Navigating Midlife Successfully

About 10 years ago the life I had been living, that I worked so hard to build didn’t fit me anymore. I had two beautiful young girls, a husband that was my college sweetheart, a job at the university that all of my career choices had led me to secure, a loving extended family, and great friends. All things to me that signified a rich and full life. It took time, sacrifice and great effort to create this life, so when it didn’t fit any longer it was confusing and very painful.

Yet, there was no denying that something was off and no matter what I did, I knew that I had to make some changes.

The reason being-that at 33 years old, I felt like my life wasn’t my own. That I had outgrown my life in a way that a snake sheds its skin, for something new to emerge. I felt a natural draw to the do the same.

What I was experiencing is what is referred to as the afternoon of life which some refer to as a midlife crisis. A midlife crisis at age 33?? Impossible.

Not really, it happens more than you may think. In fact the afternoon of life can begin to occur around the age of 30 and last until you’re well into your 60’s. The main indicator of this important life phase is that you experience a deep need for change and once you become aware of this need-you can’t go back to your old way of being.

Letting Go of What Is for What Could Be

“At midlife we realize that if we are ever going to become who we are in the deepest recesses of our being, we have got to begin now. In order to grow, however, we have to let go of many things that have come to define who we are,” (Brehony, 1996, p. 11).

The change of midlife is often born of conflict, pain or suffering. Carl Jung said “there can be no growth of consciousness without pain.” And it’s usually when we are experiencing conflict, pain or suffering that the effort to change is more comfortable than the effort required to remain where we are. This is where change begins and it is hard, messy, scary, and seems endless.

It’s in the afternoon of life that we realize that the person we thought we were supposed to be, the lives that we have worked so hard to create, and the accomplishments that we have accomplished for so many years, no longer serve us.

When I was going through this transition I remember thinking to myself “I don’t have the tools to deal with this.” Others have defined this time as “being sliced open and completely vulnerable to everybody around me.” Or “completely exposed with nowhere to hide.” All signs that what you are experiencing, is the afternoon of life.

Carl Jung said, “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning. The afternoon of human life must have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.” In other words, the things we have done to prepare for midlife, the habits, tools, life hacks, etc…won’t help us navigate the afternoon of life.

In addition to feeling this immediate need to make changes, there is no clear path or destination. There is just an intense inner calling to do something else!

In the afternoon of life we realize that the things we have worked so hard to build-families, career, financial independence and lifestyle all things that we think are essential to who we are, and how we define ourselves in reality-aren’t a part of us. Recognizing that if you lost your job, you would still be you. Or if you lost your family, you would still be you.

According to Deepak Chopra, staying attached to these external factors lead to:

  • anxiety
  • fear
  • anger
  • jealousy
  • hopelessness
  • sadness
  • disconnection
  • pride
  • vanity

This is why detachment from these external factors is essential and a major part in the afternoon of life.

If you are currently going through the afternoon of life, first of all-congratulations-you are in great company. This next step in your journey is an important and natural transition of life that everybody goes through to some degree.

If you find yourself struggling to find your inner compass the following steps will be useful.

  1. Observe your thoughts. Become aware of what thoughts you habitually think. Identify your thoughts. Stopping every hour to write down the thought you’re having in that moment and the emotion that thought brings you can be quite useful to identifying your thought patterns and how they affect your feelings. Notice how your thoughts make you feel in your physical body. Attachment comes with an emotional charge that affects not just your thoughts, but your body as well.
  2. Separate your ego from reality. The ego is the part of you that wants to be right and is attached to one outcome. The reality is what actually happened, whether or not it matches your expectations. Your ego might tell you that not getting the job you want has ruined your career. When in reality you are disappointed because you didn’t get something you wanted. Nothing has changed except your thoughts about your potential and you can still advance your career.
  3. Embrace Uncertainty. There is no guarantee that the results you want are going to happen. And what happens is you end up chasing security in the exterior world and no matter what things you end up getting to make you feel secure, it’s temporary and fleeting. It’s simply your attachment to what is known. And the only guarantee in life is that things will continue to change. When you accept that things are continuously changing and nothing is certain you open your mind up to a life of endless possibilities.
  4. Take time for yourself every day. Meditate, breathe, journal, read, anything that you can do to quiet your mind. When you quiet your mind, “you help your mind release patterns of thought and action that no longer serve you,” (Chopra).
  5. Give yourself time and grace. It’s hard to change long held habits. Be gentle with yourself and keep in mind that you are now noticing when you repeat a pattern or habit that no longer serves you. This awareness will help you transform your behavior in time.

The afternoon of life is the beginning of a new transition in your life. It’s an exciting time where you begin to turn inwards to look for happiness by creating a life that has greater depth and opportunity for happiness.


Reference:

Brehony, K. (1996). Awakening at midlife: Realizing your potential for growth and change. The Berkeley Publishing Group

Lechner, T. (2021, July 25). Using Detachment for a Happier Life. Chopra: https://chopra.com/articles/5-steps-to-detaching-for-a-happier-life

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