As we approach our midlife, it seems that many of us grow less tolerant, less active, and not as willing to be adventurous. According to Psychology Today, it can be a stressful time, in which many people come to feel discontented and restless as they struggle with ageing, mortality, as well as holding onto a sense of purpose. But is it really like that?
If you were to ask friends what word comes to mind when they say “midlife”, there’s a good chance they will say “crisis”. Those two words seem to go together like a glass of pinot noir goes to a turkey dinner. It’s so ingrained in us to accept it as “normal”. And maybe an image that comes to our minds is a bored and frustrated housewife, who is at her wit’s end and ready to run off and create her own version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love“. But midlife doesn’t actually reflect what it used to be 10 or 20 years ago: we shouldn’t get caught up in the drama of growing old.
As a 50-year-old woman, I probably have a bit more wisdom than some and a bit less than others. However, I will admit that I never thought I’d feel as good as I do right now, and I’m actually looking so forward to this next decade with an open mind and a grateful heart, and the opportunities that come with it.
Crisis? What crisis?
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst argues against the term “midlife crisis” entirely. For her, it’s a matter of ego integrity: it can occur at any age and it refers to a confrontation with mortality, your sense of meaning in life, your feeling of purpose, your connection to others, and a concern for your welfare.
The NYT best-selling author of ‘Why Women Can’t Sleep: Women’s new midlife crisis‘, Ada Calhoun sums it up very well.
A middle-aged woman’s midlife crisis does, I know, pose a dramaturgical problem – she said on Fearlessly Facing Fifty podcast-. In my observation, and as many experts I’ve spoken with have affirmed, women’s crisis tends to be quieter than men’s. Sometimes a woman will try something spectacular: a big affair, a new career, or a ‘she shed’ in the backyard, but more often she sneaks her suffering in around the edges of caretaking and work. From the outside, no one may notice anything amiss. Women might drain a bottle of wine while watching TV alone, use CBD edibles to decompress or cry every afternoon in the pickup lane at school. Or, in the middle of the night, they might lie awake, eyes fixed on the ceiling.
So how can we redefine this stage of life? Although, we might face several issues – as research “The challenges of midlife women: themes from the Seattle midlife Women’s health study” revealed in 2019 – ageing is certainly a privilege.
At my recent annual checkup, my physician sat on the table next to me and said: “Amy, you have lived on this earth for over 50 years. honour your body. Give yourself permission to love yourself, live in the moment and rest when you need to.” That advice is imprinted on my heart, and it was just what I needed to hear at that moment. Midlife is a gift. If we can find the courage to listen to our inner voices and investigate a little further, with an open mind and grateful heart, it’s a time in our lives that can be the best half. That’s the true opportunity.
Adventure is waiting for you
2020 has been a year of disruptions and disappointments, but it doesn’t mean life has to get you stuck in your tracks. Midlife comes with a sense of new energy and purpose, and for some, it comes with time to explore, rediscover and reinvent.
Here are my ways to start afresh with confidence.
Try something new
It may sound crazy to think about learning something new, the demands of life and busy schedules may make it seems like you don’t have the time or energy, but instead, why don’t you use it wisely exploring your creative side? As the world continues to move through a pandemic maybe journaling or letter writing can find a place in your life. There are a variety of online classes you can enrol in for calligraphy or writing workshops. Maybe you have become a green thumb, and are exploring gardening, or flower arranging. The options are endless, and engaging in lifetime learning moves yourself to the top of the priority list, and you are putting self-care on that list.
When was the last time you challenged yourself around technology? It’s one of the things at midlife that can pass us by, and we can feel outdated. Investigate online technology classes that are available and become a wizard on photoshop or excel. Learn a new language online, and continue to challenge your brain.
Research shows that starting a healthy lifestyle at 50 may reduce the risk of dementia by 90%. Maybe it’s a couch to 5k or a marathon. Maybe it’s taking 15 minutes to stretch every day. Or walking around the neighbourhood, getting your steps in is ultimately important for your physical and mental health.
Open your circle
When you open your circle and become a hotshot, you deposit into your friendship portfolio. Friendships at this stage of life are challenging in many ways, but once you invite others to explore with you, people that you never could have imagined would come into your life. Sign up for that yoga class, or volunteer for that organization you’ve never had time for, and see what blooms. Thriving midlife women create themselves in a network of connecting with other people, a community. They feel satisfied by contributing in some way to the lives of others. They master the art of collaboration and find that’s where their ambition is now.
Reaching mid-life and beyond is complex, but you’ve managed so many things to this point in your journey with the precision of a surgeon. Take time to self reflect on those accomplishments you’ve had, lessons you’ve learned and mistakes you’ve made, and create your highlight reel. Become the historian of your life, and use those experiences to propel you forward.