Midlife Realignment…

Instead of ‘mid-life crisis’ maybe we should call it ‘mid-life realignment’.   Most people don’t go off the deep end during this period and divorce their spouse to marry someone younger than their own children.  The majority of us just step back and look at the path we are on and start wondering, do I really want to travel in this direction?  This is a time to pause, reevaluate and well, realign.  You start sensing what isn’t working as your life may be changing dramatically from being a full-time parent or a caretaker for your own parent.  This is such a time of dynamic changes that it is hard to keep your head on straight.

Mid-life is so frowned upon, joked about and dreaded.  I am not quite sure why.  This is a time when I am quite comfortable in my own skin and don’t feel the need to impress people as I once did.  Actually outside of my daughters and my husband along with a few of my closest friends, I could give a rat’s ass less about what people think of me or about me.  That in itself is very freeing.  When you stop the craziness of trying to be ‘somebody’ for no other reason than you want to feel like you’ve ‘made it’ for the next class reunion or to finally make your parents proud of you.

Empowering.  This time in my life feels exactly that.  My children are adults and need me a little here and there so essentially I’ve completed my task of raising them.  I read on social media almost daily where my friends are dreading their kids growing up.  Once I was in their position and truthfully, when they do grow up, it’s a very big adjustment. You will most likely grieve their childhood and your active role as a parent.  Depending on the person this may be a month or a few years.  Eventually though, this period stops feeling like the end of the world and you find you have the opportunity to return to yourself and your goals or in my case, discovering what those goals or dreams really are now at this point in my life.  Of course, this is also the time for some people, you start becoming the caretaker of your own parent(s) which in and of itself if probably much more difficult than raising your own children.

One of the things I have spent most of my life being in my mind and what I have bragged to others is that I am “an aspiring writer who has been published on the small-scale.”  This was a source of pride and identity for me.  It made me ‘somebody’ at least in my eyes as I am not sure it really impressed anyone.  For the longest time, I imagined my name printed in bold letters on a beautifully illustrated hard back book as the celebrated author of a wonderful best seller that reached many people and touched their lives.  Except my dream was more based on becoming ‘somebody’ and being ‘someone important’ to soothe my inner delinquencies from growing up in a dysfunctional family where I never felt like I was worth much of anything.  I was trying to prove to them, myself and the world that I mattered.

The beauty of therapy and all the self-work I’ve done as well as reaching mid-life, I have resolved my need to impress anyone other than myself.  Now when I find myself participating in this behavior, I find my whole psyche and self fight the attempt and I end up stalled in whatever I was trying to do.  In other words, I was stopping myself from fruitless behavior that has never worked for me anyway.   For the last few weeks, I have been trying to write the next chapter of a novel that is about 50% finished as far as word count that I need.  It is in rough draft, I have rewritten it 5-6 times over the past few years .  Initially, I started writing it as a way to deal with something painful from my deep past.  The beauty of writing is you can make the story turn out any way you want and you can make the characters into whomever you want.  Mostly it was a good avenue for me to safely express and explore long suppressed feelings about some difficult past events in my youth.

The manuscript is a decent story, with some cleaning up, I could probably sell it to someone.  It’s not best-seller material but I believe it’s good enough for publishing.  Actually the fact I believe this and it’s not a piece of crappy garbage is a big step for my self-critical nature.  I used to read my own writing and destroy everything I wrote because I believed it to be inferior and deserved to die.  So there is that at least, the fact I do not wish to delete the file and never look at it again.  But like I mentioned, I have not made any progress on it either lately.

So I decided maybe I am burned out on the story.  I’ve been working on it so long maybe I am just weary of it.  So I started brainstorming ideas for a new story or novel.  I came up with a bunch of ideas but nothing spoke to my heart or sparked my desire.  After spending a restless night sleeping, I woke up this morning with the very definite question coming to my mind:

“What if I don’t really want to write?”

Hmmm.  Not what I expected when I woke up this morning.  Most of my life since mid-teens has been with the identity of ‘aspiring writer who has published on a small scale’.  Am I really an aspiring writer.  Maybe I’m just a writer who has the wrong goal.  Maybe I don’t care about being ‘a best selling novelist’.  I’ve worked through my self-critical stage that crippled my writing.  I no longer need to impress anyone.  Even though it seems like I should have some lofty writing goal, my heart and soul really isn’t in that outcome.  If my heart was in it, I would have achieved it by now.  Or at the very least put way more effort into trying and submitted manuscripts multiple times and places.  I don’t ever get past the writing part of the equation.  I finished a novel once, rough draft, just to say I wrote a complete book.  I figured I would go back and then edit it except I didn’t.  It’s been sitting there for years collecting figurative dust sitting in the cloud where I store my files.

Here is an example of mid-life realignment.  Deciding if what you thought you wanted is really what you truly want now.  I like writing.  I love writing my blog even if only 2 people read it.  Sometimes, when I write about something particularly difficult, I will get multiple comments from people happy that I have written something that they too are experiencing.  I think people are more transparent today than they were 10 years ago thanks to social media outlets and just a new attitude that no one is perfect.  Think of the outcry to stop photo-shopping models in magazines so that young girls and well, grown women, don’t kill themselves trying to reach for an impossible state of perfection.  I think the general population has grown weary of trying to live up to something no one can really be and are wanting to relate on a ‘real’ level.  Hence maybe all the ‘reality’ shows.  You know, the ones that are made up to look real.

Mid-life realignment is also a chance to be ‘real’ and find your authentic self.  Or just to be authentic.  I am way more happy when I am just myself.  Trying to pretend I am something I am not is just miserable.  Be real people.  If someone doesn’t like the real you, then screw them.  You didn’t need them anyway.  Don’t dread or feel bad about being mid-life.  This is actually an exciting time to take the wisdom you have gained the hard way and put it to use.  This is the time to look at your life and think, nah, I really hate being a banker, I think I want to own a pottery shop in an artsy town.  Maybe you hate all the trappings of being successful you have acquired like a big house and expensive car.  If you peel back the layers of impressing people and being ‘successful’, you just might find you want to live in a cozy log cabin in the mountains and raise sheep.  Who knows what you may discover about yourself and even if it sounds crazy, if your heart soars when you imagine this new life, maybe it is worth exploring the possibilities.

Granted, we can’t all just up and quit our jobs to move to the mountains but maybe you can transition over a few year’s time.  Just because it doesn’t seem immediately feasible, doesn’t mean you should give up.  You may find a way to make your dream a reality or maybe it will require a few adjustments to be similar but not the same in the end.  If you are happy with the result, then that is what matters.  Of course, you may have a spouse who isn’t on board so there may have to be some compromise and in the end you find an even happier result.  Maybe your spouse ends up loving the mountains and sheep or you end up raising Shih Zu instead.

I have no idea what my life has in store for me.  The only thing I know for certain is that I need to rethink my path and considering the question my subconscious brought forth today ‘What if I don’t really want to be a writer?’, it is a sign to really look at what I do want to do.  Explore different options, explore things I never considered and really listen to what my heart and my soul are telling me.  I’m good for ignoring them and plodding along the wrong path until I hit a concrete wall.  I’m not much for the delicacy of small cues.  Well I’m a bit clueless really unless you hit me over the head with a ball bat but I’m working on that as well.

Maybe for you the path is very clear.  You want to go back to college to be a doctor or you want to open a curiosity shop.  I envy the fact that you know in your heart the path you should take.  Me, I have some thinking and exploring yet to do.  I imagine when my path does become clear, I will smack my own head because it was right there all along and I kept looking the other direction.  I do that sometimes.  Okay a lot of times.  I ignore the elephant in the room and walk right around it because I am stubborn and only see what I want or think I should see.

You don’t have to be mid-life either to reach this point.  My oldest daughter has reached a point in her life where she is asking many of the same questions.  I think it is a bit disconcerting to her after having a clear path for the first twenty-five years.  School then more school and then maybe more school, but maybe not that last bit of school.  Okay, so now what if there isn’t more school?  She is searching as well.  Asking what do I want to be when I grow up?  But maybe it shouldn’t be ‘be’ but ‘do’.  What should I do when I grow up?  I think we are probably fine just the way we are.  Do we need to change and ‘be’ something or someone else.  We link our identity to a job or profession or like with me, I linked it to a dream I thought was right for me, being a best-selling author, only to find out that isn’t who I am after all.

I should just be Laura.  My identity doesn’t rest on my work or my job or publishing a book.  I am fine just as I am today.  I should think of it more in the lines of what do I want to try or do?  What would make me happy?  Rather than hanging who I am as a person on a profession or achieving a goal.  We are multi-faceted just by being alive.  I’m a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a woman, and the list goes on and on just by existing.  Labels are a bit over rated anyway.  That is probably where I am getting hung up anyway.  I want to recreate myself for the purpose of?  I don’t know.  I used to feel I needed to compete with other people but for what?  I don’t know.  Now I find I just compete with myself.  To ride a little longer or faster, to hike further and to be a kinderr person in general.  I have no one to impress.  I just want to live my life and be happy.  For the most part, I am very happy.

I’ve always strived to be ‘better’.  Better at what, you may ask.  I don’t know again.  I thought I did but now none of it really makes sense or matters.  Sure, the work I put into myself to be more accepting of who I am, to love myself and like myself was time well spent.  Maybe that sounds egotistical but really it is not.  It is about saying “I am okay just as I am.  I am right where I am supposed to be.”  Striving for things that don’t matter like a number on a scale or to impress someone else with your education or station in life is fruitless.  Sure for a moment you feel superior or accomplished but that feeling is usually fleeting.  Then you are striving again for something else to impress whomever or feel good about yourself.  If you can just stop the motion and stand still then realize hey, I’m okay just like I am, you give yourself freedom.  The freedom to live your life and enjoy your life as well as the people who matter most to you.

The question my subconscious posed this morning, “What if I don’t really want to be a writer?” could have scared me and shook me to the core but really it was just further confirmation that I need to step back and realign that part of my life.  It’s the universe telling me, hey, um, yeah, this really isn’t what you want so why do you keep banging your head on the wall when you aren’t able to write that best-selling novel?

Message heard, universe.  Laura, over and out.

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Selfies, Not So Silly?

Selfies are a bit of a running joke with anyone who is familiar with social media.  Even grandmas are doing selfies and posting them to their news feed.  They have even created a “selfie stick” to aid in taking photos of ones self especially those of us with tyrannosaurus rex length arms like myself but I have yet to succumb to purchasing a selfie stick.

When I first ventured into selfie territory, I felt quite silly taking pictures of myself.  More on the humorous side, I went for more of the ‘sarcastic selfie’, overdone facial expressions to make it all seem a little less awkward though I looked way more awkward.  I found it easier to take selfies with my girls in them, they seemed more ‘legit’ rather than some overly engrossed middle-age woman trying to be cool.  Being 40’ish, you seem like you are always straddling the line of what seems to be trying to hard and looking ridiculous.

Every day I peruse my Facebook feed reading up on what my friends and family are up to, admiring their pictures, laughing at their humor and feeling sad with their difficult moments.  Selfies fill up a lot of the feed but I never think, wow, they are so vain or stuck on themselves.  I love seeing pictures of people I’ve known most of my life as they smile and look happy.  I always feel like smiling back, noting beauty in each person even though they, like me, are all getting older.  But age doesn’t necessarily mean you become ugly, it just means that beauty changes, evolves.

I have found that taking photos of myself has done a great deal toward making me less photo shy.  Now if someone wants to take my picture, I don’t run away, literally, I would run away, I hated my picture so much.  I can remember once one of my girls, I think my youngest, said, “Momma, you’re never in any of our pictures.”  And then she would stare at me accusingly as if it was a conspiracy.  I never could get much by any of my daughters.  She wanted to know what did I feel was so wrong with me that I didn’t want to be captured in a photograph.  She patted me on the leg and said “But Momma you are pretty.”  As if that solved all my years of body and self-esteem issues.

Maybe some of it is age, the older I get the less I give a rat’s ass about what anyone thinks about me.  At this point you are just grateful you have most of your organs and things work even if they hurt.  I have lost people I love younger than myself to tragedies, accidents and cruel illnesses.  You are a bit more thankful to wake up each morning.  But some of it is just I have forced myself to be less camera shy.  Over the years, it became easier.  Most of my selfies just go into my hard drive and online photo service where I store them as a backup.  Though I own a nice Nikon DSLR camera, I have gotten lazy and take so many of my photos with my iPhone because it’s always available and slowly these phone cameras are becoming almost as advanced as my Nikon.

I have a folder for each year for simply cell phone uploads.  Odds and ends of memories that I capture in my day to day.  Looking at this album, it is almost like a journal, I capture whatever sparks my fancy that day.  Including odd ball items like price tags of floor laminate (so I remember the cost per square or linear foot for when we estimate a job cost), food at restaurants, a flower in a garden somewhere, a random sunset, a strange bug I saw out hiking and many of my girls.  My iPhone photo app now has developed to the point it can detect most though not all of my selfies and puts them into their own folder designation. Literally I have a “Selfies” folder in my iPhone photo app.  I didn’t create it, Apple did but I thought well as times have changed, everyone is taking pictures of themselves.

Am I more self-absorbed because I take these photos as the experts claim we are all becoming?  Not really, I am sure if I was, my husband would probably point out my annoying behavior at some point.  I haven’t crawled into my own world and started ignoring everything and everyone around me.  No, I have simply become much more comfortable in my own skin.  More accepting and less critical of my photos.  Granted I take some selfies and cringe but I can simply delete them.  Take it again.  It is all about camera angle and lighting.

I don’t use filter apps to take away every wrinkle and flaw before I post my pictures or share them.  I’ve run into friends I haven’t seen for years only to not really recognize them because all their social media photos are run through this glam filter that takes away the lines and imperfections making them look twenty years younger.  I wonder if they realize that people are surprised when they see them in person because obviously you can’t walk around with a filter over your face as if it were magic makeup.  Just a random thought.   Now, being more wise to these filter users, when I see someone on my news feed who looks impossibly young for her age, I know, the photo has been probably doctored.

I like real untouched photos, the one that shows how someone truly is.  It is one of the reasons I am not a big makeup wearer.  I’ve seen those makeup tutorials and before/after shots of celebrities and models where you look at the “before” and think well you’re just a regular person like me.  I often thought if I have to put that much makeup on to attract a date, well I just give up.  To each their own of course but I don’t want someone waking up beside me sans my makeup and they freak out because I do not look the same.  Not that it isn’t fun to do dramatic makeup to go out for the night, sometimes I do but mostly my husband looks at me and says something like “You’re wearing a lot of makeup.”  As if I’m trying out for the Bozo convention at the clown college.  He simply is not a fan of me in heavy makeup.  I did grow up in the 80’s though.  We loved all the dramatic look back then.

When I was in my early 20’s, the actress Jenny McCarthy was up and coming.  One day she was on Oprah and I can remember her taking a poster of herself and using a black Sharpie marker, she circled all the areas that had been retouched.  I remember sitting there with my mouth open as this had never occurred to me that these people weren’t perfect after all, they were just manipulated to look perfect.  All those years of sighing over Seventeen magazine or entertainment magazines feeling ugly and imperfect was for nothing.  Certainly there are people with much better genes than I possess but they aren’t these goddesses that they are made out to be.  Throw in my family’s obsession with being thin and yes, I had eating disorders and self-image problems.

Now when I look back of photos of myself in my teens or early 20’s, I want to go back and slap myself.  I want to tell my younger self, “Hey girl, you look good, wear that leather miniskirt and heels.  Own it. ”  Which in turn makes me wonder what my 60-something self would want to tell me now.  I think my older self might just want to tell me to relax and enjoy life.  You don’t always have to be achieving something even though it feels like you wasted your life sometimes, you haven’t.  I need a time capsule.  Or a note I open in 20 years.   Well, I have this blog, maybe that would work as a reminder.

And I will have a whole bunch of selfies to remember how good I looked in my forties…  My daughters won’t have to scramble for photos of me when they are older, I’ve created my own gallery.   Even ones with absolutely no makeup as the one I am attaching to this post with my cat.  It’s one of my favorite pictures of myself and I have no makeup on, my hair is barely combed but I think it truly captures me at this time in my life.   I have been through a lot but I still find simple joys in life like my cat cuddling with me.

Oh and I’m asking for a selfie stick for Christmas….