It tends to happen in an instant: the midlife shift.
Maybe it’s the glimpse we catch in the rearview mirror while driving or an unexpected encounter with ourselves on FaceTime. It can be the cute clerk’s form of address, conveying respect for someone older than herself. However our midlife moment shows up, one thing we can be sure of: It will change us — forever.
For me, it was the “dreadful selfie” experience. Four frustrating attempts to get the picture right, blaming my phone, its camera and the light. Then it happened. There was a sudden silence screaming into this frustrated noise, commanding me to pause. I took a deep breath and sat down to have a closer look. Yes, I did zoom in — pitilessly. I could hardly see through the veil of tears, but it was too obvious to not get it: It’s time to let go of my youth. It’s gone!
In a society that prioritizes beauty, youth and sex, the midlife experience tends to get reduced to what we are loosing: youthful looks, grown-up kids, aging parents and trusted partners.
“Hurray, finally 50!” I don’t think so. We habitually cringe at the mere thought of getting there.
It certainly takes some effort to penetrate midlife’s “disguise” and see it’s blessing; but, wow, is it worth it!
Midlife, like no other phase before, has the potential to become not only a good time, but the best time of our lives! We are called to finally get rid of all that is not us, after half a life of spreading ourselves all over the place trying to accommodate everybody else’s needs and compensate for our lack of self-respect. We have never been so clear about who we are and who we are not; we have never been so experienced in so many areas of life and we have never been so aware that it’s now or never, a real healthy kick-in-the-butt urgency, one of midlife’s most precious gifts.
We need to face this challenge and do the learning it necessitates. It takes courage, honesty and commitment, but it will take us home to our core and connect us to others on the same path.
I have put together a midlife toolbox with seven instruments to promote our homecoming. They are meant to be lovingly experimented with, not forcefully applied. Self-care is the new drive; it’s key to the midlife endeavor.
1. Mindfulness: Strengthen your inner observer
Take time to meditate, to pray and to do mindfulness exercises — whatever your path might be. The main point here is to establish a non-judgmental inner awareness that allows us to start gathering experiences that are deeply our own, untarnished and authentic.
2. Self-awareness: Focus on your focus
We need to become aware, minutely so, of what our motivation while making decisions might be. Is it fear driven — usually related to “them” — or is it vision driven? Let’s take time to feel what’s going on inside of us and strengthen our alarm signals whenever anxiety is taking over. “What if” questions are a strong hint that there might be the wrong power at work.
3. Facing facts: Confront yourself with the reality of transience
Let’s not shy away from movies, books and articles dealing with death. We have no harder evidence than this: there will be a final encounter with every single person to whom we’ve ever said “hello.” Embracing this will eventually help us to live life less fear driven, but rather with more appreciation and consciousness.
4. Gratitude: Be perceptive of beautiful moments
These moments are the jewels in our heart’s “treasure box.” They are the resources that make our life so special and worthy! We will be able to call on them again in more difficult times. Beauty and mystery are all around us; it takes willingness to perceive them.
5. Intuition: Trust your gut feeling
Did you know that we have a “second brain”? No joke! In his book The Second Brain, Dr. Michael Gershon gives evidence of extensive neurons lining our guts, which correspond with our big brain in the skull. The “gut feeling” is usually the first judgment we make on a very intuitive level, which means that it’s not yet manipulated by your rational thinking. Let’s become increasingly aware of what our gut is telling us — and observe its relevance. We will start trusting.
6. Empowerment: We do have a choice
The capacity to choose empowers us to shape our lives. If we want to stop being a victim, we need to stop blaming and search fervently for the space, however tiny, where our personal power comes in. The first question in any problematic situation should be this: Can I change anything? If yes, let’s do it. If no, let’s not waste time lamenting and rebelling; acceptance is the remedy of the moment that transforms the picture and invites the unexpected.
7. Support: Find a trusted community
I consider this last step to be among the most helpful. Having organized sisterhood retreats with the sole aim to share ourselves and celebrate who we are, I have experienced the healing power of genuine connections growing in an atmosphere of trust. These kinds of encounters may happen anywhere; we can attract them by being vulnerable and allowing others to see our scars. It won’t take long before we get the “Oh, you too?” reaction — the music of opening hearts.
Once we start using these tools, our internalized battlefields will gradually fade away as our unique landscapes emerge. No more “beautiful” versus “ugly,” “good” versus “bad,” “young” versus “old” or “success” versus “failure.” All that counts is this: Is it real?
The best I can be? Midlife makes it very clear.