What a Midlife Awakening Feels Like
If you google ‘midlife crisis,' you’ll think men are the only ones that experience this rite of passage.
Women go through a midlife crisis phase, too. Why? Because, to some degree, everyone experiences this as part of the aging process.
But, if you read through all the articles and books that focus on anything related to midlife crises, you’ll walk away with a very different picture of what this experience is like for women.
Spoiler alert...women are not like men. Our experience of nearly everything, including a midlife crisis, is different.
I prefer to think of this phase of life as a Midlife Awakening.
Since there’s not a lot of resources out there for women who may be in the midst of this confusing time of life, I wanted to write about my experience with my Midlife Awakening.
WHAT IS A MIDLIFE AWAKENING?
Before I get to my story, let me quickly explain what a Midlife Awakening is and how it is similar, yet very different, from what you may think of as a traditional “Midlife Crisis” (aka what men experience).
For both men and women, a Midlife Crisis/Awakening is a period when one starts to feel their own mortality. They become acutely aware of their age and the quick passage of time. It’s a wake-up call, and it typically starts to manifest around the late 30s or early 40s (i.e. around the big 4-0).
Where the paths divert is what men and women want as they go through the phases. For men, they generally want to try to hang onto their youth. For them, they want to feel like they’re in their 20s and not in their 40s.
For women, it’s a time where they want to find themselves. While they may not necessarily be thrilled with getting older, they ultimately want to embrace who they are and start to live life more fully. They want to shed the expectations of others, figure out what we really want, pinpoint their purpose in life, and start living their lives according to our own rules.
Keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different and these are generalities. Not every man will ditch his wife for the 20-something trainer at the gym and not every woman will go on an Eat-Pray-Love sabbatical to find herself.
But, for women, they typically start to feel unfulfilled in their jobs and life in general. It becomes their driving mission to answer questions they’ve never had before (“What’s the point of all of this?” “What am I leaving behind?” “Where are the purpose and meaning?”).
Every woman I’ve talked to in their 40s (and sometimes late 30s) has started to experience this, yet, when suggesting it might be a midlife crisis, most women resist this term. They’re not overly fond of ‘midlife’ (totally get that!) and they don’t really feel they’re in ‘crisis’ mode (because they’re not).
But, they know something is up, and they want to do something about it, but when trying to research what they’re going through they come up blank. It never occurs to them that what they’re experiencing is something they thought only their partner would go through.
MY MIDLIFE AWAKENING STORY
My experience is a little different than a lot of women simply because I don’t have children and I don’t plan to have kids. With a family and kids in the picture, the process of going through this transition period is likely even more challenging.
Before we take a journey back a few years to begin my story, let me quickly explain where I am now…
I turned 42 earlier this year, and I can honestly say I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
I’m still on a personal journey to live my purpose and “figure it all out,” but at the same time, I’ve learned that we never really “figure it all out.” That’s the beauty of life. We change, the world around us changes, the people in our lives change.
As soon as we think we’ve figured it all out, life tosses us a curve ball and knocks us back a few steps, and we have to approach things from a different perspective.
However, I do believe as we go through this process, we get to know ourselves on a deeper level which allows us to find the answers a lot more quickly or accept the unknown with more grace (still working on this one!).
As I’ve gone through my own Midlife Awakening, I identified three phases:
- The Discovery Phase
- The Action Phase
- The Golden Phase
MY DISCOVERY PHASE
I don’t remember exactly when my Midlife Awakening started for me, but if I had to guess, it was in my mid-to-late 30s. At that time, I was in a committed relationship after having divorced in my early 30s.
I had a good job where I was respected, paid nicely, and enjoyed flexibility and awesome benefits. I owned my own condo, traveled when I wanted, was in good health and didn’t have too many things that caused me stress.
Sounds pretty good, right?
It was all good...except it wasn’t.
I don’t want to sound like I'm ungrateful for all the blessings I’ve had...I was (and still am) very grateful for all life has given me (even though I’ve worked my butt off for who I am, where I am, and everything I have!).
But, slowly I started to realize something was missing. I began to feel uneasy, unsettled, bored, restless, and frustrated.
Up until this point, I’d never questioned why I was doing the things I was doing. I had followed the ‘rules’...I’d gone to a good college, graduated with honors, got a great job, got married, and bought a home. And, okay, so getting a divorce three years into my marriage hadn’t been on the agenda when I was younger, but it was part of the journey.
But now, I was questioning it all...
- What was the purpose in what I was doing?
- What was I going to leave behind?
- What was I supposed to be doing with my life?
- What was missing?
While I wasn’t depressed, I realized I wasn’t as happy as I should be and wanted to be. I was living a life that didn’t fit who I was, but I couldn’t immediately change anything because I realized I didn’t know myself all that well. I didn’t know what I wanted.
After sitting with all of this for awhile, I ultimately realized that my job, while good, didn’t fulfill me. I was bored and not challenged anymore.
My relationship wasn’t bad, but again, it didn’t fulfill me. Right around our four-year mark (I was 38 by this point), I realized I never wanted to marry my boyfriend, nor did I want to live with him. Yikes!
I didn’t want to waste my life, and I was on track to do just that.
So, I realized it was time to invest in myself and figure some things out.
If you’re keeping track, it took me 2+ years of being in the mucky place before I was ready to do the work. I had been reading some books and articles during that phase, but it was when I finally was able to see my life for what it was that I knew I needed to dig in, figure out who I was, and make some changes.
Before I go into the next phase of my Awakening, let me talk a little bit about how I was feeling during this time. It’s bizarre to feel like your life doesn’t fit you anymore. It’s uncomfortable to realize that you don’t know yourself nearly as well as you thought and definitely not enough to make the changes you desire.
It’s scary AF because you feel lost and you can’t see the path you want to take in front of you. It’s also terrifying to realize changes are coming, even though you desperately want them. Not many people like change and when you don’t even know what that change is it’s terrifying.
Guilt also creeps in during this time, especially if you have a life that looks pretty damn good on the outside. I had a good job and disposable income. I traveled when I wanted, had great friends, was in a not-bad relationship, had a beautiful home, and was in good health, etc.
I had what most people would love to have, so to feel like it wasn’t enough left me feeling really guilty. I didn’t want to admit it to many people lest they think I was this ungrateful, high maintenance, selfish witch.
The emotional rollercoaster is part of the process. Now, again, I didn’t slip into anything that needed professional help from a therapist, but for some, this definitely happens, and there is NO shame in seeking out that help!
MY ACTION PHASE
The first pivotal step in taking action in my life was to end my relationship. I had been with my boyfriend for 4-½ years at that point. He wasn’t a bad guy, and it wasn’t a bad relationship, but it was the wrong relationship for me.
We weren’t fighting or hating each other, which made it even more challenging. But, I knew I had to break things off or else I’d just be settling (and I’d eventually be miserable).
I remember my friends telling me how brave I was to end a steady, not-bad, relationship. For many women, they feel lost without a man and to be 38; it was seen as bold to step into being single again voluntarily. But, I’m not the type that needs a man to make me whole, so when I knew it was time to go, it was time to go.
After I had ended the relationship, it was time to get to work on me. I spent the next couple of years reading books and doing the personal development work to get to know me.
I started journaling for the first time in my life, and I credit that with changing my life. That is the piece that allowed me to break open my own hard shell exterior to see the real me beneath it. Was that always easy? Hell no! But, it was the key to allowing me to find the parts that needed attention.
I didn’t date much during this time, which was a personal choice. Sure, I went on a few random dates here and there, but it was not my focus. In fact, I didn’t want a relationship at that point. I needed the time to be with me and I knew it wasn’t the right time for me to bring someone else into my life. I wasn’t a ‘mess’ by any means; I just wanted time to be me.
In addition to my personal development work, I started trying other things. I took a jewelry making class, a cake decorating class, and many photography classes.
I hung out with friends, I spent time on my own, I traveled, and I updated most of my townhouse.
Eventually, all of this lead me to discover my passion for encouraging other women to follow their dreams and live their own lives. I wanted to empower women to stand up for themselves, listen to what they crave, and carve out a life for themselves that they love.
That’s when I found my true calling...coaching. After figuring this out, I dove into coaching school to start a new career path.
I also started working with my own coach. I worked with her for all of last year (2016) as part of a group + solo coaching program, and it transformed my life. For an entire year, someone held a mirror up to me and asked me “why?” and “why not?”.
As for how I felt during this period, I think the overwhelming feelings were curiosity and excitement. Trying a bunch of new things was fun!
But, it was also really hard to see the parts of me that I had neglected over the years. I don’t think I could've seen these parts clearly without having gone through my Discovery Phase. It helped prep me for accepting the parts of myself that needed work.
As I moved through this phase, the piece that blossomed the most was my ability to accept who I was and where I was. It's okay to not know what you want next in life...that's part of the process of the Awakening! You get the opportunity to figure it all out.
THE GOLDEN YEARS
If you’re still with me, this brings us to the present. I’m not sure what ‘phase’ of my Awakening I’m currently in because I am still making changes, but I think I’m past the true ‘action’ years.
I’m thinking of it as “The Golden Years” because I really truly feel like I’ve hit the goldmine in my life right now. I’m still not where I ultimately want to be, but that’s okay.
I’m still in the same job that was unfulfilling when this process started a few years ago, but, what’s different is that through my coaching practice, I’ve found my purpose and I feel that sense of fulfillment. The fact that that is missing from my day job doesn’t weigh on me as much. Now, I can do a good job there, enjoy the salary and benefits that come along with it, and come home to do my real work.
My relationship with myself is completely different now. I had to do a LOT of work on self-love because as I pulled off the armor a few years ago, I realized I didn’t actually like myself that much (and that made me feel uncomfortable!). So, I spent a lot of time learning to fall in love with myself. I used to be my own biggest bully, and now, I rarely say anything horrible to myself, and when I do, I catch it for what it is...fear (and a lot of times, fatigue).
That’s not to say I love everything about me...I don’t. But, I’ve learned to respect everything about myself - even the stuff I don’t like - which allowed me to transform my relationship with me.
I’m now in a new relationship with an amazing man. We’ve been together for about seven months at this point, and I couldn’t be happier. He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever dated before, and I feel incredibly grateful to have him in my life.
I think I was able to find him because of all the work I did on myself over the past couple of years. Instead of presenting him with a facade, I met him as the person I truly am. Since I’m very secure in myself, I’m able to take my attention off myself and direct it to him to fully see him (it helps that he happens to be the most emotionally intelligent man I’ve ever dated! He knows himself as well, and I know myself). I’ve never been in a relationship that feels so ‘easy’ because it’s just working so well.
My coaching business isn’t quite where I want it to be yet, but I know it takes time. Instead of beating myself up over it, I extend myself grace and recognize it as part of my journey.
Despite all of this, I still have things that challenge me, make me question what I’m doing, or wonder if I’m making the right decisions. But, from the work I’ve done and the path I’ve traveled, I have the ability to check in with myself and see when I’m BS’ing myself and when something is right, even if it scares the hell out of me.
TAKEAWAYS FROM MY JOURNEY
As I mentioned previously, everybody’s journey is different and won’t look the same. This phase in life...the Midlife Awakening isn’t always fun, but it definitely has its perks.
It’s a beautiful opportunity to get to know yourself, so you know how to live your life according to your own needs, desires, and values.
Is it hard...hell yes. But, it’s through discomfort where we experience change. You have to get uncomfortable to start seeing things differently.
For my experience, I didn’t have children to contend with, and as I said, I don’t want children. For those of you with kids, your journey will definitely look and feel different, but I bet there’s still some overlaps.
For those of you, like, me, that don’t have children you have the added challenge of figuring out what you leave behind. You also face the judgment of others over the choice to not procreate and the guilt around your ‘free and privileged’ life not being enough. My advice...ignore those people and focus on what lights up your soul as what may be your legacy.
I haven’t fully figured out my legacy or what I’ll leave behind, but I do feel like how I’ve touched the people in my life - friends, family, colleagues, etc. - is part of it. I also feel like as I continue my work on inspiring and working with women going through this in their lives, that’ll play into it as well.
To be honest, I’m not really worried about it as much now. I know it’ll be there and if it’s not, well, when I’m gone, I won’t really know the difference anyway. But, I do believe that we all leave a mark even if we don’t see it. We all make a difference in someone’s life.
To put it simply, I plan to keep doing what I’m doing.
I love my life right now, but nothing is ever permanent. It will change, and I know I have challenging and painful times ahead. I don’t know the circumstances around those, but I know they’re ahead because that’s life. Am I worried about it? Nah...that’d be a waste of energy and keep me from living and enjoying the now.
My plan is to keep developing myself and to reach out to connect with more women going through something similar.
That’s my purpose and my mission.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, I thank you. Thank you for listening to my story. Thank you for being part of my story
I invite you to share yours with me...email me or leave a comment below (or schedule a time to chat with me as part of my 100 Coffee Chats project!). Sharing our stories are part of the process of changing our stories.
Where are you in this process and how can I help?