I don’t know if it’s a slow sense of change or a sudden lightening flash, but it seems that as we reach our midlife milestone, we are thrown into a new era of conflict – and mostly with ourselves! I’ve never liked the term ‘midlife crisis’. It sits there ominously, almost like a condition that all of us – men and women alike – will inevitably plunge into the moment we reach these middle years. I know that this is a time to reflect, to ask those existential questions that perhaps have been pushed to one side over time, but does it really have to be called a crisis? Wouldn’t it be more positive to consider this as a time for ‘midlife choice’ – when the trappings of responsibility begin to shift and we have the freedom of options ahead of us once more?
Of course, a new era of conflict is no bad thing. It creates an opportunity to challenge ourselves – to scrutinise a life already mapped out and consider our direction for the rest that lies ahead. It doesn’t have to be crisis, but it is a time when we ask potentially life changing questions. Perhaps there’s also a sense that we may be losing something we once had – youthfulness, desirability, credibility, visibility. And then fear. Fear of becoming old or the fear that time is running out. This is undeniably a time of change – unsettling, disconcerting and uncertain change – but it’s also a significant turning point for chance. We’d be fools to consider the opportunities that now lie before us as a crisis.
For Boomers and early Generation X women this is also the time when hormones swing into action for their final performance. Not the best timing. With so much change already hovering on the sidelines, we could do without this hormonal farewell party we never wanted an invitation to in the first place. Considering life-changing decisions alongside a backdrop of mood swings, sleepless nights and the haze of fog that seems to cloud our thinking is always going to bring some sense of despair. Perhaps it is easy to see why the expression ‘midlife crisis’ exists, but if we anticipate this, if we look towards these two words already so entrenched in the common narrative for this time of live – then of course it’s going to feel like crisis.
Potentially, if we allow it, this stage of life could be one of the most exciting, because finally we have choice back. The responsibilities we created for ourselves are altering and the weight of responsibility for others diminishing. The doors we choose to open now are just as significant going forwards as the ones that are beginning to close. What we need to do is use the skills we’ve honed over the years to go through them – strength, resilience, resourcefulness and an innate ability to adapt. This is what we do well. If we can shift our attitude just a little to see this time not as a crisis, but as a platform for decisions towards fulfilment that may or may not have evaded us over the years, we can navigate the midlife minefield.
Maya Angelou said : “Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation which is not nurturing to the whole woman.” I like the idea of ‘the whole woman’. With years spent nurturing others – finally we can nurture ourselves. We have the freedom of choice ahead of us, and what’s important is not just the choices we may or may not make, it’s the fact that the space for them is here now. For me this is exactly the stage in life where I want to be. It might be hard, and I may need to summon every ounce of the courage of my convictions at times, but this isn’t a midlife crisis at all. I am sitting right at the beginning of ‘midlife choice’ – and that’s exhilarating.