Discovering Yourself At Midlife
By Hugh Wiley
You may be thinking there's nothing really to discover about you. Here you are with years of experience, a mature adult with fairly fixed habits and a routine for living life. You may say "of course, I know myself, I know all there is to know about me!
Yet sometime, don't you yearn to be adventurous and discover new aspects of yourself like you did as a teen-ager, or to be called "young at heart"? I love the statement Doris uses to describe her husband Mike, "he is just a big kid." She follows that with "but if he ever grows up, that's it!"
As you get older it becomes more and more critical that you maintain an aura or spirit of playfulness in your life. Part of that playfulness is welcoming and creating change in your life. It is literally what keeps you young. Whether you realize it or not, all of us are in a state of becoming. You'll never reach the point of being a finished product.
When you realize that you are always changing and always becoming, it makes sense to have something you call "having a team meeting with myself." Find out what is really important to you, yet is still left undone. When you get this information you can use it to give yourself a whole new level of control and ability in directing the changes in your life.
To get this information can be a challenge. Like most of us you have spent most of your adult life in a state of compliance. You felt you had to satisfy the criteria for education, doing what ever high school, college, or university required of you for graduation. Then you entered the work force and complied with the requirements of your career in order to support your family and yourself. There are many aspects of you that can be described using words such as perseverance, discipline and responsibility. I ask you though, do these words really describe you or do they describe more your reaction to what you feel you had to do to be accepted in the adult world?
There may be a whole new set of adjectives that could be used to describe you if you felt you were free to explore new facets of yourself. Adjectives like adventurous, spontaneous and creative might fit now when there is less pressure and need to conform to external pressures.
Doing some self discovery doesn't have to be a response to a midlife crisis, but an opportunity to express more of yourself than what you have in your past. Now is the time to look to look at what retirement means to you. Maybe there are new paths, rather than the traditional retirement for you to follow that would give you greater satisfaction and a sense of purpose.
For instance, when was the last time you pondered what you wanted to do in life, like you did at the age of 10 when someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Imagine feeling like you did at the age of 15 or 16 in high school where there seemed to be to be so many possibilities that it was hard to focus sufficiently to make a career choice.
The idea of so many alternatives may feel onerous when you recall the idea "you cannot teach an old dog new tricks." I assure you this saying has nothing to do with the "old dog" being able to learn. It does address how much desire the "old dog has to learn!
If you are in normal mental-health there's nothing that blocks your ability to learn, however there is the inertia to deal with. You know the physics principle - an object has a tendency to remain in its current state either at rest or in motion. Applying this principle means that you naturally resist change. You have a tendency to continue doing the things you usually do. Your behavior remains relatively constant and your habits carry you through a lot of your day.
This gives you considerable efficiency but remember you're not a machine and efficiency is not necessarily your goal. As a human being you were created with a natural inclination and purpose to grow and expand your awareness.
So what do you need to do to overcome this inertia and allow your desire to push you into action? Here are some points to consider:
"You are considering changes because you want to expand your life. Change does not have to suggest there is something wrong with you or that you are flawed or deficient! Feeling you are correcting negative aspects of self will cause you to restrict yourself and to feel disempowered. What you want is to feel an expansion in your energy and an expansion of yourself.
"Dwell on what you feel are your positive traits that can always be expanded on.
"You can only do one thing at a time, so if you are focused on your positive traits your perceived negative traits will not have an opportunity to be expressed.
"You are always in a state of becoming, regardless of your age you are not a finished product, so rekindle the sense of adventure.
Every discoverer has to have a sense of adventure, so you need to look at ways that allow you to open your mind to new areas of excitement and growth. To do this it's necessary to develop a different mindset, and the best way to do that is to change some of your routines and do things slightly differently. Some simple aids in doing this are:
"Return home a different route than usual.
"Put your pants or slacks on with a different foot first.
"The next meal you have out in a restaurant choose something different from the menu that you haven't had before, or if you eat out frequently, every third meal try out a new entr"e.
"Once a week, chose a different source for your news so that you get another view of the world.
"If you dress conservatively, wear more dramatic clothing or conversely dress conservatively if you are accustomed to wearing clothes that shout for attention.
"If usually you read fiction, try a history, self help, or a biography to read. Similarly, try the opposite if you seldom read fiction.
"When eating at home sit at a different place at the table for a week.
"Do something, once a week for the next month, just for the fun of it, where there is no rational supportive reason for doing it.
"For the next month, spend at least 15 minutes doing quiet reflection, where you talk to no one and there is no radio or TV.
"During one of your times of reflection imagine yourself in high school and choosing a different vocational path than the one your chose.
The whole point of this is to help you loosen up, to stay in a flexible place about change. Make the above exercises fun and don't take them serious as if they were work. Play with them.
The outcome of these exercises could be that you find new interests or some that you have suppressed. They now want your attention to continue the wondrous process of becoming.
You could feel some dissatisfaction with your work. You may feel you can hardly wait until you retire. These feelings can mean that you're missing something and there are talents in another area that you will find very satisfying to express.
To get some help in discovering what these talents might be, check out vocational testing, interest inventories or aptitude testing on the Web or through career counselors at colleges in your area.
Several sites on the Web offer free quizzes and questionnaires that can provide new insights to your interests. It is a similar process to what many students do in their high school years. Use it now in your mature years. Paraphrasing Shaw's statement "Youth is so precious it is a shame to waste it on the young". Take some of the attributes and opportunities from your youth and use them now in your midlife.
Don't let your age restrict you from trying something different and being considered foolish. There is no time in your life where outside pressures and opinion can be given less heed than in your midlife. You are established now with a track record and you have probably never been in a stronger position enabling you to risk outsiders questions.
You have never been so qualified in terms of skills and experience to take corrective action in case you do make a mistake. Also, you have probably learned making a mistake is not really a mistake, but only part of learning, so let's up the learning curve. Although I deplored it in my youth, my father's advice to me is very valid in this situation, "you can never learn any younger".
Now with your focus shifting to the direction you would like your life to take, there is no thought that you are experiencing a midlife or later life crisis. Instead there is the feeling you are embarking on a new adventure with all its excitement. This leads to renewed enthusiasm about this point in your life.
The new attitude leads you to discover many new aspects of yourself and helps you realize that the alternatives and choices are many. Rather than winding down, life now appears to be picking up in tempo. You are in a new phase of life that you welcome. This all can happen if you're willing to allow yourself a period of self-discovery.
About The Author
Hugh Wiley: co-owner of Full Life Seminars with his wife Joanne, is a psychologist, seminar leader and writer discussing how to find passion and purpose in your life at any stage, but especially at that unique time known as retirement.