A midlife crisis is such a trite thing to go through, but there are seasons in life that are meant to give us pause. It becomes time to redirect our efforts and rework our lives. I have been given the privilege, as I approach my 50th birthday, to take a season off of my ordinary life and reflect. My body required some rebuilding, the structure needed some retrofitting. That retrofit has come with a cost – time on the couch, away from all my work and activities.
As I approached this season, I recognized the need within myself to rethink everything. My tendency is to push forward with goals and to-do lists. For a time, planning was verboten. And that was made abundantly clear… every bit of research that I did on my “what to expect”, right down to the pillows that I chose for recovery, was wrong. I had to learn to trust and wait. My goals had to be abandoned, my plans put aside. I was not the one in charge.
Processing where I am, right now, I had to confront the grief that accompanies the acknowledgement of the aging process. If we don’t acknowledge those feelings, we end up buying shiny red cars or flirting with young people, vainly trying to recapture the youth that has passed. I am intrinsically uninterested in either of those things, but I did have a lot of leftover ideals that had been in my mental closet. I had to pull them out and look at them in the clear light of today.
My midlife crisis and rework had me pulling out the “shoulds” about my clothes and hair – I “should” have hip-length, shiny hair. While I love my long hair, that “should” comes from what my child-self saw on my mom. My hair isn’t the same texture as hers, and plain, straight hair isn’t flattering on me – nor does it reflect my inner madness. Continuing to pursue that unexamined goal isn’t going to bring me happiness. My rework will involve a new hairstyle, and a new routine.
The clothes I wear aren’t nearly as interesting as I’d like them to be, and the silhouette I’d been working with for the last 20 years isn’t realistic. Yes – health is important. As I recover from the retrofit, slimming down is on the table. But I’m almost 50 – obsessing about my waistline during menopause is a recipe for self-hatred. Bodies change. I can choose the beauty I crave without trying to hit a shape that belongs to the girl I used to be. Does that sting? Yes, it does. But I can choose the sting, choose to grieve it – and embrace the new things that come with age – or I can scrabble after it and be miserable for years. I’d rather get the “ouch” over with and move forward.
I examined my professional goals. I examined my day to day routine (or at least the routine I’d been following before the chrysalis time wrapped me in rest). I held what I was doing up to what I wanted to accomplish, and saw the places it didn’t match. There are places in my head where, once again, my inner self thought I was still the me I was 20 years ago, or 15. My midlife crisis involves the acknowledgement that I am not that young mother – and for me, that’s a good thing. I know more than she did, I have different priorities than she had (properly so – for both of us!). I have been trying to represent myself as her. Those years were just so busy. They flew by. They have flown off… but I was too busy to watch them. Now I stop, I look up, and I see that they are gone. Where am I now?
I looked at the things that I find meaningful. The bits of life that I think are so important. Too many of them have been pushed to the backburner while I chased various willow-wisps. I can choose to spend my time on those things that give me satisfaction. Many of the pursuits I was chasing, keeping myself so busy, so exhausted… those pursuits were all “shoulds” – not loves. They didn’t put food on my plate or a smile on my face, and I just needed to have some time to step back and see what was wrong. I choose to pursue my values, not a “to-do list”. That list was about getting things done for a self-perception that I never really cared about.
The woman I want to be doesn’t look at all like the woman I was chasing. My actions as of six months ago, and my belly-deep, crying in the shower dreams, just didn’t match. I felt like I had to “get that stuff done” so I would be free to chase my dreams. Instead, in a lot of cases, I just had to say goodbye. Those “shoulds” aren’t me, they never were. I’m glad I didn’t catch those willow-wisps, they only would have done me harm.
At 50, my life is far from over. I’m excited about what I’m going to achieve over the next 20 years, and the life that my husband and I are building for our future. Why chase the past? Mom always told me that her fifties were her favorite decade… now that’s a “should” I can get on board with.
A midlife crisis and rework is an opportunity to say goodbye to the things that no longer serve you and regroup yourself for the possibilities ahead. I’m all in.