On Midlife Vulnerability
I didn’t have a midlife crisis, at least not the kind we’ve been told to expect. I didn’t get Botox, or buy a new car or suddenly start crying about my grey hair and changing body. I didn’t fall apart.
I did, however, have a realisation one day a few months before I turned 40 that the road ahead of me is possibly, if not likely, shorter than the road behind. It shocked me enough that, in that moment, I had to pull my car over on the side of the freeway, hazard lights flashing, and take a few deep breaths to counter the awful, panicked feeling in my chest.
Over the following weeks, there was a very intense starburst of grief as I came to accept that there were things I thought I might do in my life that, realistically, I won’t. Like climb Everest. Now, I know that I could find hundreds of inspiring YouTube clips of people in middle age who decided to go all in on their dreams and made them happen. And I know that I am probably capable of doing that, if I really wanted to. But I don’t. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I need a nap.
At age 41, I have the gift of knowing myself well enough to recognise that when it comes to something like climbing Everest (or even just a really big hill), I won’t make the effort. I don’t want it bad enough to do what would have to be done. I’m in love with the IDEA of doing it, but not enough to commit to the work.
This unwillingness to follow through on things is something I thought of as an inability for most of my life, before simply accepting this “flaw” along with many others. I am stubborn; at times hot headed; have high expectations of both myself and others. I am loose with my money and energy. I dwell on the negative to protect myself from being hurt. I am impulsive and unfocused and have a hard time asking for help.
This is who I am.
And it wasn’t until midlife that I was able to say that without feelings of guilt or shame.
It wasn’t until midlife that I stopped seeing these parts of me as damaged and, instead, suddenly realised that all of these shortcomings are actually both the basis of and the potential in my humanity. So, at 40, I set about loving myself as hard as I possibly could, and that is when the most beautiful magic began to unfold.
Loving these deeply “flawed” parts of myself has allowed me to love these parts in others, and when we connect with people on THAT level it is a whole new dimension of love and compassion; a richer union than you’ve ever thought possible, both with your own self and with others. It’s scary, at times, to live this way, even tragic, AND it’s worth it.
In the second half of my life, I am constantly moving toward being the most ME I can possibly be, and by deciding to love myself just as I am, the boundaries I need in my life arise almost spontaneously. I am fair, and I am firm: if I show who I am to someone and they shame or belittle or judge or use or abuse me, exploiting what they see as weakness and taking advantage of my strength, then they’re gone. My time is precious, and it’s running out.
This is not to say that I don’t want to be challenged. I am blessed with an incredible group of people who push me, and call me on my bullshit. I apologise when I’m wrong and spend a lot of time dancing with my shadows, scared and uncomfortable, so that I can face those parts of me and find out where they came from, and why they’re still here.
But if someone’s judgement of me is tied in any way to expectations of what a woman my age should or should not be or do? They can fuck off.
Maintaining these boundaries is hard at times but I think it gets easier as you age because you realise that all that time you spent being nice and easy to manage was paid for with the violation of your physical, emotional and spiritual sovereignty and THAT feels worse than being someone who risks being disliked because you say “No”, clearly and without explanation.
The reality is this: I spent so much of my life too scared to really be ME, because I always thought I was too much. Then I realised that, sometimes, the people around me were too little, at least for where I was at that moment in time, and I don’t feel guilty about moving on.
The result is that I am surrounded by good people, almost exclusively, because I am open and vulnerable, and generally kind. I am surrounded by people who, when I showed them my truest self, did not react with judgement or disgust. I am surrounded by people who, after I laid myself bare and shared the parts that most wished to stay hidden, said “Me too.” When this happens, you realise you are not alone, and your circle grows and grows, and it is magnificent.
But to do this you have to be willing to risk being hurt, or shamed, or judged. It’s the only way to find the people who won’t do those things. It’s an exquisitely confronting process of elimination in order to find out where you really belong, and this is where I see the incredible potential of midlife.
For no matter how scary it feels, no matter how terrified I am, I have an enormous list of things that I thought would kill me, but only made me stronger and more resilient. It’s not that life gets less painful as you age or that things hurt less, but your faith in your ability to not only survive- but sometimes even thrive- in periods of great despair and suffering? That faith grows and amplifies.
Don’t wait until you’re ready to be vulnerable. Instead, think of it as something you’ll practice, not because it will get easier, but because you’ll get better at doing it anyway, even when it’s hard. Pro tip: it’s almost always hard. I wish I could offer you a money back guarantee. I wish I could promise that you will find what I did when I chose to become unflinchingly myself, but I can’t.
What I can guarantee, however, is that you will never know if you don’t try and I for one would rather die with a long list of things that didn’t quite go to plan than a list of all the times that I played it safe and stayed small.