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The Magic of Midlife Returning to Self

returning to self

Let me tell you a story about returning to self.

For more than twenty years, Carla’s primary focus was working her way up the corporate ladder in the Human Resources department of a large publicly-traded company. Day after day she worked hard to meet the demands of her superiors and colleagues. This went on for many years, and Carla was good at getting shit done and making things happen. But, one morning she woke up with a sickened, sinking feeling in her stomach. 

It was her career, she realized. Carla had spent nearly half of her life working in an unsatisfying job, with few genuine accomplishments. And the goals of her youth? They were long forgotten. Carla had hit midlife and she didn’t like it. She wanted to get rid of the feeling in her stomach, so she began making a conscious effort to pay more attention to the gap between the reality of her life and the dreams and passions she once had. She was determined to pounce on what she saw as her one last chance for a career that could make the second half of her life more meaningful and fulfilling. 

In 2004, Carla decided to nourish her passion to serve the elderly. Today she is the owner and operator of an adult day care facility in Houston, Texas. She is now planning her next venture—an assisted living program for low-income elderly residents. 

Is Carla’s story unusual? Absolutely not! Gen Xers are expecting to work at least part-time well into their golden years. Many adults are looking at their 40s, 50s, and 60s as the right time to start fresh in an entirely new field- whether it is a paid field or not. What drives adults to change their vocation? The answer, in a word, is midlife. 

Midlife is known as a time for a “crisis” or identity shift. It’s a time when we crave a more fulfilling and meaningful career- unless we are one of the fortunate ones and already have it. I don’t like to refer to this as a midlife crisis. I prefer to term it as “returning to self”. Midlife is a time when our parents and older relatives begin to die, and we start to come to the realization that our lives will come to an end, too. Our mortality begins to hit home. It’s not uncommon to begin questioning the patriarchal aggression of climbing the corporate ladder. Suddenly achieving personal goals and doing what makes us happy becomes much more important. This is the time closet authors, entrepreneurs, musicians, and artists will begin thinking about careers to match their energy, vitality, and zest for life. 

For most of us, our life cycle is fairly predictable. From adolescence to age 30 we are consumed with learning how to become who we think we want to be. We go from our 30s to our 40s working and living that role. But at age 40, after having reached this goal or failing to do so despite a lot of hard work, many of us discover it wasn’t what we wanted to do after all. At this midlife point, many people are willing to take on the challenge and risks of freeing themselves from the burden of other people’s expectations. It’s the perfect time for returning to self.

Another key player in this is the longer life expectancy that we now have due to increased health and wellness. At midlife, people realize they still have nearly half a lifetime yet to live and they sometimes wonder how they will spend those years. They know they’re going to have lots of healthy years, so it’s no surprise that it’s a period of making choices to live the dreams we may have put on the shelf during our younger years.

Women are well represented in this returning to self. More women than ever are using their midlife as a springboard to experience positive career transformations. Women want careers that match their energy and allow them to be successful as individuals. More and more women are starting businesses, gaining respect, and finding purpose in their midlife. 

But career changes aren’t the only thing that we can change during a midlife finding of self. Sometimes we already have the career of our dreams but we want to do more. Many people pick up new hobbies or begin volunteering because they either don’t want a career change or don’t want to monetize the things that they find fulfilling. There is no shame either way. It’s not about what you do with a midlife returning to self. What’s important is that we do it. 

The lessons we can take from Carla’s story are that midlife should not be feared and that the sinking feeling in your stomach should not be ignored. Both are an accepted call to action. Changing your job, career, or lifestyle may take some work. But if you truly follow your passion, the effort will provide infinitely positive results. 

Are you ready to make a change? Here are a few tips for getting started. 

  1. Make a list of the things missing in your life

Think about the things you were passionate about when you were young- especially the things you never found time to pursue. It doesn’t matter what the thing is as long as it is something you truly have a desire to do. Once you know what this thing is, start brainstorming ways you can begin to incorporate it into your life. 

  1. Imagine what you would do if money were no object- if you had an unlimited amount of money in the bank. 

If journaling is your thing, this is the time to grab it. If not, just make notes by speaking into your phone’s voice recorder. How would you spend your time each day? Think of the environment you’d like to be in, the people you’d want to know, and how you would relate to them. What activities would you engage in? Chances are your passions come to the surface when you play out your “winning the lottery” fantasies. Although we’re not all destined to be millionaires, that shouldn’t hold you back from following your desires and placing more value in yourself, regardless of your bank account balance. 

  1. Tap into your wisdom and experience.

Your intuition is a vast resource of embodied knowledge. Listen to it. Ask yourself what’s not working and feel what your gut tells you. Use this time to reflect on your life. If you don’t know what you want to do, try volunteering as a way to develop new interests. Find a way to live your passion every day.

  1. Understand your passion, but also where your strengths lie.

It’s critical to take an inventory of your life and to determine what is really important. Make a list of the things you are passionate about, and then narrow the list to items that present an opportunity to start taking action. If you’re not pursuing your passion, what’s in the way? What do you need to do to move forward with pursuing your plan? 

  1. Keep your day job.

If your plan is to find a new career, don’t feel the pressure to find a new job. You don’t have to quit your day job to focus on your passion. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. I meet people all the time who say they’re working full-time and pursuing their dreams on the side, in their free time. Hello, have you met me? You may still need to earn a living while you transition onto your new path. This is true whether you’re planning to start a business or preparing to establish a new career. 

  1. Start right now.

Over the next 30 days; make a commitment to yourself to identify one thing you can do to begin pursuing your passion—and start doing it! Research ways to integrate your passion with your current obligations and take those first steps into your new passion project with achievable goals. You’ll soon discover that living and working your passion is being in control of your own life.

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