.

We find our occupation and then work hard every day. We learn. We fail. We succeed. We build a network. Get married. Make new friends. Have kids. Buy houses. Worry about college tuition. And if we are lucky, sell a business and make money. At a minimum, we’ve established ourselves in a career and an industry.

This was a scary time in my life. I graduated from the University of Miami with a BA in Accounting and faced a bad economy with just an okay GPA. The top GPA students got the jobs with the Big 8 accounting firms and I didn’t. I was scared to death. My backup to public accounting was to go to work as an accountant in a company.

The jobs I interviewed for with private companies were awful. Then, when checking back with the university placement office, a public accounting job came up. I interviewed with this small CPA firm and got the job. “Whew!” I thought. “I’m on my way.”

Within a few months, after the newness and excitement of the position wore off, I realized public accounting wasn’t for me. “Now what?” I thought in despair.

But my despair led to a career as an entrepreneur.

I joined Richard Brock and together we built and sold a company which created and sold software to CPAs. This led me to a career in corporate. I was learning all the time as I moved through the ranks of VP of Technology to General Manager then Group President. Only to once again begin to become disenchanted.

I was back to the question, “Now what?”

Stage 2 – Building on your identity.

This is the next stage in life, and it is about God. You are now around 40 years old. You have a reputation and money. The world is once again your oyster. But this time it is not about you. It is about where God wants you now that he spent all this time equipping you.

This is the stage where God calls you to your next purpose. He’ll take you through time and time again, meaning a time which feels like it just drags on. There is nothing more difficult than for a man or woman to live life without a clear purpose or mission. We are built to serve each other and solve problems. We measure our progress by making life better for ourself and others.

But this time feels like a desert walk.

You’ll be thinking, “I’m all alone with nothing in sight.” When you finally resign to this process and cry out to God, your next opportunity will come your way and you’ll see it. It will be as plain as day.

That’s what happened to me. As I approached my mid to late thirties, I started to question the importance of my goals. In my late twenties I was asked by a potential acquirer of the business I was then running, “What is your goal?”

I quickly answered, “By age 40, I want to be running a $1B software company.” And I can tell you, I meant every word of it. I was hot and getting hotter. There was no stopping me.

Just a few years later, the goal, marriage with three kids, alcohol addiction, constant travel, and my general health and behavior took its toll. I was questioning what I was doing all the time. “Is this all there is?” I asked.

That’s when it all came crashing down. I lost my job and could not find another one. I was unemployed for the first time in 20 years and was once again in the midst of a recession. My confidence was gone, and all that seemed to remain was my addiction and the crappy attitude which came with it.

This was my bottom. Within a year of fits and starts professionally, I found AA. It saved my life and my marriage. Then, through AA, I witnessed the personal miracle of sobriety by giving my control to a “higher power.” As I exited the alcohol fog after six months of daily AA meetings, I asked the question, “So who is this higher power which did this miracle in my life?”

Short story, two months later, I surrendered my life to Christ. I now was serving a new boss. It was Jesus, not me. I was fired. My new question was, “What do you want me to do?” That’s how I became a professional angel investor. But that’s another story.

Stage 3 – Releasing your identity.

This stage is about God. This is where I am. This is the third 20-plus years of life

“Now what?” I ask. What is my next purpose? Where is God looking to use me?

And guess what? The world is my oyster again.

  • What now?
  • Where now?
  • How now?
  • Who now?

I was recently talking to Bruce Wilkinson of Teach Every Nation. He is the former founder and CEO of Walk thru the Bible and the author of the bestseller The Prayer of Jabez.

He said, “When you are about to enter the second stage of life (always around 40 years old), God tells you what he wants you to do. But in the third stage, he wants you to ask Him. He wants to be sure you’ll be willing to do whatever he tells you to do.”

Something tells me this last purpose can be big, really big. But you must trust Him enough to ask.