The midlife transition can come with its challenges and while you may feel lost, there are ways to work through those emotions. Here's a shortcut to how you can welcome the transition and find yourself.
Somewhere along the lonely stretch of road between first crow's-feet and first dentures, we often find ourselves stuck in the swampy bog of middle-age limbo. If there was a sign, it would say, "Welcome to the midlife transition. (You probably won't) enjoy your stay."
Many of us go through some form of transformation at the midpoint of our lives. It's like we've driven into a thick fog and the familiar landscapes that were once vibrant are now dull and grey. It's not that we're unhappy, exactly, but that joy has decamped, leaving us feeling like sleepwalkers merely going through the motions.
I call it the midlife malaise—a state of un-being that's fairly universal (for men and women). Numerous great artists and thinkers have similarly gone on spiritual quests during middle age that have resulted, I'm happy to report, in grand creations (Dante's Divine Comedy, Shakespeare's Othello and Macbeth, Michelangelo's works in the Sistine Chapel). In fact, perhaps Dante said it best when he wrote, "Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost."
Finding the path—or, rather, a new path—is worth the struggle. As author Thomas Armstrong wrote in his seminal work, The Human Odyssey, middle age is the juncture at which individuals "reflect upon the deeper meaning of their place in the cosmos." Heady stuff. Tough stuff. But worthwhile because a little farther along the road is another sign, and this one says, "Welcome to the next chapter. A place where meaning abounds."
Of course, rebirth comes with labour pains. Or perhaps a better analogy is you need to get lost before you can be found. In my book (Lost & Found: The Spiritual Journey of Women at Midlife), I talk a lot about what it feels like to be lost, but for now, let's take a shortcut to the finish line. Here's how to become FOUND.
1. Feel your feelings.
We have a tendency to avoid emotions that are painful or uncomfortable, yet they offer critical data. We develop really creative means of batting away the distress (eating, drinking, Netflixing), but what we bat away doesn't disappear. Settle into the discomfort and ask it what it has to tell you.
2. Open up to new possibilities.
Sure, change is scary, but give yourself permission to imagine what could be. You don't have to go out and do it tomorrow; for now, start a few sentences with "I could" and not "I should." And that brings me to my next point.
3. Unhook your self-worth from roles (mother, wife, artist, executive).
While you're at it, detach your sense of adequacy from other people's appraisals. We like to "should" on ourselves: I should be a better mother; I should do more at work. What if you didn't? What if you believed you were enough just as you are? Then, you could ask yourself not what you should do but what you want to do. Which takes us to…
4. Notice what lights you up inside.
If you had more fun playing pickup hockey with your daughter than you've had since you were on a Jr. A team yourself, that's saying something. You don't need to quit your job and join the CWHL, but maybe you'd like to do some coaching.
5. Dare to do things differently.
It takes great courage to try and fail. Midlife transitions don't come with waivers. We have to try a few new things on for size expecting that some won't fit. And that's OK, because if life was a one-size-fits-all proposition, you wouldn't be here in the first place.