Living Forward at Midlife

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Our authors help prove that midlife is nothing short of a joyous awakening of sprit--an opportunity to honor the wisdom in our hearts, and create the rest of our lives with purpose and passion. This post is by Suzanne Zoglio

Have you ever said to yourself or someone else: "I have got to get a life"? Or perhaps someone has told you that you really should get a life. "Getting a life" is a common goal for those of us past forty. We want to get it right for the next half of our lives. Some of us search for a way out of life’s turbulence. Others want to feel more alive and savor the exquisite riches of life. And increasingly, we seek more meaning.

Well, if you are one of those people who want to get a life, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is every reason to believe that you can have the life of your dreams. The bad news is that you can’t just get a life, as you would a quart of milk, a new CD player, or a custom suit. You can’t buy it, steal it, beg for it, or even trade for it. No one else knows what pictures fill your mind or what passions fuel your heart. You’ll need to envision the design and embellish it with details that reflect the uniqueness of you. You will need to examine what feels right and what doesn’t, what you should keep and what you should give away, what you should add and what would just clutter things up. The way to get a life that tickles your soul is to create it yourself. You will have plenty of company along the way.

While some midlife reinventors get pushed headfirst into the waves of change by illness, divorce, loss of a loved one, or being downsized out of a job, many of us willingly wade into uncharted waters in pursuit of something that’s missing. We want to shift our lifestyles so they are more aligned with our inner needs and values. Situations that once seemed perfectly sensible and rewarding look quite different when viewed through the focusing lens of fortysomething.

After forty, the need to accumulate material things becomes less significant than the need for time to enjoy what we have. The need for the approval of others becomes far less compelling than the need to follow dreams of our own. The need to be seen is superseded by the need to see our true self...and let others see that self too. As we assume positions of leadership in our careers and communities, we want to exercise that same level of influence in our personal lives as well. We become more insistent on living deliberately and according to our own rules. As we begin to lose parents, older siblings and even peers, we become keenly aware of our own mortality. Just as we hit our stride, time starts to really fly. Suddenly, we have an urge to do what we’ve always wanted to do…before it’s too late. We want to taste life more fully, connect with others more honestly, and somehow have a hand in making the world a better place. Five elements that contribute to greater life satisfaction are authenticity, self-mastery, relationships, growth, and meaning. Let’s look at each to see which are abundant in your life and which – if increased – would make the next stage of your life feel right from the inside out.

Authenticity: Living from the Inside Out

In the early stages of life we are focused on pleasing others (parents, teachers, bosses, spouses) in an effort to get our needs met. But as we mature, we are able to meet our own needs and are less motivated to do what others want us to do. Now we just want to live a life that feels right.

You can probably name several people who have taken considerable risks in order to lead more authentic lives. Someone who has turned down a promotion to have more time with the family, forfeited a steady income to start up a new business, or left an unhappy marriage facing the firm disapproval of friends and family? Maybe you know someone who decided to start a family at 43, get a high school diploma at 52, or retire at 60 to work full time as a hospital volunteer. When you fashion a life where the decisions you make and the actions you take are considered, deliberate, and in harmony with what's important to you, you are living an authentic life. It is not necessarily a life that others admire or think is right for you, but a life that you know in your heart is right for you…a life that allows you to greet each day with enthusiasm and sleep peacefully at night.

The more honest you can be (with yourself and with others) about who you are and what you need to be fulfilled, the more likely you are to create a life that’s right for you. You will not expend energy on denial, survival, or suppression, but you will gain energy from insight, evolution, and expression…from being authentic. The energy that fuels an extraordinary life is harnessed from within your heart.

See if any of these statements ring true for you:

  • You are skilled, perhaps very successful in your career, but not doing what you love.
  • You don’t know what you want, but know it’s not the life you have.
  • You want close relationships, but escape to work, food, or alcohol, instead of developing your own esteem and emotional aptitude.
  • You know what changes would make your life more meaningful, but still find many excuses for not making the changes just now.

If so, give some thought to what would bring your inner and outer worlds into better alignment. Perhaps you’re not expressing your true gifts, or trying to please others more than following your heart. Maybe your confidence could use a boost so you could move forward in the direction of your dreams. It might be time to revisit what you value most, and nurture relationships that allow you to be your best self, while encouraging you to stretch and step into a more meaningful and joyful life.

Self-Mastery…Being Responsible and Competent

We all need to know that we are capable of surviving on our own. For high self-esteem and inner peace we must know at our core that we are "enough" just the way we are…and all by ourselves. We need to take responsibility for the choices we make and believe in our ability to handle whatever comes our way. If you can competently handle the basic details of life (e.g., shopping, cleaning, cooking, and banking), support yourself financially, manage time well, and deal with crises without falling apart, you probably have a strong sense of self-mastery. That doesn’t mean that you want to be alone, but rather that you are not afraid to be alone.

You realize that events may occur outside of your control, but you can choose your response to those events. You take responsibility for the choices you make and for how you spend your time. Your days are not too rushed or overly complicated. Instead of feeling as though you are playing a bit part in someone else's movie, you feel as though you are producing, directing, and starring in your own masterpiece. You set achievable goals and reasonable schedules. You are able to say "no" to unreasonable requests and honor your own priorities. Because you do so, you find time for renewal and reflection and invest in relationships that are important to you. You make time to do what is fun for you and take responsibility for your own happiness.

People who have reached a high level of mastery often have a strong faith. They take responsibility for their actions and seek guidance through prayer or meditation. They are optimistic that all will work out for the best, so they act not out of fear, but out of intent. They go after what they want by taking risks and continuously improving their competence. With clear desires in mind and a belief that a power greater than their own will guide them, they move confidently toward the life they choose.

When you become a master of your own fate, a river of calmness flows through your life. You don’t panic when adversity strikes. As you reflect on how you’d like to live the second half of your life, consider where you would like to exert more influence. Would it be in use of your time, managing your emotions, maintaining fitness and health, or perhaps developing more satisfying relationships? Each will enhance your sense of self-mastery.

Relationships…Loving and Transcending Self

Research indicates that connections outside of us are fundamental to a happy, healthy life. Of course, you don't need research to convince you of that fact...just look around you. Think of a few of the most vibrant people you know. Do they have significant others in their lives? Do they maintain close relationships with family and friends? Are they members of a community that cares about them? Do they have a strong faith? Do they minister to others? If they are happy folks, you probably answered, "yes" to several of those questions. People who surround themselves with love radiate an inner confidence, a capacity for joy, and an unusual generosity.

Have you ever noticed how alive you feel when there is a spontaneous flow of love in your life? It’s not the same as receiving approval for something you did or bartering for something you’ll get back. Unconditional love is pure and simple.

A dear friend of mine shared a poignant story about such a bond. When her great-grandmother passed on and her belongings were being dispersed among the daughters, my friend’s grandmother asked for only one thing. She wanted the fur coat that her mother had worn. "That way," she said, "whenever I wear it, I will feel her loving arms wrapped around me." We are most alive…most free to be the best we can be…when the fabric of our lives is woven from threads of the heart.

Feeling loved and appreciated gives us an inner richness that does not come from success or possessions. Such "symbols" of love do little to fill the hollow of feeling alone. Strengthen your bonds with partners, friends, communities, and God and you will enhance the passion and joy in your life.

Growth…Choosing Change and Progress

Often at midlife we make an important decision about the direction we’ll take for the rest of our lives. We either embrace a spirit of renewal, growth, and adventure or we give in to notions of settling in, slowing down, and taking it easy. It has been said that there is no such thing as standing still. According to the laws of physics, living systems either grow or they begin to break down. This is true of the mind, body, and spirit. We stretch, learn, and expand… or we shrink, forget, and contract. We all know alert and energetic 90-year-olds who bowl, swim and take college courses. There are also frail 70-year-olds who don’t even read the newspaper, let alone leave the house.

To seize growth opportunities takes courage. Alarms go off, and a myriad of questions appears. Each new adventure we face is like a double-edged sword. One side sparkles with the opportunity to grow and feed our passions. The other side casts a shadow of danger: we might get hurt, have to work too hard, or meet with public failure. If we retreat to the safety of what we know best and pass on the opportunity to experience growth we generally feel older

As you paint a picture of the life you’d like next, consider what would add zest to your life, but would challenge you to stretch. What you have always wanted to do? What fears might be blocking you? If you opt to feel the fear and do it anyway, you’ll never have to wonder if life is passing you by. .

Meaning…Making Your Life Matter

When we are young our direction seems pretty clear. We go to school, get a job, find a partner, and then get a better job. But later in life, we often question our direction, fervently seeking more meaning. It might even feel like an identity crisis. We ask: "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "Is this all there is?" We reflect on individual purpose, consider our legacy, seek self-growth, and deeper connections outside of ourselves. As we come to grips with our own mortality, what feels right, feels different.
Marching into our second adulthood we often have greater opportunity to change careers, become full-time volunteers, write books, adopt children, run for public office, become leaders at church, or otherwise reinvent our lives to include what is personally meaningful. To explore where you can add meaning to your life, consider these questions: If you won the lottery, what "good" would you do with it? If you could make one relationship right before you die, which would it be? If money were no object, what adventure would you love to pursue? Now, move your life forward toward what you know in your heart to be right for you…one dime at a time, one conversation at a time, one step at a time. Turn every "I can’t" into "I can if I…."

In summary, let me share a short verse that sums up what I believe are the "secrets" to peace, passion, and purpose at midlife:

"I take the time to look inside;
I hear the wisdom in my heart.
I dream new dreams, release the old.
I live a life that tickles my soul."

 Sue's Seven Suggestions for Reinventing Your Life

  1. Dream ’til you get light-headed…feel the rush of clear vision and strong desire.
  2. Act as if your life depended on you…take responsibility for your own happiness.
  3. Create "tenant" rules for thoughts in your mind…if they don’t behave, evict ’em.
  4. Take your passions for a walk every day...enjoy, embrace, and celebrate.
  5. Build bridges without tolls…create relationships of trust and caring.
  6. Stretch until you feel it…move out of your comfort zone to realize your potential.
  7. Make a difference every day…change the world one act at a time.

Suzanne Zoglio, Ph.D., is a life-balance expert, author, and national lecturer. Through her writing, coaching, and seminars, she helps individuals and work teams reach their full potential. With a personal mission to nurture growth, she supports practices that lead to energy, empowerment, and the realization of meaningful goals.


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