Midlife And The Road Not Taken

November 26, 2012 by  

Many people have written about midlife, me included. One of the most fascinating concepts came from psychologist Carl Jung. Jung talked about the arc of life from birth to death (sun rise to sunset) with midlife obviously falling around the after

noon. He posited that, for the early years of adulthood, we work at being/doing all sorts of things, for example, being a student, friend, lover, parent, teacher or whatever else you have made the focus of your time and energy.

Then, during the middle years, we begin to yearn for the life we did not live

during the first half of life – the road not taken. If we married young, we miss the years of experimenting, if we worked hard, we envy those who can “chill out”, if we went down road X, we wonder what our lives would have been life had we traveled on road Z. Whatever we DID NOT pursue, did not develop, we may discover the urge to find it and reclaim it.

Of course, there are always things that we haven’t pursued. We all make choices and create our lives. And, with those choices, we put other activities or people aside until, at midlife, we long for the missing pieces, search for them, and perhaps try to bring them into our lives.

Author Your Own Midlife

August 22, 2012 by  

Not everyone wants to write a book, but most of us want to write many of the chapters in our own lives. For too many people, this buying viagra uk

-att-3261″>motivation stops at midlife; they concentrate on the aging, the losses, and the aches and forget about the future that still exists.

Israeli psychologist Carlos Strenger has a view of midlife that I like. He talks about a sense of authorship. Authorship, in his view, is to live life actively according to our own vision.

He argues that, at 50, we probably have 30 more years and we need to continue to grow and makes changes or we face a long, dull period. Too many people get complacent – life is good enough – or they don’t want

to rock the boat, “what will the family think?” so they allow opportunities to slip by.

Growth and change do not happen magically. They are the results of laborious work, setbacks, mistakes, and successes. This is all to be expected and it integral to the process of developing newness in our lives.

Central Midlife Question

August 10, 2012 by  

Most people have a picture of the kind of life they want to know before they die. How close we come to that that picture becomes the measure of the quality of our lives. Of course, we cannot change the way that the universe runs; it remains indiffere

nt to my desires and yours but… some of life is in our hands and, at midlife, this becomes very significant.

If we do not act, we will be left with the feeling, “Is this all there is?” Have I been cheated?” We do not want to feel that way. What can you provide for yourself that gives you enjoyment and purpose? In addition to the responsibilities that society has given to us, and that we

have accepted as responsible adults, we are allowed to have goals of our own.

We are all engaged in a struggle to become authentic; a personal struggle to endlessly define our selves.

Enjoyment does not come from being in control, but rather from exercising control in different situations. BUT we must give up the safety of protective routines. Most of us need less self-scrutiny, less ‘is my hair okay?’, less worry. We need to leave the self- consciousness behind.

Here are some tips:

Ask yourself: What do I want?

Set some goals; small goals

Become immersed in the activity

Pay attention, concentrate, enjoy the sustained involvement in the activity

Stay in the present

Freud wrote that children at play create a world of their own; as people grow up, they cease to play.

Midlife Reflections from 1986 Harvard Business School Grads

July 23, 2012 by  

I like longitudinal studies because we learn

a lot by looking back and reflecting on what we have done/thought/expected. The Harvard Business School’s Class of 1986 was surveyed for its 25th reunion last year and asked about their personal and profe

ssional lives now that they are in midlife – age range 53-55 years old. 35% of the total class responded.

Here are the responses to questions that will be of interest to most midlifers:

  1. Some 47% of the class said they had been involuntarily dismissed from a job.
  2. Sex doesn’t seem to be a very high priority for this age group. Just 3% of the alums say they want more sex.

3. Their highest priorities? Time (31%), health (18%), and peace of mind (13%).

4. 43% have been in therapy.

5. One in five (20%) have skydived, while one in three (32%) completed a marathon.

6. 14% of the class is divorced, with another 1% separated. About 5% divorced and remarried.

Was life what you expected? Only 17% said ‘yes’. 12% said “extremely different,” from expectations. Some 38% said their personal life was harder than expected, while 30% said their professional careers have been harder.

I wonder if this makes the rest of you midlifers feel better or worse?

Interested in learning more about midlife? Please read The Art Of Midlife: Courage and Creative Living for Women

Creativity at Midlife

April 23, 2012 by  

Midlife can be a very creative time for two reasons. First, at this stage, people are often ready for a change and have lived long enough, accumulated varied experiences, have a bit of wisdom and can make some interesting choices. Second, they are sick of being told who they are and what to do so they are very ready to express themselves with confidence (or desperation).

You don’t have to be an artist to be creative. Creative pursuits can be the way you live your life, cook your food, relate to others, or make choices that are motivated by a strong internal voice.  Think about who you are and what sustains you.  Then you can take a step in that direction – a small step. Try it out and evaluate.



Intersection of Midlife and Your Child’s Adolescence

April 9, 2012 by  

It’s a nasty joke that many men and women are dealing with their own midlife issues at the same time their children are exploding, hormonal adolescents.  Just as mom and dad question, “What have I done with my life?” their most precious production slams a door in their faces screaming, “I hate you!”  Just as mom and dad ask, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” their teenager asks for shoes that will cost today’s salary and a car or a college that gives the parents a glimpse into their futures – work forever.

When teenagers are obsessed with their daily ups and downs, the lives of their friends, and the latest text messages crossing the ever present screen, they can be very self absorbed. They are certainly not thinking about the emotional lives of their parents. Parents? Oh, those annoying people who stand in the way of real fun.  When parents are contemplating mortality, they do not want to think that their legacy is an adolescent who cares more about skin care rituals and x box than family or future.

It isn’t fair – it ought to be one crisis at a time. When midlife intersects with adolescence, everybody struggles until they work through their developmental stage.  Mom and dad review their lives and decide that, when all is said and done, they did okay and can still make changes in the future. The adolescents don’t review because their lives feel like all future and no past but they muddle along and usually turn out surprisingly well.

Life gets easier after everyone’s identity shifts slow down. Parents settle down more confidently and so do kids.


Generativity At Midlife

April 6, 2011 by  

Generativity is a concept that is often associated with the psychoanalyst and writer Erik Erikson.  You may vaguely remember his work about Identity and his essay on the 8 Stages of Man (meaning ego development) from school. Erikson talked about life as a series of stages.  Each stage has a specific task associated with it and we must accomplish the task of each stage in order to move on to the next in a healthy way.

The task associated with midlife is “generativity”.  Erikson believed that generativity, or guiding the next generation, was the healthy work of the middle years. I think that Erikson was primarily thinking about men when he hypothisized his stages. He wrote about the desire to be needed.  Most women, by the time they have reached their middle years, have been needed, have mentored and guided and cared for others for a considerable period of time, and may feel quite finished with his notion of generativity.

However, if we think about the concept more broadly (and in later interviews, Erikson did agree) – that generativity includes creativity – the idea makes more sense.  I prefer to think about generativity as encompassing all of our creative efforts, not just being a parent, teacher, boss, or a good friend.  Therefore, I urge you to think about the generative aspects of midlife as caring for ourselves as well as caring for others, guiding creative endeavors, and helping to prepare the world that we want to see in the future.

Women At Midlife

March 30, 2011 by  

Let’s look at the uniqueness of women at midlife.  As I wrote in previous posts, the underlying dynamic of midlife – time – is the same for men and women.  That said, how we have lived our lives will greatly influence the way each of our midlife experiences look.  For example, most women have a strong appreciation for relationships and, throughout their lives, struggle to maintain and encourage close ties with friends and family.  This serves them very well in a million situations.  Women tend to have stronger support networks than men, they still tend to be the primary caretakers of children (even though most women work), and they are the ones who generally maintain the connections to parents.  Men are becoming more involved in these activities and things have changed since I was in my 20s and 30s. There are certainly more shared tasks in the relationships that are being developed now.  This will affect their midlife in the years to come.

 However, for women reaching midlife today, I still see certain trends.  Because women have spent so much time attending to others, by the time they reach their middle years, they are sick of it.  Making this situation more complicated is the fact that fact is that many women work in fields where their jobs are taking care of others. This is a lot of caring for others, thinking about others, bending your life so that others are attended to.  It is no surprise that, at midlife, when women see that time is finite, they look back and notice that much of their time has been spent in the service of others.  So, the path not taken is the path that has a sign post reading, “my turn” and they head happily down that road.  If midlife is about ‘last chances’ then women are going to turn toward themselves and say, “It is time to look after me!”

Studies that have examined women at midlife find that many women do make midcourse corrections after a life review – with good results.  The qualities that are commonly on the rise at midlife include: an increased sense of personal identity; greater confidence in one’s ability to get things done; personal authority; more freedom from inhibitions; and greater awareness of aging.

Empty Nest – 4 Realities

March 24, 2011 by  


This is a post for all the parents whose children will be receiving college acceptance letters next week.  If you have trouble letting go and are worried about them leaving home, this one’s for you! 

There are articles coming out all the time that dwell on the misery and despair of the “empty nest.” This is mostly family myth for the tabloids.  Let’s get a more balanced picture of this time of life for both parents and children.  Here are 4 points to consider:

  1. When kids are ready to launch at around 18, parents are often at midlife and older – a volatile intersection of life stages for both parents and kids.
  2. Mothers may be very ready to be finished with their nurturing roles having spent 18-25 years at the task.
  3. Fathers may be delighted to get their wives back, having taken second place to the kids.
  4. Relationships don’t usually end – they change into something more adult.

Think about the timing.  Many parents are dealing with midlife issues during the years that their kids are grappling with adolescence and beyond.

1. When kids are ready to launch at around 18, parents are often at midlife and older – a volatile intersection of life stages for both parents and kids. Midlife means that parents are asking themselves questions such as, “What do I want from my life?” or “Is this all there is?”  Parents evaluate their lives and consider what they have done and what they have not yet been able to accomplish.  With regard to parenting, moms and dads suffer when they reach this time and their kids are ready to fly, and they have regrets about their parenting.  They are sad or bitter about tasks they performed poorly and relationships that they neglected. (Note to parents whose kids are still at home: behave in ways that will leave you with the fewest regrets.)

 2. Mothers may be very ready to be finished with their nurturing roles having spent 18-25 years at the task.  Mothers carried the babies, cleaned the poop, worried about the schools, drove to soccer, listened to back talk, laid awake terrified that their kids were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll for 18 + years. Most mothers are relieved that their children have made it and are able to go on (semi) independently.  Imagine getting a good night’s sleep without one ear tuned to kid sounds.  Fathers have also worried and suffered their full share but, in this society, women are still responsible for most of the child care.

3. Fathers may be delighted to get their wives back, having taken second place to the kids. Men, on the other hand, have worried about finances (women, too) and taken a back seat to the kids, the dog and the broken hot water heater.  Many men are thrilled to be able to meet their wives for dinner or go for a walk without rushing home to check on unfinished homework.

4. Relationships don’t usually end – they change into something more adult.  Best of all – the relationship with your fly-away child will continue.  In my gazillion years as a therapist, I continue to be impressed by parents’ love and sacrifice.  Most parents are amazing people when it comes to trying hard to raise good kids.  And the kids know it.  They don’t want to ditch their parents; they just want to take off the training wheels.

Outcome Of Midlife Change

March 23, 2011 by  

When I wrote my book, The Art of Midlife: Courage and Creative Living for Women, I hoped to understand what happened after people worked through their midlife issues and came out on the other side.  It was true – I learned a lot. I was delighted with the stories I heard. I was inspired by the changes that women made.  I was encouraged by their courage.

The outcomes of changes made at midlife seem to be consistent.  The changes, whether dramatic or small, made people feel more authentic – the shifts brought them closer to the people they wanted to be; they felt real.  Often people described slowly making compromises during adulthood, drifting in directions that seemed necessary at the time in order to deal with life’s situations.  Over time, these changes piled up and people felt lost in their years of compromise and attending to others. 

At midlife, they reviewed their lives, took stock of themselves, let go of ill-fitting relationships, ideas, or behaviors, and reclaimed behaviors, ideas, or ways. They began to feel like they were back on track.  Some changes were very dramatic – coming out as gay, starting a brand new business, quitting a job, divorce, or looking for birth parents.  Other changes were less colorful but redirected some aspects of their lives.  All in all, they were pleased with their courage and their choices even if the choices were not permanent.  They felt increasingly free and authentic.  It reminded me of the interchange in the story, The Velveteen Rabbit, when the bunny wants to understand what it means to be Real and the Skin Horse says, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept.”

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