Saturday, September 3, 2011

Midlife & "Do-Overs"

I have this dream: one day, I will have published a fantastic bestselling book or maybe I will have written an intriguing screenplay that is going to be made into a movie, or perhaps even have my poetry collection published. The point is I want to be a writer… or as I tell some of my friends – “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” Lol. And while the latter is said sort of tongue-in-cheek, the truth is that there’s something about being mid-point in your life, midlife – where a reference to growing up sounds quite plausible.

I have to say that when I hit the forties I thought life would be smooth sailing for me. At the time, I was happily married, with four kids, a stable career, and a house I could call my own. The epitome of the American dream, but then life happens… and for me, everything hit the proverbial fan when I entered “midlife.” Long story short (and some of you know the long version of my story), I am currently a single mom, my career is (thankfully) stable, and yes, I did keep the house.

Despite the dramatic upheavals, I’ve managed to keep my head on, staying forever optimistic and hopeful about the future.  I still believe in love and marriage, and recognize that all things happen for a reason. The silver lining in all this drama? (yes, there is a silver lining) Is that with each experience comes an opportunity for me to grow and learn about myself… opportunities that I like to call “Do-Overs.”

“Do-Overs” … some food for thought

“Midlife” is typically characterized by the media and movies as a time when folks between the ages of forty-something through their fifties experience life-changing events – more commonly known as midlife crisis’s. Researchers have found that this is a period of time when adults are heavily engaged in introspection and reflection, contemplating where they have been and where they are going. It is yet another stage in our human development when we are seeking identity reconfiguration. The impetus for reassessing our lives in this way is said to stem from our life experiences – death of loved ones, illnesses, losses such as jobs, marriages, and even life-long dreams. According to researchers, the culmination of these experiences has the effect of reminding us about our own mortality, our aging selves both physically and mentally, and our once youthful aspirations.

Being a midlifer myself, I have very much been engaged in a constant state of self-reflection. And contrary to what the media might portray, stopping to take a moment and think isn’t such a bad thing after all – I have often wondered if I might have been a much better human being if I had engaged in this type of self-reflection all along!

And so through my journeys in midlife, it dawned on me that the whole process and experience was very reminiscent of another time in my life - a time when internal chaos and turmoil seemed more the norm; when questions about one’s self-image and sexual attractiveness to the opposite sex abounded; and the sorting through the uncertainty of one’s future led to contemplation of goals and planning. Sound familiar? This all reminded me of adolescence and young adulthood…. The only difference being that I have more control and power over my situation than I did as a young adult…. and the wisdom of an additional twenty-something years of life experiences is advantageous when trying to make sense of things and learn from your past.

It dawned on me that while many people might be lamenting the woes of midlife, there exists a great opportunity that we are missing: the Do-Over. Yeah, you know, when you were a kid and playing a particular board game and you “accidentally” made a mistake – you got a chance to do things over – like re-spinning the wheel or re-casting the die and then continue playing the game. I am not suggesting that life is merely a game, but that the analogy has implications for how we live and breathe through this stage of human development.

The silver lining lies in how we approach the opportunities to “do-over.” While researchers characterize midlife as a depressing stage in the life span where reexamination and reconciliation of life experiences can serve as the springboard for disillusionment and despondency. I argue the contrary: that no matter what life experiences you have endured, the beauty of midlife is its opportunity to learn something from it and heal.

In Freudian psychology, the concept of repetition compulsion says that we play out traumatic events over and over in our lives as a means of gaining mastery over those experiences. “Traumatic” in this sense does not necessarily refer to a death or divorce…. It could be something as inconspicuous as the break-up of your first love or growing up in an unpredictable home environment. Whatever the nature those experiences may be, Freudian psychology says that throughout our lives, we continue to play out these unresolved traumatic events through unconscious behavioral patterns or patterns in decision making that subconsciously recreate a similar event(s). The cycle ends when we have “conquered the demons” so to speak, i.e., we have resolved our feelings and the experience with a positive outcome. 

Midlife presents us with the opportunity to self-reflect about those very patterns of behavior that we may or may not already been aware of. These patterns may have had the untoward effect of undermining our self-confidence, our self-esteem, our relationships both personally and socially, and our overall sense of well-being. Reflection at midlife begs us to engage on a deeper and more profound level within ourselves – For example: I may have patterns of choosing partners that are emotionally unavailable to me… but the deeper reflection asks, “What do I understand about myself in that pattern? What is the nature of the pattern and for what purpose does it serve?”

Simply contemplating the why’s and how’s of our inner selves is vacuous if it is not accompanied by resolution…. A Do-Over implies action - a conscious effort to do things differently so as not to repeat them over in the next twenty-, thirty- or forty- something years left of life. A Do-Over is an opportunity to change any pattern once and for all.

It is important to recognize and not minimize our life experiences, but at the same time it is futile to live in the past. We cannot change the past; what’s done is done. And while we wish we could control others, the reality is we can only control ourselves. So why not focus on ourselves in a way that will lead to increased insight and acceptance of ourselves, and tolerance for our own limitations? Perhaps a Do-Over is just what the doctor ordered - an opportunity to embrace ourselves for who we are right now, instead of bemoaning and regretting that which we have not become.

My hope is that by writing about this subject, people will come to embrace and appreciate the opportunity that midlife has to offer – whether one is single, married, or somewhere in between – midlife is a chance to bridge the chasms within our very being. It is a time to be re-engaged with ourselves in a way that does not promote denial of aging but rather celebrates the wisdom gained from living. It is a time for us to open our eyes to that which has blinded us from being a better human being and to revaluate the relevance of blind adherence to social norms and values. It is a time for us to reconcile our experiences unto ourselves and to heal….

In my mind, it is a stage in our human development where the gift of self-reflection presents us with the opportunity to “do over”…. and hopefully, this time we do it right.

4 comments:

Scrollwork said...

Let me be the first to follow your blog and welcome you to the bloggy world, writerNtraining! I almost called you by your first name and thankfully thought to check what you'd written in your profile ; )

Very thought-provoking first post, written with the same engaging style that you have in person. Congratulations on moving your dream forward!

Do come join us at SheWrites.com, meet fellow bloggers and visit with them on their turfs as well. You'll have a load of readers in no time!

"X" said...

I am grateful for the thoughts you have shared here. I am striving to actively engage in this process and grow as I navigate a world where many of my gender do not. I have never sought to control others thoughts or emotions, in fact, I have been the one who others seem to provoke, but understanding this does not (as you have eloquently written) mean that the problem lies with others (or is even a problem at all). I have been evaluating MY choices in the path that I am on. EVERYONE has unspoken "baggage" (I like personal history better), that s/he brings to their relationships and we often are at odds with those notions of history. I am striving to make my voice heard, break worn patterns, and exist in a life where I am confident and content. Am I at mid-life? I feel like I am in many ways.

I can't wait to read more.

bridgetstraub.com said...

Welcome to the land of blog. You will be amazed by how vast it is. As for midlife, the older I get the more I live by the words "turn the page" I can't stand the way people dwell on the past. As you said, what's done is done.

Julie Farrar said...

Love the idea of "do-over." Yeah, I feel like my midlife is do-over time. And that's great.