Craving a Midlife Change? Ask Yourself These Questions
By the time we reach our 40s, we may be craving a midlife change. With so many years behind us and (hopefully) so many more to go, it’s natural to wonder what’s next. Maybe it’s time for a midlife pivot.
Think of it as a reassessment, a way of planning out what we hope the second half of life is going to be. It can be a beautiful thing.
Why Women Tend to Reevaluate in Midlife
“When [we reach midlife], family pressures [may] start to alleviate. When there is a major transition, people reevaluate their lives. This is a very common and normal experience,” says Diane Solomon, Ph.D., a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Portland, Oregon, who adds that midlife is really the perfect time to explore new interests, set new goals, and make some all-around exciting life changes.
In midlife, women might find that they want to shift away from whatever they have focused the last 20–30 years on building and instead focus on achieving something new professionally or personally. It’s a time of great transition and reappraisal, says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and therapist in Lake Forest, California.
“Many women feel that they've devoted much of their adulthood to other people—their kids—and now want to focus on and accomplish something for themselves, such as getting a graduate degree, starting a new business, writing a book, or doing something that's driven solely by them,” Nickerson says. “Women who have been primarily career-focused may find they crave a simpler, less political, more authentic life and want to put their energies into a different path going forward.”
There are other reasons some women suddenly crave midlife change. Some may realize that they’re halfway (or more) through the years they’re likely to live and want to make the most of it. Others may start to see themselves differently after going through menopause, with their childbearing years behind them. They may change careers, or have been in an industry dominated by younger workers. Perhaps they’re suddenly managing a chronic illness or have other health concerns.
And the midlife period can be one where disappointments about life’s path weigh on many of us, and we’re due a reevaluation or rediscovery of self outside of our former identities. “I have heard many, many women say that as soon as they turn 50-ish, they start to feel invisible in this society,” Solomon says.
In addition to life circumstances, there are hormonal shifts that occur in midlife. “These changes greatly affect our mood, memory, concentration, and sleep,” Nickerson says.
The experience of menopause can also help inspire positive midlife change. “After menopause, women do tend to feel better moodwise,” Solomon says. This may be because of the hormonal changes themselves or fewer responsibilities as their kids get older.
Some women also find that they accept their physical appearance more and turn their focus on other things. “Around menopause,” she adds, “women may realize there's no turning back the clock. They say, ‘I'm going to embrace the way I look now and make the best of it.’”
8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Midlife Change
Shifting into another period of life can actually be liberating, suggests Solomon. “We should rebrand [these years] as a reassessment period,” she says. You can take time to reevaluate where you’re currently at and where you’d like to go.
Reflecting on the following eight questions can help you make the most of your next chapter and any midlife change you decide to make, say Solomon and Nickerson.
1. What brings me joy?
What are the emotions that you tend to feel most often—happiness, stress, frustration, or something else? "It's really important to check in with yourself often and ask, ‘How am I doing?’" Nickerson says. That can help you decide whether you want to be feeling differently—and start to plan how to get there.
Move toward those things that energize you and bring you joy.
2. What are the things I’m most grateful for in my life?
It can be easy to focus on what isn't working in your life, but take stock of what you are happy about, such as your family, friends, career, health, or home. Savor those and, as you move forward, bear in mind what you’re grateful for.
3. What issues am I struggling with? Do I need help addressing them?
A therapist, for example, can help you identify the reasons you struggle, and help find ways to work with them. "If you're feeling stuck, talking these emotions through with a therapist can be very helpful," Solomon says.
4. What do I want from my relationships?
Think about your relationships and what’s fulfilling about them—and what could be better. If you're craving more connection and time with those you love, consider how you can accomplish this.
If you're single, Solomon says, "maybe you see that really you'd like to date. Or on the other hand, maybe you don't want to date but want to expand your relationships with girlfriends." This can be a great time to reevaluate how you’ve always handled relationships and examine your power and the role you may have played in the past.
5. What do I want this next chapter of my life to look like?
Just because you've been doing something for years doesn't mean you have to keep doing it.
"Spend some time thinking about your purpose,” Nickerson says “What are you here on earth to do? How are you contributing to the world? What do you want it to say on your gravestone? Once you know that, ask yourself how you can spend more time each day fulfilling your purpose."
6. What do I want to focus on?
Think about what's most important to you to address first. You don't need a total life makeover right away. "Too much change all at once causes us to go into crisis mode," warns Nickerson.
7. What are my goals?
As part of your midlife change, pick one or two goals that are just for you. For example, if you want to feel healthier, you could make it a goal to join a running club and run a 5K with friends. If running is too much, perhaps start a walking club and recruit friends to join you.
8. Where should I stop putting my energy?
It can be liberating to give up certain societal pressures, for example, accepting your body as it is rather than pressuring yourself to continue looking like you did 20 or 30 years ago. "Personally, I have gray hair, and I've committed to being loud and proud about that," Solomon says.
Take Time to Think It Through
Be mindful about where you want the second half of your life to go, and be intentional about creating the life you really want. Above all, if you feel like your life isn’t what you’d hoped it would be at this stage, remember that that’s okay. If the goal is to find joy in the next phase, there are so many ways to do that, and no one path leads there.
“You don't need a new job, relationship, friends, family, and house immediately,” Nickerson says. “Take some time to think about what you really want; write it down.”
Start with the issue that feels most important to you, and come up with a deliberate, realistic plan to tackle it. Once you work on changing that issue, you can reassess how you feel about everything else. “Sometimes, changing just one thing can shift our perspective and make us feel more at peace with everything else,” Nickerson says.
After a time, what feels frightening may actually become an inflection point and an opportunity to pivot to something new and exciting for the second half of life. And that is something worth celebrating.
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