I want to change but I don't know how
Many of us arrive in midlife surprised to be here. We have all been busy living our lives and it feels like the passage of time sneaked up on us while we were not looking.
As young women we had clear ideas of who we were, where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to do. We wanted it all of course. That is what we had been told. Fully paid-up feminists, whose younger years bridged the 1980s and 90s, a culture of work hard, play hard, and the rise of the ladette.
Generation X. We are described as “independent, resilient, resourceful, self-managing, adaptable, cynical, pragmatic, sceptical of authority, and as seeking a work-life balance.”
The people pleasing, perfectionist in me got busy achieving from an early age and the more things that I achieved, the more I struggled to be happy. It did not make sense to me; I thought that being a good girl and working hard was the route to happiness. Feeling flat or low did not feel nice and I pushed those feelings away by making another loftier goal and working even harder to achieve it. I thought it was a winning strategy up until the moment it was not.
I found myself in my 40s, exhausted, unhappy, and with no idea who I was anymore.
Safety in numbers
There are lots of us out there and I have met many women just like us. We wanted to have homes as perfect as our mum’s, but we neglected to remember that they often did not work. We wanted equality at work, independence, picture perfect marriages, and babies, all wrapped up in a comforting blanket of happiness. We hunkered down and got on with the task with varying degrees of success.
Kindred spirits with a fear of being found out. All seeing, all knowing, all hiding. We thought we could have it all. But was having it all at the same time too much?
We were surrounded by images of perfection; glossy magazines followed by the birth of the internet and social media.
“I don’t know how she does it. I must be doing something wrong.” All seeing, all knowing, and all overwhelmed.
Someone went first, stepped out of the shadows and into the light. We all gathered round to support. Conversations in the background, our inner voice asking: “Can I do it too? What will they think?” All seeing, all knowing, and all scared to go next.
The feelings, we had pushed away for so long, were no longer content to be silenced. They were shouting and we could no longer ignore them. All seeing, all knowing, and all ready for change.
Some changes are a choice, and some are unwelcome visitors. But change is relentless. We cannot stop change any more than we can halt the tide. Fear of the unknown is scary. We yearned to be safe and secure, and yet that same sanctuary can become stifling and claustrophobic.
Look in the mirror. Do you recognise the woman looking back at you? I am not referring to new wrinkles and errant chin hairs!
My 40s ended up being an important decade for learning and change. The midlife changemaker was unleashed and, slowly but surely, I became curious about what I could do, where I wanted to go next, and who I wanted to be. I felt the fear and did it anyway (eventually).
How can you be a midlife change maker?
I love to read, and usually turn to books when I want to learn something new. There are books, that I found extremely helpful and wanted to share. I thought a quick scroll through my Amazon order history would help me to find them. I ended up finding a treasure trove of book purchases (too many to list), a timeline that underpinned how I made massive change in my life. One book led to the next and I kept reading, thinking, feeling, and doing. I was unknowingly coaching myself through change.
These are the key things, that helped me to get unstuck:
Curiosity and longing
In 2011 I was 42 and longing for something different. I was curious about changing what I was doing but within the safety of the career that I knew so well. I bought books about career development in healthcare. I did courses and added skills to my career portfolio.
Understanding emotions, thinking, and healing
2012 was a year for book titles about happiness, healing, and cognitive behavioural therapy. My desire to change intensified and I knew that I did not want my life to stay the same.
Coaching, mindfulness, and trying something new
In 2013 I bought “The escape manifesto” by Escape the City, that was one of my pivotal reads. The book showed me that it was ok to leave a career and do something different. Change became a possibility not just a dream. There were practical exercises and ideas to try out. I started to buy business books, exploring the ideas, and then setting up a new business. My first side hustle was born.
This was also the year that my creativity went off the scale and I bought craft books on so many things from knitting to lino cut printing. I own an embarrassment of craft supplies. I found the process of making put me into a zone of calm. I did not realise that this was mindfulness in action.
Self-care and thinking creatively
2014 was a year of “self-improvement” and I bought books on diet, health, and fitness. I have lost and gained the same 6 kg multiple times in 10 years! I signed up for an Interior design course, bought books to support my learning, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Farrow and Ball paint colours. I was still working out how I could change career and what else I could do.
Values and confidence
2015 was the year that I defined my version of midlife values. If I live into my 90s, like both of my grandmas did, then I was only halfway done at the age of 46. I had so much more to do! It became a year of reinvention, and my favourite book title for 2015 was “Staging your comeback.”
Courage and calm
2016 was all about business books again and it was the year that I found my courage. I left my NHS job as a Consultant Anaesthetist and started to work for myself. I felt like an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders and I was FREE. But it did not stop there.
Journalling, renegotiation, and setting boundaries
2017 – 2019 My creative book purchases were devoted to photography and journalling. Writing helps me to get stuff out of my head and to track familiar patterns of unhelpful thinking. Writing also helps me to brainstorm and process ideas.
Our sons started to leave (and return) to the nest. I bought books about style and relationships. I have been married to my husband for a long time and we needed to pay attention to our relationship as we went from a household of 4 to 3 to 2 to 3 to 4 again (currently).
As I approached my 50s, I started to read about change again. I was restless and longing for more. I started to care less about what others thought about my choices and read Sarah Knight’s “The life changing magic of not giving a fuck.” I worked on learning to say no and not feeling guilty.
Finding your groove
2020 – 2022 Something was missing. I thought about my previous career as a consultant anaesthetist and the leading role that I had in education. I did not miss being an anaesthetist, but I missed coaching and mentoring colleagues and trainee doctors.
That was the missing piece, so I trained to be a coach.
My book choices over the past 2 years reflect rediscovering that part of me that was missing. I really love reading books to support my work as a coach and they support my personal growth at the same time.
What does change look like for you?
All of us take a different path and arrive at various times. No right or wrong. No should, only could. When do we know we have arrived? I don’t think that we do. What would be the fun in that?
Looking back, I can see a clear path back to my starting point as I stepped into midlife.
I had no idea where the path would lead, it was bumpy and there were potholes. Some of the potholes were filled with muddy water and some reflected back clarity and purpose. Travelling along the path was scary at times and the pace of travel changed, sometimes fast and sometimes incredibly slow. The route was chosen by me but there were challenges and blocks that made me pause and reflect or change direction. If I got lost, I looked for help to find my way back. My tribe supported and cheered my progress, they challenged, and held me to account.
I became more comfortable with my constant travelling companion; my inner voice that tries to stop progress and keep me stuck. She can be tough to argue with and a very harsh critic. I have learnt how to tame her bullying ways.
Best of all, my choices and life changes led me to a tribe of people who I could never have imagined working with 10 years ago. I am here to help you make bold decisions about change, step out of the shadows, and stride into the light. Join me as we get excited for the future and do hard things together.