Face It

The challenges of aging in today's culture

Three Rs of Midlife Reinvention

Resilience, reliance and renewal are keys to successful midlife reinvention.

Reinvent yourself! Renew and revitalize!

Popular quests -- if not expectations -- of Baby Boomers today. Julia Roberts did it in style portraying Elizabeth Gilbert's journey in Eat, Pray, Love. The need to 'reinvent' was one explanation for the end of Tipper and Al Gore's 40-year marriage. And wouldn't it be interesting if 'reinvention' -- rather than suspected infidelity -- was the driving force behind rumors of 48-year-old Demi Moore's split from Ashton Kutcher? Turning the big five-0 tempts many of us with the alluring chance to do life over, leaving behind what was to move on to new beginnings.

Sure, we are living longer than ever before, more fit and active than any previous generation who has reached this age. And there are many mid-lifers who are struck with the compelling urge to pursue new dreams or meet unfulfilled ones. Arianna Huffington recently spoke with Rita Wilson on The Joy Behar Show about life after 50 saying, "Nothing is ever over, whether it's your dreams or your sex life," emphasizing the importance of finding creative ways to move forward. Agreed -- who doesn't welcome Arianna's eternal optimism? But while these opportunities are appealing -- and for many, quite possible -- there are others who are in fact poorly prepared for the challenges that real life reinvention bring.

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Before you jump at the chance for a midlife 'do-over,' you may want to consider these three essential psychological components -- called the three R's of Reinvention -- to determine your readiness to take on major transformations at this stage of life.

Resilience: It is important to assess how resilient and resourceful you are before inviting major life changes. It may look easy for actors in 'feel-good' movies or celebs with unlimited resources, but the majority of us have to consider real life realities and limitations. Whether it be making a career move, leaving your mate or taking on new and different challenges, assess both your internal emotional resources as well as your financial ones to determined if you are equipped to rise to the challenge of change. "Out with the old and in with the new" sounds revitalizing, but it often takes a lot of courage, effort and money to make changes at midlife. Those who leap at reinvention, but have little resilience, can end up feeling anxious and depressed, rather than renewed and energized. The ability to rebound is key in finding new ways to cope with, and even enjoy, new beginnings.

Reliance: Some people reluctantly admit that initial attempts at midlife reinvention left them feeling very alone. Recognize that it takes time to re-establish a new course in life, settle into unfamiliar surroundings and find comfort with new people. Leaving poor relationships or dead end jobs can propel us in positive directions, but these changes almost always require leaving behind those who provided us safety and comfort. The ability to rely on others and ask for help is important while transitions are made. Assess realistically who you can trust to be supportive and evaluate your ability to rely on them. Reinventing yourself often means finding a balance between taking the risk to be self-reliant and the risk to lean on others when need be.

Renewal: Remember, old roles that you may be eager to leave behind -- as spouse, parent or professional -- have been part of your identity for years. We may look forward to change, but letting go of old roles is difficult. Men who relied on work for their self esteem wonder why they get depressed when starting their long awaited travel adventures. Women who spend years caring for kids struggle as they get used to the time made free by their empty nests. Those who leave long-term marriages -- even very destructive ones -- find themselves extremely uneasy in their new role being single. Reinventing yourself means starting afresh, but it often means letting go of old routines and relationships that made us comfortable. Remember, assess your psychological flexibility so you can enjoy ongoing renewal of who you are and who you hope to become.

It's great to view your 50s and beyond as a time that brings potential opportunity for transformation. More and more mid-lifers are, in fact, choosing new and interesting paths as they plan for the years ahead. But, it's one thing to follow a popular trend and another to use experience and wisdom to make sensible life choices. Evaluate the your three Rs -- Resilience, Reliance and Renewal -- in order to move forward confidently with reinventions that work in real life.

Tell us if you have had a reinvention experience? Share the qualities you believe made it a real life possibility.

 

Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in New York City and co-author of Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change.

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