In my career and executive coaching, I work with hundreds of women each year going through major transitions. Recently, I was speaking with a fascinating client of mine -- let's call her "Carol" -- who shared with me her views about midlife BEFORE she had arrived there, and then what happened when her 40s came.
It's funny -- when I was my early 30s and I'd hear about someone having a 'midlife crisis,' I'd think to myself, "Wow, I don't really get that. I'm focused, doing what I need to, experiencing success, the kids are good, things are moving along well. I can't imagine waking up to wanting a whole new life or finding out that what I have I don't want.
But when I turned 43, something happened. I awakened somehow -- after a series of very tough events and challenges -- to wanting more, wanting something different. It's like I suddenly saw my whole life differently through the eyes of a middle-ager. The career I spent years rising to the top of somehow lost its hold on me -- it felt empty and unimportant, silly almost. My relationship with my husband had some serious problems over the years that took a terrible toll on me, but I never allowed myself to stop and look at that -- I just powered through it all.
Now that my kids are older and I'm not needed in the same, day-to-day way, I find that I truly want a different life -- a life that's mine -- based on what I value and what I love. I don't want to just push down what isn't working. I want to bring it out and resolve it, or let it go.
I get it now -- a "midlife crisis" isn't a cliché. It's real and it's powerful.
Carol speaks for thousands of women who've awakened in midlife to realizing that what they've created in their 20s and 30s just doesn't fit who they've become. (For more about my own midlife breakdown/breakthrough and others' midlife transformations, check out my book Breakdown Breakthrough).
Why is midlife a time of major transition?
I've observed that the following experiences contribute to our re-awakening in midlife and wanting change:
1) A time of reckoning and re-evaluation -- Realizing that your life is potentially more than half over is a jarring experience, and brings with it a sense of urgency to live more authentically and more joyfully. At 50, we just want different things than we did at 30.
2) Kids are launching - Without the pressing daily parenting responsibilities that can be all-consuming when children are little, now there's more room to think, room to breathe and quiet space to hear yourself dream.
3) Parents and friends begin to die - My friend and I discussed this just yesterday, that a number of our 50+-year-old friends have died -- from sudden illness, cancer, heart attack, etc. In caring for our elderly parents and watching their lives draw to a close, it gets us thinking about what it all means. When your loved ones begin to die, you think hard about life.
4) Longings won't be suppressed - After working so hard to craft a "successful" life, we get tired of the race to nowhere. Instead of some outward version of "success," we long to pursue what gives us joy, excitement, passion, peace -- we want to live life more fully, on our terms.
5) We know how to speak up - We won't be talked down to anymore. We've lived through that, and we've learned how to stand up, speak up and power up. We won't tolerate put-downs, manipulation or pressure like we used to.
6) We've finally earned it - Finally, after all you've strived for, accomplished, created and endured, you know what you're capable of. You won't stand for less. You have the confidence and the courage to embrace the idea that's been skulking around in your mind for years. You're ready to admit, "This can't be all there is. I know there's more for me and I'm ready and committed to creating it."
If you're in midlife and wondering why everything looks and feels different, don't be alarmed. It's a natural, normal life progression -- a stage that doesn't have to represent chaos and anxiety.
The key is to not resist or break yourself against it like a rock but embrace it -- walk directly into it. Look deep into the deep recesses of your heart, mind, and soul to find clues of who you want to become now, and what you want to build in this next thrilling chapter. And get some empowering outside support to help you be accountable for achieving what you want. It's a new time, inviting you to create a new, more expansive you.
Midlife can pave the way to an exciting reclamation of your passion, power and purpose in life and work. It's time for your breakthrough -- are you open to it?