You might be aware that the demographic of society, as a whole, is aging, and if you’re part of that demographic, you’re likely discovering a plethora of books and articles increasingly available that discuss, highlight, and prepare you for the inevitable arrival – if you’re fortunate enough – of mid-life and beyond. And, when we consider the degree to which this same society remains smitten with the glow of youth, it’s no wonder that quite a number of us might fear at some level the marginalization that might occur as we walk down the path toward our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond, and especially if you’re a woman. Aging is an experience that, for many, evokes terror, through and through.
Because I’m a mid-life woman myself, and work with many people in this stage of life as a psychotherapist, I’m quite familiar with the angst, and at times, depression, that can sometimes accompany the aging process, and much of it is rooted in a fear of the unknown; there is no solid plan for this phase of life, after all, unlike at the beginning of our lives. As soon as we’re born, there are societal and cultural expectations for, well, probably the first 40 years of our lives, which include everything from learning how to walk, talk, and eat on our own, to finding a career path, life partner, and having and raising children. But, once these children leave home (while being perhaps simultaneously grateful for, and saddened by, that reality), we might find ourselves screaming – sometimes figuratively, and other times, literally – “NOW WHAT??” into a huge, vast, and black void, and often the only response provided is simply silence, a painful, deafening silence, in fact. And, although this brief ‘map’ of one’s life that I’ve presented here might be quite different from your own (e.g., you may not have had, nor wanted children, worked or didn’t work), it appears that very few people actually walk through mid-life without at least some angst about what their next chapter might look like.
So what might you do? Well, at first, you might find yourself looking around at your friends and peers to see if they’re struggling with similar pangs, and if some are, you could talk with them and brainstorm about what the various options might be for this next phase of your life. In addition, you could seek out role-models, those who’ve passed that mid-life point, and who are now living rich and rewarding lives. Maybe having found one or two such people (or more if you’re lucky), you might spend some time with them to find out how they negotiated this period of their lives in ways that led them to create the kind of life that appears to bring them so much joy and contentment. You could also search for books that might help you discover the various paths that others have taken through mid-life such that you could be ‘mentored’ into this new phase by an author’s words of encouragement, experience, and suggestions. A few books of this sort include:
• “Aging Well” by George E. Vaillant, M.D.
• “The Breaking Point” by Sue Shellenbarger
• “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life” by James Hollis, PhD
• “New Passages” by Gail Sheehy
• “Prime Time” by Jane Fonda
What determines a relatively smooth passage way through mid-life? Well, a number of factors, but for sure these include an ability to be patient with yourself, a willingness to draw upon your creativity (you are ‘designing’ this new chapter in your life, after all), the desire to build and maintain connections with others (one of the most important factors that determine healthy aging) but, most importantly, a commitment to developing a healthy sense of humor – something that I would argue is needed more at this stage of life than perhaps at any other!