I will be turning forty-nine this week, and although it's not fifty, it's close enough to ponder what that might mean to me.
When I was in my thirties I scoffed at stories I heard about men and women hitting their fifties and doing outrageous things and calling it a mid-life crisis. A few of my friends parents split up, one ran away with a younger woman, another sold their family home and bought a condo away from their children. Still, others bought fancy cars, boats, motorcycles while others went back to school, changed careers or slipped into a funk that took a few years to get out of. Over time, any change someone in their fifties made to their body, career or life was attributed to this mysterious thing called a mid-life crisis. I scoffed at many of the choices -- plastic surgery, sports cars, younger spouses. Mid-life crises were for people who weren’t happy, that wasn’t going to be me.
Then I hit forty-eight, published my first novel and left a job I had for eighteen years. Welcome to the mid-life crisis. The term mid-life feels silly and hopeful at the same time. If I’m having a mid-life crisis in my late forties that at least implies I will be living well into my nineties right? Although I am in the midst of re-charting the course of my life is it really fair to call this a crisis? If it is a crisis, shouldn’t I be wearing protective clothing?
Whether you like it or not, change happens. In mid-life many of those changes happen in your body, and while I strongly recommend living in denial for as long as possible, sooner or later you look in the mirror and notice something strange looking back at you, someone a lot older. It’s not all depressing, you also find yourself with less tolerance for doubt and if you had a hard time suffering fools in your youth well let’s just say you can barely be in the same room with them once you hit mid-life.
For me though, the big burning question is, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” Notice the distinction from the “What do you want to be” of my youth. The first half was all about the what, the second half is about the who, and when I say that I don’t mean the band.
There is a scene in The Last Bridge, when Cat wakes up in the hospital after almost drinking herself to death and the nurse asks her who she is, she goes through a list in her mind of all the roles she has in her life and finally lands on a definition of who she is that changes the course of her life.
Some days my definition of who I am is not so simple or flattering, other days the printout of it would require several toner cartridges. Some days who I want to be is within reach, other days it would be easier to try to be someone else.
I think of my “mid-life” project like I did the renovation of my 100+ year old house, it was a great house the way it was, solid foundation, strong bones, welcoming vibe but it was even better with a bathroom on the second floor, a new kitchen and access to the garden in the back. In fact, what made my house better was the way I opened it up, the way I took what was great and made it better.
Seems like that is the model. The “who” I want to be is more open, accessible and welcoming for what comes next.