The View From Midlife
Midlife is a strange place.
Many of my students still seem to think I’m in my 20s, yet I haven’t been carded in over a year.
I had to stop to buy face wash for acne-prone skin on the way home from my mammogram.
Even as I am seen as a source of advice from my coworkers, I still question myself every day.
I can still run and lift and make it through a power yoga class without pause, yet I can also manage to hurt myself simply while sleeping.
It’s a strange place. Not yet old yet no longer young. Occupying a body that reminds me it’s aging while my brain still feels like it’s learning to walk.
And I still find myself wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up.
Yeah, it’s a weird place.
As the middle of things often are.
I see many of my friends struggle with the pressures of simultaneously caring for children and aging parents. They are navigating the separation stage of parenting while coming to terms with the increased dependence of the elder generation.
Many of the decisions that make a life have already been made and regrets about some of them may seep in as it begins to feel too late to make a course adjustment.
The mental space that used to be dedicated to caring about what others think and wanting to fit it with the crowd is opening up as a, “This is me, take it or leave it” attitude settles in. Yet, underneath it all, some of the core insecurities still remain.
Friendships have come and gone and returned again. The ones that last have to learn how to fit in around the demands of work and home and general life pressures.
Mortality becomes a constant hum as loss visits more frequently. The illusion of control that helped us power through the life-building years starts to be replaced with a budding acceptance.
And through it all, we contrast how we feel about our accomplishments with where we imagined we would be at this point in life. And reality can never compete with dreams, especially the dreams of the young.
It’s a juncture that calls for pause. For reflection.
I can see how these years can lead to a midlife crisis. A desire to wipe the slate clean and start over, only this time with wisdom gained from decades of living. The urge to undo mistakes from the past now that we have enough information to know that they were mistakes. It’s a time when it’s easy to wonder about the roads not taken, envisioning an alternate life and different outcomes. Outcomes that in our imagination, never seem to have any pain or loss.
Midlife is also a period classified by being needed. We are both the mentors and the caretakers. We pay the mortgage and also feel the pressure to spend on others. In we’re in a relationship, we are acutely aware of our part in the equation now that the naiveté of youth has been washed away. And being needed can become exhausting. It’s no wonder that some decide to run away from all of those responsibilities (even though once the dust has settled, you’re generally back in the same place you started in).
Yet midlife is also an opportunity. It’s a union of wisdom and time. Neither are absolute, yet both are still in abundance. It’s not too late to make changes. There are still opportunities to explore new pathways. And instead of looking at your past decisions with regret, you can instead see them as curriculum that has provided you with the knowledge you have today.