“Where have I been? Where am I going? What does it all mean?” These are some of the questions you’re likely to ask yourself as you approach midlife. Remember the last time you did this kind of existential questioning? Probably when you were a rebellious teen!
Midlife is a time of self-analysis and reflection. It is a particularly difficult stage for many baby boomers, the generation of folks who were never supposed to age. Wonderful folks enter my office daily, resisting the march of time and trying to make sense of it all.
Some continue to look to the past — wistfully or with regret — and to the future with trepidation. Others negotiate the passage to midlife artfully, almost seamlessly. What is their secret?
Successful “midlifers” probably ask themselves these questions:
l What must I let go of? To move into midlife in a healthy way, it’s important to acknowledge roads not taken, physical prowess lost, and age-related changes in appearance. You must grieve these losses if you are to move on to a new life stage.
l What have I learned from the past? It’s important to assess what life has taught you up until now. This understanding will make the most of your future.
l What are my strengths today? Take note of what you have gained, as well as what you have lost. It is likely that you are better able to put hardship into perspective today. You probably are more flexible and accepting of others’ foibles. Years of life experience have made
you more confident, yet less likely to take yourself too seriously. Finally, you are probably less focused on materialism and status, and more concerned with good health, family and friends.
Having answered these questions, do the following:
l Nurture friendships, old and new: As you focus less on career and children, you may have time and energy to devote to more honest and accepting relationships with friends.
l Mend and strengthen family ties: As your children grow up and leave home, let them become your friends. It’s no longer your place to offer unsolicited advice or ask unwanted questions. If you remember this, your children will relish the opportunity to spend time with you. Whenever possible, let go of family rivalries and old resentments. Painful things said and done years ago are not nearly as important as the joy that family can bring.
l Optimize your health: You may not be as attractive as you were at 25. You can, however, choose to make yourself healthy, fit and attractive today. Good nutrition, adequate rest and regular exercise will make you look your best. Most importantly, you will feel your best, physically and mentally, and emotionally.
l Remain positive and flexible: Instead of ruminating about the past, focus on exciting future possibilities. Allow yourself new and different experiences. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. By now you’ve earned the right to try frivolous things and to look ridiculous in the process!
– Dare to dream: Chances are you have not realized all of your past dreams. Are these dreams still possibilities? Make a list of the things you loved to do as a child. Add to it the things that capture your interest today. Your list will provide possible clues to a new career or a wonderful pastime. Pursuing your passion will greatly enhance your future.
– Seek spirituality: It’s never too late to become more reflective, and find strength from something outside yourself. As you age, it is normal to ask questions about the meaning of life and death. Finding peace with these issues will allow you to fully enjoy the present.
Midlife offers you a choice: You can focus on what was, or develop a fresh perspective about future possibilities. It’s all up to you. If you decide to let it, life can just keep getting better and better!
Maud Purcell is a psychotherapist, corporate consultant and director of The Life Solution Center of Darien. Write to her at email@example.com.