The 44th: Midlife is when we ask all the questions

Published: October 18, 2020

The 44th | WELL-BEING TALK


HERE’S THE THING …

Midlife.

Such a loaded word, isn’t it? It lands heavily because it comes with all kinds of (anxious) thoughts that trigger all kinds of (awkward) feelings.

Simply put, midlife is the middle of our lives. It’s that phase we enter after we are done, thankfully, with young adult life and before old age.

Conventionally, it means our early forties to our early sixties — although that age range is inching upwards because we’re living longer. Some now say midlife begins at 45, not the classic 40. Brené Brown said she considers middle age as any time between the mid-30s and death.

The word that often accompanies midlife is … crisis. Sounds like it should come with warning bells, doesn’t it?

With our happiness hitting rock bottom at 47 (47.2 to be exact), research seems to support the ringing of warning bells.

It makes sense that — in the happiness curve theory — our happiness level plunges down in our late 40s or 50s. We’ve got lots of responsibilities to shoulder (aging parents + our own families). Our bodies are changing. Not to mention, we’ve been slogging away at a career and we’re beginning to wonder what’s next.

Despite this, many dispute the inevitability of midlife angst. They declare, “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

NOT A CRISIS, BUT…

I take the view that it isn’t a crisis that we experience in the middle of our lives. It’s something else.

The word crisis to me feels like an event. Something that happens that we have to overcome. Like the financial crisis. Or the pandemic. Or the housing market crash.

Back to Brené… she uses a different word. She calls it a midlife unraveling. Something we cannot control.

“The truth is midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together…”

I agree with this description.

It is in the middle of our lives when we tend to do a lot of questioning and re-assessing. It’s when we feel the resistance to the “givens” and the “It’s always been this way.” When we feel the urge to push back and ask (sometimes uncomfortably), “Does it have to be?”

Midlife is when we consciously unlearn things we’ve learned in our youth. We admit to ourselves, “I can’t believe I was that way – or thought that way – once.”

We look at this puzzle that is our life, turning it ’round and ’round, and we ask, “What if?” And we ask this of ourselves quietly, in the pages of our journals. Or we ask it loudly and proudly and then worry about what to do with all the inputs. Until our senses — honed from years of being agreeable — kick in and we remind ourselves that we don’t have to accept all or any of it.

In our midlife, we reconsider things we’ve put aside in the past. And we find the courage to consider new things we’ve just now discovered. “Should I do this? Can I? How can I possibly?”

Mid-life is when we wonder about what else – or what more – we can do. When Mary Oliver’s words take on a different tone and significance …

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

MIDLIFE ISN’T A CAKEWALK.

We might say the young’uns have it easy. But they won’t say that! They look at us and think we’ve got it all figured out. (I certainly thought that about people in their 40s when I was in my 20s!)

Of course, the secret that only we midlifers know is that we haven’t AT ALL gotten things figured out.

“Relax. No one else knows what they’re doing either.”― Ricky Gervais

Good thing for us too.

We’re better equipped – now – to be trying to find the answers and to be figuring things out.

We know ourselves better. We have the benefit of experience and disappointments and failures and successes and rejections and recognitions and tears and belly-laughs. We’ve faked it until we made it. Or we gave up because it never happened. We’ve had doors slammed on our faces. But we’ve also been invited and welcomed in with open arms.

We’ve won some and we’ve lost some. And we’ve got the battle scars.

Midlife.

No, it’s not a cakewalk. Yes, we’ve got this. Haven’t we?


MAKE IT EASIER

Switching from climbing a corporate ladder to starting a small business meant I was in for a steep learning curve. Thankfully, the world has evolved and we now have access to bite-sized programs that fit our busy schedules. I couldn’t have done it without the online classes at CreativeLive.

If you’re starting out in your self-employment or business ownership journey, you’ll want to review the list of best-selling business basics classes.* Good luck with your new venture!

*P.S. This is an affiliate link.


INTERESTINGLY…
  • The Psychology of Living Life Fully. Clearly a departure from the quick fixes and the hacks we often get from popular media. These are keys to living a full life that require time and effort to put into practice. We know these are the kinds of things that really take root, right?
  • What Midlife Isn’t. Let’s clear up three pervasive myths about midlife that make us think we are losing all that we’ve gained in our younger adult years.
  • Audio: FTF | Unlocking Us. Even if you’re not a Brené Brown fan, this is a must listen. Because we can all relate with F***ing First Times.

MULL IT OVER

“What separates a true north from just a direction you happen to be going is this: Will you follow it even if it hurts?” — Reid Hoffman


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REMEMBER THE TIME…

… a mere ten years ago (practically another era), the movie The Social Network played in a theater near you. A major commercial success, TSN is a biographical drama written by Aaron Sorkin (of The West Wing fame) that told the story of the founding of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg played the role of the Zuck. Most of the people who were depicted in the movie loudly declared that it was historical fiction at best and not at all like real life. Technology broadcaster Leo Laporte called the film “anti-geek and misogynistic”. To which Sorkin responded with, “I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people”.


WHAT’S PLAYING

The podcast is on a brief break as I prepare for Season 5. I’ll tell you more about the next season as we get closer to the start date (November 12th). I’ll just say for now that I’m very excited about this next season.

In the meanwhile, you can head over here for the complete collection of Season 4 conversations. Learn from 9 generous guests who shared their insights and experiences as they plowed through new fields!

Thank you to Marie Poulin, Andréa Jones, Julie O’Hara, Susanna Perkins, Shannon Paris, Janice Dalager, Kathy Goughenour, Sean McMullin, and Jerod Morris for making this season such a fun one to produce.


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LAST WORD

My Instagram feed is filled with the colors of Fall.🍁 For which, I am ever so grateful. (In my head, that sounded very like Effie Trinket 😉)

There are many things I miss about the North East since I moved to Florida. The crispness of Autumn is #1 on that list.

If you happen to live someplace where you can experience the season “properly”, please enjoy today for me. And send me a picture, too!

Here’s to a productive, safe, and sane week. Send over comments, pictures of orange trees, or your favorite Aaron Sorkin line.

Cool beans,
Lou Blaser


ABOUT LOU BLASER

A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Briefing Notes and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on helping experienced professionals navigate an evolving work landscape so they can continue their impact and relevance in a changing world.

The world of work is changing.

Stay smart about it.

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