Midlife Is an Opportunity, Not a Crisis
The phrase midlife crisis, coined by Elliott Jaques in an article in 1965, never really applied to women. Women, because of pregnancy, hormones, menopause, and, well, just being women, weren’t included in his research. Midlife crisis was a catchy phrase that caught on in a way it was never meant to, and later research showed that only 10% of men actually experience midlife crisis.
So, it’s really not a thing.
I don’t think I even knew the term midlife until I was forty-eight, a full eight years into it. (Midlife is the time between forty and sixty-five.)
At forty-eight, I knew that I was suffering from feeling dismissed and overlooked professionally and personally. I had experienced weight gain over a one-year period that I couldn’t keep blaming on the fallout of the 2016 elections (too much alcohol and cheese), and I kept looking at my body wondering what the fuck had happened. I’d also spent several years looking for greater meaning in my life and two solid years craving sex. I was wondering if this was my new normal.
All of these experiences are typical for a lot of women in midlife.
I reject the notion of crisis and insert the idea of opportunity. Crisis implies something short and sudden. That’s not what’s really experienced in midlife—which is more like malaise, angst, general unhappiness, or just feeling off-balance.
Midlife isn’t a single moment or turning point. It’s more of a protracted period of time with the opportunity to take time for you, resolve unresolved childhood and adolescent issues, explore, and experiment as you define your life journey.
Midlife is an opportunity for renewal as we experience a form of “puberty” along with our teenagers (if you have them).
With this opportunity for renewal, we can define what we want the next half of our lives to be, over a comfortable chunk of time. We can play around with old ideas we rejected when we were younger and see what they feel like now. We can explore new territory and see what resonates.
Our lives and bodies are shifting, so why not shift with them?
During this time of exploration and play, it’s all about learning. There’s no failure, only opportunity to learn and grow. That’s why this book is so important. It’s meant to remove all taboos and normalize conversations about midlife, menopause, aging, ambition, money, and sex.
So much is changing for us women in midlife . . . our bodies, our minds, our lives. Midlife puberty is an interesting time, and I know a lot of us are completely unprepared for it because we don’t talk about it. There’s not enough written about it.
We are where we are . . . so let’s start talking about it!
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read or heard the same phrase from women in midlife: I thought I was the only one going through this. Many of us feel isolated and alone, but we needn’t feel this way. Our pelvic floors get weaker, so jumping jacks and trampolines may be a thing of the past. Hot flashes are real; they’re physiological evidence of an internal change that women go through.
We shouldn’t be embarrassed.
We can let go of what no longer serves us, release rules we no longer want, and be curious and optimistic about what comes next. With this book, I want to reignite your spark (if you’ve lost it) and help you find a way to live your life and your soul’s purpose.
If you’re feeling off-balance, if you’re questioning everything, if you’re looking in the mirror and seeing a stranger, you’re not alone. If you have zero patience for toxicity and following the rules, you are not alone. I am right there with you.
Feel what you’re feeling without judgment.
You are not lost. You are where you are . . . which is right where I recommend starting.
Speaking of feeling lost.
An infographic from a program that aired on January 11, 2019 titled Generation Guidelines Defined by Birth Year showed the following:
The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945
Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964
Millennials: Born 1981-1996
Gen Z: Born 1997-Present
Notice anything missing? Like maybe the sixty-five million of us born between 1965 and 1980? Gen X didn’t even make the cut as a living generation worth noting by CBSN.
No wonder we feel dismissed and neglected! Our generation isn’t on anyone’s radar. We are sandwiched between two outsized generations that think we are totally screwed up.
My lovely Gen Xers, this book on midlife is written especially for you.
Why I Wrote This Book
When I was forty-two and forty-three, I didn’t know that I felt friskier in the bedroom due to an increase in hormones. As if my body was saying, “If you want to have another baby, now is the time. This is a going-out-of-business sale, and you are soon going to be out of the baby-making business.”
When I was forty-five and started looking for more meaningful work, I had no idea that was typical for midlife women, especially those of us in our mid-forties. It didn’t occur to me to seek help other than questioning people I knew as I looked for a new professional outlet.
When I was forty-seven and started putting on weight at a steady clip, I didn’t know that it was probably due to a decrease in estrogen and that I should make some lifestyle changes because losing weight during the menopause transition is tough for a lot of women.
The list goes on and on.
Midlife blindsided me; I was totally unprepared for it. No one told me what to expect. No one told me how to prepare. No one told me how to take advantage of it. As I opened up to other women about some of these things, I learned I was not alone and decided to do something about it.
I started by talking with other women. I listened to their stories and quickly realized that, while midlife is different for all women, we can connect through our stories and our experiences. I interviewed over thirty-five diverse women from around the world and discovered the universality of our experiences. It crosses borders, gender identity, cultural identity, marital status, parental situation, spirituality, and skin color.
The women I interviewed are straight, gay, single, married, divorced, widowed, black, brown, white, non-white, cisgender, transgender, religious, atheist, spiritual, American, European, New Zealanders, Canadian, and African. Some are moms, and some are not. Some work outside the homes, and others do not. These women are in their forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies. I intentionally left these descriptors out of the stories; I want you to relate on a human and female level, without the distraction of labels.
My goal is to give you diverse stories from a myriad of life experiences and backgrounds to create connections to other women like you.
I want you to know that you are not alone.
There are books on specific topics like happiness, finding your why, menopause, money, divorce, parenting, and sex, but nothing that gathers all aspects of our midlives into one place. I conducted extensive research on the topics in this book to provide an umbrella.
Think of Piloting Your Life as a Fodor’s or Frommer’s guidebook for midlife women. Because, really, midlife is an adventure worth exploring.
Sharing the Wealth
I had no idea that when I started this book, I would be going on my own personal development and enlightenment journey. I was forty-eight and married with two children. I had a successful IT consulting company in the San Francisco Bay Area, had been angel investing in early-stage startups for over three years, and was advising various startups around the world. I’d worked with my executive coach, Bev, on and off for fifteen years and with other life coaches as needs arose. For me, every day is an opportunity for improvement—but this time, I wanted to do something to help other women, specifically those in midlife. And the more I learned, the more compelled I felt to share the wealth of knowledge.
The desire to write a book to embolden women over the age of forty to take the controls and be the pilots in their own lives drove me. I had a title that tied into my brand as a commercially rated helicopter pilot, a catchy subtitle, a writing coach, and a timeline, and I got right to work on the research. I didn’t overthink it. As with most of my best decisions, not overthinking it was exactly the right thing for me to do.
What to Expect When . . .
I want you to read this book and feel inspired by the women who make up the bulk of its pages. Hopefully, it will motivate you to make good choices for you. May it help you know that being selfish and choosing you are your moral imperatives.
Being selfish isn’t bad; it’s healthy.
And if you aren’t quite there yet, I don’t want you to be blindsided by midlife. I still ask my older friends why they didn’t tell me what to expect. Everyone seems to have an opinion or thought about every other aspect of our lives—why not midlife? There’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting for when we’re pregnant, plus What to Expect the First Year, What to Expect the Second Year, and more.
What about What to Expect When You Turn Forty and Slide into Midlife?
Well, here it is, except with more inspiration and less doom and gloom.
Despite being a commercially rated helicopter pilot (a girl has to have a hobby!), every time I fly helicopters, I’m afraid . . . but not afraid of what you might think.
I’m afraid I’ll screw up on the radio or that I won’t hear an instruction from air traffic control. I worry that I won’t be able to react safely, legally, and appropriately and that I’ll do something that will make someone say, “You aren’t qualified to fly.”
I’ve been flying for over ten years. I am afraid, and I still fly.
I am full-on the controls when I fly, just like I try to be in life. There’s no autopilot in the helicopters I fly.
So many of us women won’t do something if we can’t do all of it. Or, we stay in something comfortable because it feels easier to be a passenger than to take the controls.
Midlife shouldn’t happen on autopilot. We should work through the fear, let go of what no longer serves us, and gain the confidence to design and live the life of our own creation.
Live boldly, my friends.
For many women who have been caring for and putting others first, midlife is the time when there’s finally space to start thinking about you. You may feel compelled to make room for you, to live with greater purpose, or to answer the call to do something big in the world. It’s during this time that we can begin to define what legacy we want to leave.
If you’ve lost sight of who you are and what you want, it’s time to explore and experiment and define your own new milestones. Up until this point, there have been socially defined milestones like college, first job, maybe marriage, maybe kids, maybe grad school, maybe the first house, and then if there are kids, the kids’ milestones. The lack of milestones can make midlife feel like uncharted territory.
It is, and it’s ready to be explored and conquered.
If you’re reading this book, it’s time. Time for you. Time for vision. Time for clarity. Time for you to resolve unresolved issues from your childhood, adolescence, and early twenties. Because if you don’t, they are going to keep resurfacing. Trust me on this one.
Taking the Controls
We don’t have to suffer during midlife. In fact, I highly recommend using this time of feeling off-balance to take action and begin to take back your life.
At the end of every chapter, there is a Taking the Controls section with reflective questions for you to ponder. These are not meant to be prescriptive or exhaustive. We all have our own journeys, and it’s up to each of us to own, define, and guide our lives to meet our own needs and desires.
Capture your thoughts in the Briefing Notes section, or use the prompts for journaling or chatting with your girlfriends. Do whatever feels best for you, knowing these segments exist to help you transform your midlife journey. For more resources for further exploration, check out the In-Flight Resources at www.PilotingYourLife.com. You’ll be able to pull this all together in your own personal Flight Plan at the end of the book. Or not.
You get to choose your own adventure.
Because we need friends and deep relationships to keep our brains healthy and our hearts happy, I suggest putting together your own personal crews to serve different purposes in your life. Talking about what we’re going through will help us feel less isolated and alone, and we’ll begin to normalize conversations around midlife. Check out Crew Chats in the Appendix for ways to get started and what to expect. Think of it as your Table Topics, but for midlife women with more wine, champagne, laughter, crying, and maybe a little peeing your pants.
As some chapters of our lives are ending, others are just beginning, and we have the opportunity to create what we want for the next half of our lives.
It’s time to begin.
Starting with this book.