Organization expert and best-selling author Julie Morgenstern told me when I interviewed her recently that turning 50 is often so traumatic it can make many people stay stuck where they are, unable to move on.
But, don't get the wrong impression. It's not only because we're turning 50. It's just that at this age, so many changes can be converging all at once, creating a 'perfect storm' to glue us to the floor.
By the time we reach 50, It's very easy to lose yourself, especially when there are so many potential changes looming: kids growing up and moving out, parents aging and possibly moving in, changes in jobs, retiring, downsizing.
It does come down to making a choice: We can confront these life events, seize the moment of transition, and push ourselves to move . . . or we can get stuck in the mire.
What to do?
Julie advised that we first need to acknowledge some of the more common life-altering experiences that can happen after 50, including these five "biggies":
Your "I'm really 50?" moment: When Julie entered her 50s, she had a profound and cathartic experience. She realized that she was past the mid-point, and her life wasn't going to go on forever. The experience was deep and powerful and brought out many different feelings. Julie decided that this was also the time in her life to explore the new and potentially wonderful opportunities that were ahead.
Your children may be leaving home: If your life has been organized around your family, you might feel lost when your children become independent and less in need of your involvement, and then even more so when they eventually move out of your home. This can be a hard transition for many people over 50, especially women. Some welcome this new phase of life, but others seek to fill the void, often making bad decisions or not making any decisions at all, keeping them stuck.
Your work life may be changing: You've focused on your work, and now you're going through a change, whether you want to or not. Perhaps you've been laid off due to downsizing. Or maybe you're changing jobs, going back to work, or doing something completely different. Perhaps you're happily planning your retirement but realize that your life will change significantly once you do. Anytime you change roles, your identity can feel threatened, which can disrupt your view of yourself.
Your marriage is ending, or you're starting a new one: If you've been married for many years, or even a few, a shift in this area of your life has profound implications. Even if it is something you wanted, it still can create big changes in your life and sense of self, as does starting a new life with a new person.
Your spouse or another family member becomes ill or disabled, or passes on: Illness and death are natural occurrences in life, especially as we get older, but we are never fully prepared. If a spouse dies, your life is irrevocably changed on many levels, and this kind of change can stop you from creating your new life. Caring for an ill spouse or parent can hinder your ability to open up the next chapter in your life.
Take a look at this short chat I had with Julie, where she talks through the most common changes and offers some tips on getting unstuck . . . so we can forge ahead with our lives:
And remember this:
We can't control getting older . . . but . . . we can control how we do it!
For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70...) check out www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman. Check out my web video series-The Best of Everything with Barbara Hannah Grufferman-on the AARP YouTube Channel!
Research shows the midlife crisis is largely fiction. People in their 20s and 30s are more likely to experience the kind of "crisis" associated with middle age. Only an estimated 10% of middle-aged people have the classic midlife crisis.
Researchers have found no evidence of the so-called empty nest syndrome. Many parents relish and enjoy the transition, taking pride in the fact that all their child-rearing efforts have paid off, and their offspring are on the road to accomplishing their goals.
Men don't abandon their middle-aged partners for younger trophy wives as the stereotype suggests. Most marriages break up in the first eight years. The recent rise in divorce among the middle-aged is because second unions are breaking up (usually within the first eight years of marriage).
Hot flashes aside, nearly 62% of women in one survey said they felt "only relief" when their periods stopped, while fewer than 2% said they felt "only regret."
Despite the latest hype about testosterone supplements, low sex drive, depression and sagging energy levels were more likely to be caused by stress, poor eating habits and laziness in midlife than lower hormone levels. Meanwhile, many researchers think that warnings about female sexual dysfunction in middle age are highly exaggerated. What may account for women's flagging sexual life is that they are less likely to have a regular partner than men.
It turns out age really is about attitude: Research has found that believing that you can improve your health in middle age actually improves it. A sense of control in midlife can dramatically reduce disability and preserve one's health and independence later in life.
The truth is just the opposite: Many people view midlife as their happiest period. Several surveys have found that while happiness dips in the 40s, people start to feel more content with life after the age of 50.
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman