“If it’s something we can’t buy
There must be another way”
– Spirits In The Material World by The Police
Growing up, our self-worth is formed by how others perceive us. We’re continually ricocheting off others, taking little bits of them in exchange for bits of us. Somewhere around mid-life (or mid-kids), this begins to change. We begin to turn inward. Preferring quiet nights at home, to our chagrin, we’re often in our jammies by 7pm...okay, that last line is me.
Truly, though, the desire to turn inward is part of our ever-evolving human development. It marks the beginning of spiritual life, where we begin to focus on what matters most. If we’ve lived fairly decent lives, by our 40’s and 50’s we have less to prove and more freedom to choose what feels honest and true.
As we make our way toward the second half of life, it’s important to reflect on deeper questions about who we are, where we are, and how it all fits into our personal narrative. It is a powerful experience that requires slowing down and witnessing ourselves.
Leave it to “B”
One of my favorite writings on midlife comes from the ever-inspiring Brené Brown. She says that midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. The time has come to let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.
All the World’s a Stage
The ego will protest. It will judge these quiet moments as a problem to be solved. That’s because the ego is an actor by trade. It wants nothing more than a narrowly defined role and a spotlight. It gives two bits about soul work. In fact, one of the reasons aging is so terrifying is that it strips away our identity. The costume no longer fits, leaving us vulnerable and exposed.
But if we continue to live by the ego, we risk fulfilling one of the great tragedies of life: to reach the end wishing to be the person we were all along. This is why midlife is a defining moment. It’s an opportunity to get acquainted with who we really are, sans script. A chance to discard the faded cloak of our old self and don new apparel. So, do we follow the ego into the rummaging closet or stripe down and make way for something new?
The Path Less Traveled
This work is not for the faint of heart. It can a lonely journey, so find your peeps. When choosing the road less traveled, it’s comforting to have like-minded souls light the way.
Unfortunately Western culture has a dark bias against aging and tends to turn a blind eye toward elderly. Yet there is wisdom to be gained by those who have travelled before us. Don’t take my word for it. Instead, take in the words of 85 year-old Nadine Stair:
If I had my life to live over, I’d like to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax. I’d limber up. I would take few things seriously and I’d take more chances. I would perhaps have more troubles, but I’d fewer imaginary ones. Oh, I’ve had my moments and if I had it to do over again I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else — just moments — one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. If I had my life to live over again, I’d start barefoot early in the spring and stay that way late into the fall. And I would live each moment more.
As our limited roles fall away, there is a shift from ambition toward connection. We may be as productive as ever, but the motivation is different. Liberated from the pressure to hustle for our worth, we can drop the masks of our persona which allows our spirit to shine.
Fueled by this wisdom, we find ourselves free to live more creatively and boldly. Liberated from the constraints of what others think, we are genuinely and truly free to be. From the quiet spaciousness of being fully awake, we can love without expectations, literally “be love” incarnate.