Do you ever hear an authoritative, inner voice warning you not to do something? Richard Rohr, a well-known expert on men, calls this interior voice our ‘loyal soldier’ whose job is to help us become productive, obedient citizens by reinforcing the rules and obligations we’re taught as kids.
My loyal soldier gave me my identity as a young man, telling me to be strong in the face of adversity and finish my homework before watching Hockey Night in Canada. He assured me of success if I was honest and worked hard. He provoked guilt if I broke the rules. He told me to be strong when my mother died.
But my loyal soldier was bound to fail me later in life. His black and white, blinkered thinking was unable to comprehend the complexities of running a consulting firm during the global financial crisis. With falling sales, outdated products and too many people, I needed new ideas. But my loyal soldier could only chant, ‘Don’t give up. Be strong.’
Instead of leading a transformation, I defended myself from criticism. After two futile years of slog, I was made redundant and the office closed. In the ensuing weeks, something inside me collapsed, like a death. I’d invested everything in that business and was unprepared for failure. With my career gone, so was my identity.
I could not work this out for myself and sought out a mentor to talk it through.
He began with Richard Rohr’s story from post-war Japan, where wise community leaders welcomed home their traumatised soldiers with a special ceremony. The men were thanked for their sacrifice and told fighting was now unnecessary. Each could ‘discharge his loyal soldier’ and become a warrior for peace and reconstruction.
‘Is it time to discharge your loyal soldier?’ he asked. ‘Another “you” is waiting to emerge. Perhaps now the second half of life can begin.’
My heart sank because I knew nothing else. Thus began months of often painful reflection with my mentor. Yet eventually I was able to thank my loyal soldier and ceremonially discharge him. Slowly my drive for career success diminished. I’ve moved to the side-lines and begun journeying alongside other men, some going through similar experiences. I’ve enjoyed basking in their successes.
Do you struggle to let go of fixed ways of thinking and habits that no longer work? Perhaps you too have a loyal soldier who needs to be honoured for his service and then discharged.
 Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (London: SPCK Publishing, 2012).