Episode 70

As I sat here trying to decide what wisdom I wanted to share with you today, I couldn’t decide on a topic. My mind is racing with so much.

Coming up with what I wanted to talk about today, felt a little bit like digging through your junk drawer looking for something inevitably sitting on the bottom. I know you have a junk drawer. Everyone does. There has to be a place to put things that have no place. Oh god, accidental metaphor for all the pent up potential that is languishing in midlife.

Anyway, at the bottom of the pile of my thoughts was the idea of change. The reason the thoughts are all jumbled right now with no clear winner emerging victorious is because so many things are changing. 

I think your goal in midlife is for there to be a tremendous upheaval in order to bring about change. Big change. Uncomfortable change. It has to be training for the next chapter which is not supposed to be some finalized state. You are not baking a cake, you are cooking a cassoulet. 

If you don’t know, a cassoulet is a simmering stew of savory soft white beans, hearty chunks of pork shoulder, lamb, duck confit, Toulouse sausage and regional French herbs. It is a dish that is cooked continuously, with portions being served and then new ingredients being introduced. To the same pot. Forever.

There was a restaurant that my grandparents loved in San Francisco called Le Central. It was not uncommon for them to go there a couple of times a week. So over the course of my life visiting them, I went there many times. And I would sit and marvel at the chalkboard marking the number of days their cassoulet had been simmering. 

When I thought about that cassoulet today, I checked their website. It seems this restaurant is a casualty of COVID; their last post touting their Valentine’s Day menu, I’m guessing of 2020.

But there was the tally, at least from that day, for the number of days the cassoulet had been simmering: 16,847. The restaurant opened in 1974. You do your own math around that anchor point. Like me, you’ve probably been simmering somewhere over 16,847 days. 

The problem for you right now though may be that someone turned the heat down just a little too much. It’s time to turn up your flame and start cooking a little faster, a little hotter.

If you’re feeling stuck, unmotivated and uninspired, my guess is that it’s because you are not introducing any new ingredients to your pot. If you are just stirring around what’s already in there, you’re not going to be changing your flavor profile very much.

You are craving change. Order it up. 

I have often thought that the best cure for a midlife crisis is to start a business. I still think that’s a fabulous idea by the way. But I’ve drilled down on that thought and decided that really what creates change in your life is the catalyst of learning. Anything. Just something that wakes your brain and creativity up. 

I’ve seen it time and again with the women I’ve coached, a complete change in optimism and mood when they focus on learning. And it doesn’t have to be some formalized degree program, unless of course you want it to be. It also doesn’t have to be something technical or something that can turn into a profession or commercial venture. Although if you want it to, by all means. I’m talking super simple. I’ve had women decide to finally learn to swim or take painting lessons. Just the simple act of setting aside specific time to improve a skill or explore an interest is magical.

Now I know we assign value to reading. And I totally subscribe to that and believe using your imagination to picture fictional stories is a worthwhile intellectual pursuit. But it is escapism. What I am asking you to evaluate is whether or not you are creating new neural pathways paved with information here in the real world.

Take some time to think about the things you wish you could do better or things you wished you knew how to do. If you are ambitiously inclined, go ahead and picture a career or business you may want to have and the skills you would need to learn slip into that role. Find a place to learn whatever that is that came to mind. It doesn’t have to be a formal class per se, although that structure makes things easy. The internet is the most incredible place to find information on absolutely anything that piques your interest. The internet, have you heard of this?

What I absolutely do not want you to do is have an idea of something flash in your head and then immediately squash it because your family will think it’s stupid or who are you to think you could do it or there isn’t time or, or, or, whatever negative counter point came to crush your thought. Is it any wonder that you remain stuck when you stand at the ready to make sure you don’t make any progressive change. 

That little voice inside is real. She knows what you want and she is super exhausted by being told no. I am fearful that if you don’t start showing her a little love, let her get her way once in a while, she’s going to stop speaking up. 

Here’s what’s fun; once you start learning again, you can’t stop. You prove to yourself you actually can learn new tricks and follow through and finish. Then the world opens up and you give yourself permission to keep learning, chasing shiny new objects of interest.

Here’s a little exercise; picture your life in 5 years. If all you did was add a few laugh lines but see yourself exactly where you are today, ask yourself, is that good enough for you? Are you really ready to say this, right now, is as good as it can get, that you are as good as you can be. If we’re hangin’ out, my guess is THIS is not acceptable. But you have to be willing to do something about it. And by “it”, I don’t mean the circumstances within which you live, I mean “it” as in YOU. 

Sometimes I think women think if they work on and change the outside, the inside will follow along. You know I believe in putting in effort on the outside. If you haven’t heard it yet, I encourage you to listen to Episode ___: Mirror Mirror. But that’s just a portion of the story, and it’s a bandaid. It’s not uncommon for women our age to spend a lot of time, money and energy on getting in shape and combating aging and believe me, I do think it’s worthwhile. To a point. If you aren’t exercising the inside too, that muscle between your ears, your endgame is just a tight ass. You’ll still be bored.

I think we inadvertently assign the word change a negative meaning. My theory is we confuse change with solution, an expectation the change will have a permanent result. Not the case. Never the case. Life keeps moving. If you haven’t learned it yet, may I suggest it’s time to embrace flexibility and look forward to the unexpected. Even when things are difficult, embrace the suck. Know that while change can be messy, it ultimately leads somewhere, well at a minimum, interesting. Start gleefully anticipating change with an attitude of “oh yeah, what else?” and see if you don’t start to welcome and seek out change.

Just please always remember to recognize and respect the good that is in your life, the 16,000 plus other days of experience and learning and loving that brought you to today. The point of change is not to make wide sweeping alterations and start over. The point of change in midlife is to enhance and continue to develop the best parts of you. 

Don’t think everything has to be part of a grandmaster plan and please don’t think that everything has to fit together in one pot like a cassoulet. My personal learning is all over the place, some of it focused on improving my business and tech skills but also, I’m hugely interested in cryptocurrency and nfts. I know, I’m a middle aged woman, not a silicon valley tech bro, but why should the kids have all the fun? Don’t pigeonhole yourself and subscribe to what you’re supposed to be. Be what you want to be.

I wonder what happened to the cassoulet at Le Central. Did someone take it home, promising to keep it alive and simmering in the hopes of reopening one day? Is it like my 2nd grade class pet hamster and the employees share custody, taking turns caring for it? Oh man, what I desperately hope is that they didn’t just turn the stove off, scrape the remaining stew into the trash, wash the cast iron pot, and walk away. Friend, keep stewing your cassoulet and adding new ingredients. You are not finished cooking. Not now. Not ever. Keep evolving. Keep changing. You’ll only taste better as time marches on.

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