A mid life crisis is not exclusive to men who suddenly cheat with a twenty-six year old, or women who fear that all they’ve done in life is bring up their kids and now have hot flashes. Many people feel, when they’ve reached a certain age, they’ve lost their big shot at that secret passion, forgetting that if they keep walking on that treadmill and going to yoga, they have maybe thirty more years to go.
Talk to most people in their 40s or 50s and they’ll tell you about something they’d rather be doing, if they had the time, money… or strength. It’s that strength that’s important, physical and mental. It’s about learning to give some things up, while learning not to give up on you.
For a long time I’ve played with the idea of my latest discovery or personal billboard, as ‘my new t-shirt.’ Last year I said, “My new t-shirt is There’s not Enough Time for Enough Therapy”, proudly declaring that we need to stop licking our proverbial childhood wounds and get on with it, even if it means remaining commitment phobic as usual.
Yesterday I thought of my newest rant/philosophy as an internal tattoo, since I’m way too commitment phobic to actually get one. So, my new ‘tattoo’ is Surrender! Not to the terrorists or the bullies or even the guy stalking you on Match.com, but rather surrender to what scares the crap out of you, which likely involves change. I mean, who said there was a time limit on change and at 47 no more was allowed and therefore all you could do was look back at what you’ve done so far. A close friend of mine had a baby at 48, another went back to school and got his law degree at 46 – my Mom started teaching at 65! But that’s them. More of us are petrified, full of self judgment and tired.
My friend from junior high called me three days ago. We’ve always had a huge affection for one another, having lost and found our connection many times over the years. It seems she’s been working and living out of town for the last two years, with her husband visiting on weekends, having a marvelous time with romantic dinners and hikes in the mountains. And they both came to find, after twenty years of marriage, that they enjoyed the space on weekdays in their own cities and careers. A few weeks ago, her work ended and she returned home.
Suddenly, she has no job and feels out of sorts and he is apparently a bit downtrodden about his state of mid-life. They have a lovely house and kids in college, so they’re free to do what they want with this moment, but are frozen. She’s had a very successful career in an area that doesn’t really interest her and is afraid she’ll leave no memorable mark on the planet. He is sick, not of his work, but of the small business structure and difficulty to make real money. Why can’t they take new paths? But ahhh, the mortgage to the beloved family home for the kids to come home to… and more, the haunting panic of who am I if I’m no longer me?
At eighteen that happens and we go off to college, then again in our twenties and thirties – crossroads that pose the big questions, career, marriage, children…? But by our mid forties we don’t think about being faced with redefining or reinventing ourselves. It’s in fact the best time. When we already know what our abilities are, or at least the categories we excel in: money, creativity, writing, managing others, patience, organizing, technical dexterity, public speaking.
Because I’ve been an artist that flies by the seat of my pants, reinventing my income source every few years so as not to dry up creatively and become Bitter-Betty, I’ve had to tap into my power of adaptability numerous times. I often Google Late Bloomers, basking in the tales of both Julia Child starting her show, The French Chef and Raymond Chandler publishing The Big Sleep, at age 51!
I suggest to my friend to rent out their house for big bucks, get a one bedroom, furnish it from Ikea and breathe. “I want to work with those less fortunate!” She blurts out. “And I’ve worked for a company that helps people with low income housing but not in the hands-on department,” she practically howls. I suggest she give her higher paid “boring” skills as a bonus, while she works for whatever salary she can get in the area that excites her — helping others.
We laugh and then cry, feeling hopeful and youthful, about change.
p.s. last Sunday I had a yard sale and she came. She got that job, intensely working four days a week and so far feeling way more useful. Next they’ll send her to study “Green housing”, she’s excited. And I sold $150 worth of junk so I am too.