There was a time when the voice of Doris Day singing Que Sera, Sera (Whatever will be, will be) kept echoing in my head, and specifically the line where she was singing ‘Is that all there is?’
It’s a time when you realise that you are not going to be Prime Minister or be a jet-setting entrepreneur, or international chess champion or whatever dreams you had in your youth. It’s all a bit of a let-down really. It is a time though when you need to re-evaluate what exactly are your definitions of success, and have you been trying to live up to a model that isn’t really suitable for you and perhaps never was? Do you really want the top job anyway, now that you have a better understanding of what it entails, both the costs as well as the benefits. Often you don’t – just what really grates is the realisation that others don’t see you in that role either.
That’s why getting to the point of owning a definition of success is a great accomplishment in itself: it may take numerous turning points to get there but knowing it’s at least possible to make success personal is the first step in ensuring we can own our career, and manage it according to our personal life circumstances.
I don’t really like the term ‘mid-life crisis’ as it has both negative and depressing connotations. It makes one think of creaking knees and weight gain, or a sudden desire for uplift in some places and tucks in others. That may be true but it’s also a time of awakening and re-adjustment. We look in the mirror and perhaps see ourselves as we really are and not how we still imagine ourselves to be (i.e. as we looked in our early twenties). There are some of course who think that a new car, a new wardrobe and a new younger companion will re-capture those years and that old joie di vivre. Good luck to them.
This time of mid-life quandary is loosely defined and will vary for everyone. Giving birth to my first child at forty, I felt that being responsible for another little person, I had finally become an adult. The concept of being middle-aged was laughable to me. Even at fifty, I would have scoffed at the idea, feeling that I was still in the ascendency, not plateauing.
Attitude is one thing, but there are other indicators that the times they are a-changing. Suddenly shop assistants are finding it difficult to see me (strange when there’s more of me) and I notice that all the constabulary and doctors are getting younger. Since when did they let kids start doing these jobs? Younger people (colleagues or offspring) start assuming that you are IT illiterate and try to bypass you on matters of technical importance.
These are irritations, but try instead thinking of this time as a mid-life adventure – a time or re-energising and new opportunity. It is not a time to revisit the past, for that is where it belongs. Instead, it is a time for embracing the present, making the most of today and in that way evolving a future that is going to fulfil the parameters of your ideal life.
It’s also a great time to undertake a strategic review. Over the years, what have you let slide – friends, interests, activities? Is it time to pick up some of these again? It isn’t always of course. It can be that you have moved on and it was appropriate to let go of these aspects of your life.
Is it time to move to a new job, new house or new partner, new community? Often, when people make the sea or tree change, it is the community that they are looking for as much as the new environment and this is all part of the re-balancing. Re-balancing is a key word here. I see this period in your life as being one of assessing what has worked, what hasn’t and deciding just what in life gives you joy and satisfaction. You can do this more successfully perhaps than in the past.
If you can, develop your own cheer squad. By this I mean a support network who understand what you are going through, who know when to speak up and when to shut up. Different members of the squad may have different skills or knowledge to contribute, but they respect your journey and the need for you to make your own decisions, understanding that sometimes you need a sounding board. Cheer squads are a two-way street of course and sometimes you provide the same service for the other members.
What’s the process? You know the answer to the question about how to eat an elephant – one bite at a time and that is how you tack making the most of this phase of your life, even when the issues seem confronting. Take yourself off to a quiet place and think about the following issues:
What do you like about your life?
What would you like more of?
What would you like less of?
What can you release or let go from your life? Think about what dreams and aspirations are no longer relevant.
What is the first step, and what will be the next step after that?
I like to think of the middle years – those which last as long as I am physically and mentally able – as being times of adventure and rediscovery. That may mean new business ventures, new travel, new interests or new adventures in general. It may also mean rediscovering things started in the past, but which were not continued due circumstances.
What has middle age meant to you?
Priestley, Angela, 2016, ‘Women who Seize the Moment’, Ventura Press, Edgecliff NSW.
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