Let’s talk about the experience of MidLife Crisis. There are certain situations in life where we are self selecting. This is one of them. Since you clicked on this episode, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re feeling the squeeze of MidLife. So I’m glad you’re here and I want you to know you’re not alone. I also want you to know that this so called crisis is actually an opportunity. Get excited. I’m not kidding. You are about to embark on your next best chapter.
It’s an opportunity to reassess EVERYTHING in your life. Notice I didn’t say CHANGE everything. I said reassess. Because when you do the hard work you will uncover that there is a lot of good in your life and you have a lot to work with.
I also know there’s a lot of shit driving you crazy and making you angry and sad and unmotivated. I’ve been there. But I climbed my way out and I want to be your guide to help you make your transformation a little faster and a little less ugly than mine was.
Let’s start with defining this so-called crisis.
I love how Brene´ Brown in her essay The Midlife Unraveling says, “to call what happens at midlife “a crisis” is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable, and defining event that can be controlled and managed.
Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.”
So yeah, it’s actually worse. And I couldn’t agree more. It’s long, drawn out, painful, isolating and plan ole crazy making. Sounding familiar?
There was a study published in 2008 by a couple of economists that human beings report a U-shaped curve when asked about their happiness at different ages. First a quick disclaimer; the authors of this study sampled Americans and West Europeans. So the expression “first world problems” definitely applies here. My experience, certainly in my bubble, is that we have the luxury of dissatisfaction. There’s a roof over our heads and food on the table. Our “crisis” is in search of greater satisfaction and fulfillment, not survival.
Second, a quick aside. I thought it was kinda funny that this study was done by economists and not psychologists. I imagine these two guys sitting around analyzing and complaining about their lives over a beer one day after work until one said “well we’re great at statistics and the scientific method so let’s interview a bunch of other people to see if they feel like we do.”
So these guys, David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, noted that we start life pretty optimistic. For god’s sake we believe that a magical fairy will swoop into our bedrooms at night while we sleep to remove a bloody tooth from under our pillow and replace it with money. And that this optimism carries well into our 20’s, hopefully not still believing in the tooth fairy, until dun dun dun, we start adulting.
I have a love/hate relationship with that oh so popular term “adulting”. The hate comes from the disdain I have of people that bitch all the time about the unpleasant shit that we all have to do. Look, responsibility is not the feel good word of the decade.
My love of the term is that it does sum up all that crap that we ALL have to do and we now have a collective understanding of those responsibilities. So let’s just wrap them up, accept that they exist and that we are going to tend to them, but put them aside so we can focus on areas of our life that will bring us more fulfillment.
So back to our timeline, we start “adulting” and from there our optimism wanes, hitting a low point at an average age of 46. I spent my 45th birthday sobbing so call me an overachiever.
I read a quote by Harvard professor Howard H Stevenson that asked “do you have 20 years experience or the same experience for 20 years?”. That kind of summed up what the coma I woke up from felt like. I had been living the same experience for 20 years; wash, rinse, repeat.
That’s not exactly genius level research, just real and relatable but I love how putting the words “Harvard professor” before any nugget makes it instantly important. I’m going to make it a personal goal that you start quoting me by saying “middle aged former housewife Kimberly Samson says.” Anyway, I digress.
But here’s where the good stuff starts to happen because in my opinion, this is when we wake up from the societal induced coma that we’ve been placed in and really start to question who we are and what we want out of life.
I want to spend a moment talking about that societal coma. Most of us are conditioned to be rule followers so we go through life hitting these expected milestones. Our education is mapped out with certain acceptable exit ramps whether after high school or college. Some even pursue advanced degrees. Then we enter the workforce and if you work for a larger organization, your career is somewhat defined; what you have to do and how long you have to be there to reach the next promotion or salary increase. And then most of us look to partner up with someone until death do us part and we’ve decided that sometime in your 20’s or 30’s is the acceptable time to do this even though most of us are barely formed individuals. We buy a house so that we feel settled. Because the American Dream is synonymous with owing a bank an amount several times your annual salary and that seems like a good way to feel settled. Then we start having babies and the babies’ timelines and milestones start to define our life because if you’re anything like me, your greatest daily achievement during that season was making dinner, doing laundry and cleaning children.
I really want to talk about that shift of achievement timeline. When I think back on the last 20 or so years of my life, my memories almost exclusively revolve around the successes of my children. I want to make clear that I never kidnapped their wins as my own or considered them a reflection of my worth, I just measured time by their milestones.
Even though I went back to work in banking and also did a stint in our family business, I almost solely define the mini chapters of the last two decades by which kid was in which grade, playing what sport and excelling in what miraculous part of their life. For a person who has always been a high achiever as defined by the external forces of grades, awards and trophies, (not saying that’s healthy) this was a huge shift. Part of me is proud of myself that I was able to suppress my own ego and only care about their successes. But that other part of me that resembles a labrador retriever in search of praise and adoration…well, here we are.
So most of those achievements are boxes that get checked before that age of 46. And oh by the way if you started making those babies in your late 20s like I did, they start heading off to college around then and it dawns on you that they are starting their own lives.
So then we hit the great abyss of Well WTF Now? No one sends a guide in the mail of how to navigate the crisis. Stevie Nicks’ Landslide is about the best we’ve got.
For me, I needed to prove that I could achieve something greater than cooking, cleaning and chauffeuring. Not to take anything away from those responsibilities because I do believe and take pride in the homelife I created for my family. But a coffee mug with a picture of a trophy that says Best Mom Ever wasn’t really filling my bucket.
As my grandfather used to say, none of us are getting out of here alive. And maybe that’s part of it too, that we actually come to understand that we are not immortal and that bad shit does start to happen to people our age. I certainly felt a bit of that. That I would actually run out of time at some point and feel like I had nothing to show for it.
And for women, it’s not just the threat of illness but that our looks change. I was going to say that our pretty fades but that’s bullshit. We have to come to terms with our beauty morphing. Then there’s the question of how much you fight it. The bottom line, I think, is that you can’t really. All the procedures and injections hit a point of diminishing returns where you still look like a middle aged women, just one who’s done a bunch of scary things to her face. More on that to come in a later podcast because WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THIS.
I think we hit this trough in our 40’s when we get fed up with following the societal playbook because it was written to tell us how to serve everyone around us and gave us little information for how to serve ourselves. I think, no I know, this creates a dangerous backlash. Men and women alike. A word of caution: Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Or buy a ferrari or get a younger lover. It’s just time to align your daily activities with your true and authentic self. Wait til you meet her. You’re gonna love her.
Your true awakening comes from finding the peace that you can both still take care of the people around you who rely on you while ALSO serving your own needs. I promise you, they are not mutually exclusive.
Here’s the other tough thing about MidLife Crisis. You suffer it in relative silence. I think we sort of let our friends in on little bits and pieces here and there but the negative thoughts and feelings of pessimism are on a constant loop. We repeatedly ask the question, “Is this all there is?” and if you’re not taking massive action at this moment, the only answer the Universe is going to give you is “Yes. Yes it is.”
Whatever you do, please don’t “just get over it” and accept the current state as permanent. With medical advances, you could live another 60 years like this. If that felt like a punch in the gut then let’s get to work.
So how do we start the upswing of happiness. For me it’s finding fulfillment, connection, purpose and gratitude. Those are the pillars of my satisfaction and what I try to help my clients uncover in their own lives. In simple terms, figure out what makes you happy and do it.
I know that sounds oversimplified because you’re in a tough spot right now. It’s not. I promise. Stick with me and we’ll get you on the upswing in no time. But that’s the endgame and it takes hard work to get there.
So you have to start somewhere to feel better and you may be surprised to find out the advice I have for you. Start with your physical health and appearance. Sounds superficial and gross right? I know it does. And it’s a risk to tell you that because like the rest of our lives so far, we’re conditioned to think we’re vain and shallow if we put effort there.
I assure you this aspect of your MidLife recovery is not the cure but I know it’s a jumpstart. When you physically feel better and are confident about the way you look, it’s a lot easier to put the work in on the tough stuff; the emotional barriers that keep you feeling stuck and then constructing and finally achieving your vision for the future.
So here’s 4 things for you to do right away. I call them “no shit” ideas because it’s nothing you don’t know, it’s just that sometimes it helps to have someone remind you. Like drink water instead of whatever diet soft drink you’re pounding all day. Cut out refined sugar. Ditch the alcohol. It’s doing you no favors. The sugar in soda and alcohol, not to mention the direct infusion from delicious sweets is cell destroying. Also, try taking anything with flour out of your diet. Even if you’re telling me right now that you’re not gluten-intolerant, you’ll be shocked at the bloat and water weight that disappears without bread and pasta and other baked goodness in your life. It’s tough to make the changes. And working on being a habit ninja is something we’ll work on together in The Midlife. In the meantime, do your best and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty drastic changes in your skin and body in 30 days.
Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg of the long and challenging road I walk people down to change their MidLife Crisis into a MidLife Transformation. It requires breaking and replacing bad habits, organizing your home and work space, getting your finances under control, finding or strengthening your community, finding your purpose and actively designing the life you want, not just reacting to the circumstances you find yourself in.
So were you nodding along during this podcast? Then yes it’s a midlife crisis and you should consider yourself lucky to be on the brink of creating your best chapter yet!
In the meantime, know you’re not alone. I hope you’ll show up and help start to build a community with me of like-minded women on a quest to live their best life.
You are on the verge of earning and receiving everything you have ever desired. I’m not just blowing smoke up your dress. This period of MidLife has the potential to be your biggest emotional growth spurt yet. It’s your second, and more productive, adolescence.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on MidLife. Please consider joining the facebook group Muddling Through The Midlife and drop me a note. You can also follow me on Facebook at The Midlife and you can check out my website www.themidlife.co.