06/23/2015 03:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

Heroes and Mentors... Especially in Midlife


Midlife can be a time of great flux and turbulence. We can feel quite isolated, unsure if others are feeling similar things or if it's just us. Women especially are struggling with feelings of invisibility as the media focusses incessantly on youth. Our children have grown and many will have left the nest which leaves us rudderless if our main focus has been the family.

"What now?" many of us ask. I have a tendency to overthink and become overwhelmed with negative thoughts about 'what next' and I've found great comfort in my friendships to give me a different perspective.

I am blessed with friends spanning many decades. I miss my dear old neighbour who died from cancer. We used to spend many hours talking of life and loves, especially towards the end of her life. I also revel in being with the young: I delight in their spontaneity, their innocence, and their "anything is possible" outlook.

When we are wading through mud, when our vision and perspective on our situation is so narrowed down and blinkered that it is very difficult to see outside of ourselves and our problems, this is the time to get a different perspective. This is when it is good to spend time with people outside our age group. This is the time to sit on the floor playing Lego with a small child. It's the time to sit besides them as they are creating a painted masterpiece at their easel. These wise young souls have much to teach us if we turn down the background noise in our own heads and give these little ones our full attention. Such wisdom there, if we simply listen for it. They see things in their paintings that we can only dream of as we try to rationalise and make sense of brush strokes on their paper.

Or perhaps it's sitting down with an elderly friend who is dying and talking about what the important things in life truly are. Approaching goodbyes mean we talk about the truth, the essence of a life well spent, of love and where to focus our life. We certainly don't talk about the desire and need to work harder or the need for the latest gadget or bearing a grudge and letting it affect our entire day because someone cut us up at the lights on our way into work.

I am always uplifted and renewed.

And what about role models and mentors for midlife?

A mentor and a role model need not be someone you know personally: for that matter, he or she might not even be alive. Whose writing inspires you? Whose work excites you? Who do you admire? Who do you respect and look up to?

I still miss my grandfather, the wisest man I have ever known. He was my hero, the man I turned to when I doubted the big things in life. He was an adoring and adored grandfather and great-grandfather. He was a man ahead of his time, erudite, interested in life and living right up until he died in his nineties, his mind as sharp as a tack. I wish he had been around to listen and advise when things became really tough in my life.

He taught me to be open-minded. He taught me non-judgment. He taught me tolerance. He taught me to do what I felt deep inside to be right. He taught me determination and bloody-mindedness. I think of him often and ask myself when in doubt, "What would Pa say?"

Who do you look up to as you navigate your way through midlife? Who has come through this period in life successfully? What could you learn from them?