‘We cannot live the second half of our lives in the same way as we lived the first. Carl Jung wrote this sentence in his famous paper ‘The Stages of Life’ and it has been ruminating in my mind for some time now as I embark on ‘midlife’.
As I countdown the last days in my thirties. I know I’m entering the decade that sits between ‘young’ and ‘old’. Typically, midlife is known for being a difficult decade – the one characterised by the midlife crisis, the public breakdowns and internally a time of great uncertainty about what we’ve done with our lives, where all those grey hair and wrinkles came from and what on earth are we going to do next.
Whether we are consciously thinking about our own ‘midlife’ transition or not, it becomes impossible not to notice the transition happening around us. Do you see it too? Friends and colleagues trying to shed the skin they are in, suffocating in the life they have built or struggling to stay exactly who they have always been, even if that person clearly doesn’t exist anymore.
I think midlife is challenging because to navigate it successfully we have to say goodbye to versions of ourselves who we have loved, and goodbye to versions of ourselves that we imagined would appear that have never eventuated. Often we are forced to acknowledge and farewell comfort behaviours that have protected us and fed into the ‘persona’ we have created that no longer serve us or who we want to be. And we are saying goodbyes because if we don’t do it now at midlife, we risk living our entire lives prioritising others’ happiness and not being ourselves.
Suddenly things that have always appeared certain and solid and rational are being called into question. There are more divorce parties to attend than wedding gifts to buy, more sea-changes and farewells than housewarmings, more resignations and career changes than promotions. Big life moves are being made as us mid-lifers realise that time is creeping up on us – shit is getting real and it’s time to step out from behind the mask of who we think we should be and risk developing an identity that strips back all the pretending and performing to uncover who we really are – because if not now, when?
At nearly forty I have already farewelled many versions of myself. With four young children I am no longer the girl who can spend every dollar on a plane ticket (also Covid); I am no longer the girl who climbs ice mountains or bungy jumps. I am no longer the beach bum who wears surf brands. I no longer am the girl who bounces back effortlessly from baby weight or an indulgent weekend. I have parted ways with the career-obsessed-work-late-into-the-evening girl, the young sleep-deprived mum who rocked babies long into the night, the breast feeder, the baby wearer and a hundred other versions of myself but, until now, I have never taken stock, never said goodbye to all these personas properly because I have always been trying to do more, be more, prove myself in different ways. It is sad saying goodbye to many of these versions of myself (the no more pregnant me was especially hard) but in cresting the midlife hill and saying all these goodbyes, I have found there is a heady mix of pleasure and excitement simmering inside me – an opportunity to shed the me who sandwiches herself between everyone else’s needs and leaves little left for myself, goodbye to the me who looks for self-worth in pleasing all and hello to a woman who knows I can face hard things with grace because I already have. A woman who embraces change and being different – because falling into line with the norm actually bores me (and I really don’t want to wear a string bikini with no boob support like I did back when I was a teenager – even if I did have the same body).
Maybe midlife just looks like a crisis because things are changing while perhaps in reality, it is more of a reckoning, a time to unravel all the pretending and performing and mechanisms that we have had in place to protect us from feeling inadequate. Midlife will no doubt bring big challenges, but things will be gained as well as lost, and as I am shedding all the things I ‘need to be’ and ‘should be’, I will be freeing myself to embrace who I really am. I’m looking forward to meeting this peeled-back version of me as I head over the crest of midlife – because I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought anticipating the rush of the ride down the next hill is the most exciting part.