Are You Having a Mid-Life Awakening?
5 questions to clarify what is changing in your life
Posted June 2, 2018
An 84-year old woman told me, “I have realized we live our lives by many rules that no longer or never had value. I think I began questioning them in my 40s but didn’t know until now that I didn’t need answers, I just needed to let the rules go.”
In 2011, I wrote a post, What a Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like. The post has received over a half a million hits. I renamed mid-life crisis to a mid-life quest for identity. Now, when women ask me about the restlessness they are feeling in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, I tell them to re-frame their shift as a Mid-life Awakening because their beliefs about their place in the world and what they want to achieve is expanding instead of completely changing.
For women and many men these days, a mid-life disruption isn't about recovering lost youth. It's about discovering the application of their greatness.
There is a difference between life values and beliefs. Holding on to your values – what is essential to have in your life such as family, health, learning, accomplishment, loyalty, independence, or inclusiveness – may stay constant. Holding on to old beliefs – how people should act, what rules you should follow, and what path you should take in your life – should change as you learn from life lessons and reflect on your experiences.
The biggest belief buster is the “AHA moment” where you discover your belief was limiting and your view of yourself or life instantly changes. Letting go of old beliefs frees you to grow.1
When you start shedding beliefs that hold you back, new possibilities for yourself and your journey emerge. A Mid-Life Awakening shifts from, “What makes me feel successful and complete?” to “What makes me feel I am contributing and growing?”
The new questions may leave you feeling restless uncomfortable. You may feel lost because your priorities are shifting. Your goals may be harder to define. Your life purpose and highest potential become unstructured quests. For some, this pursuit feels better than the overwhelming ambitions in previous years. For others, the yearning is just as strong but feels more universal than personal as you seek to define your legacy or broad contribution.
While researching for my book, Wander Woman,2 a woman told me she went from being a celebrated marine biologist to an international sales executive to a wealthy consultant. Now she is on a few cultural and non-profit boards in her community as she contemplates her next life move. She told me she was taught to always raise her hand. Now, in her late 40's, she is questioning what she is raising her hand for.
Questions can provide clarity
Whether you had a significant career or your focus was on your family, life is progressing, your needs are shifting, and the world around you is quickly changing. This may make you feel like a stranger to yourself. Here are some questions that could help you embrace your restlessness instead of letting it feel disruptive, confusing and scary.
- What have I accomplished that I am proud of? Do I feel there is something missing? What would make me proud now?
- What conversations am I having that bring me alive? What do I dare doing to be an active player instead of an observer in these conversations?
- What yearning is emerging in my life? What is crying to be free?
- What step can I take now to find out what is on the other side?
- Is there something I need to leave behind to move forward?
This a great time to talk to friends who might be going through a similar experience. There is no need to "tough it out on your own." Find a friend who is also exploring who won't judge the struggle you are experiencing. A good coach who specializes in life transitions can help as well.
Be kind to yourself
Above all, don't let people tell you that you have no right to be unhappy with your life. It is okay to lose your equilibrium when others think your life should be smooth sailing. It is okay to question your life's purpose. It's okay to say, "I don't know who I am." It is better to ask the questions and seek the answers than to live a life you didn’t define for yourself.
Sometimes you must lose yourself to find yourself. Some call this a mid-life crisis; I call it an awakening.
¹ Minx Boren, Growing Bolder with Gratitude, Gusto, Grit and Grace. PathBinder Publishing, 2018.
2 The research that first defined these phases for me can be found in Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010.