The Struggle with Midlife Transition and How to Empower Yourself

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Inside: Overcome the struggles of your “midlife transition.”

I sat on a chair at Ulta and looked in the mirror while a beautiful, dewy-skinned diva applied make-up to my jawline. Once again, I was searching for something better. 

Something to just give me a bit more coverage. To reduce the appearance of fine lines. And cover the two dark spots that have popped up in the past few years. 

Looking back and forth from her skin to mine reminded me again of my age. I couldn’t help but wonder about these “midlife” years, and how sometimes, I’m not always sure how to navigate.

And even though I’m learning to accept and even embrace these midlife changes, there are times, like yesterday, that I look in the mirror and see a stranger.

I see a rounder face from weight gain. I notice fine lines around my eyes. I catch myself wondering how old I look to other people. 

And I’ll be honest. I don’t like it.

I don’t like that the woman that I see isn’t the girl I remember. Nor is she the girl I feel like I still should be. 

But there are also times when I feel myself stepping into acceptance and confidence. Much more so than I experienced in my 20s and 30s. I feel empowered by these changes in my outlook and attitude.

Now that part, I DO like.

It’s just all part of my midlife transition.

Midlife Transition for Women

I’m not sure if all women go through this. It’s likely different for everyone. I’m sure some women are simply wired to move through these ages and stages with more grace and assurance. 

All I know is that sometimes, I struggle. And for the past five years or so, I’ve been increasingly aware of this feeling of impending change. And not just the changes that come as a result of aging.

I’m talking about changes on a different level. A transformation of sorts. Kind of like how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

Several years ago, when I got a little inkling to start living differently, I decided the butterfly would be my spirit animal.

Yeah – I said “spirit animal!” I’m sure I was taking some self-awareness course or listening to some enlightened podcast that encouraged me to do it. I just felt like I needed some sort of symbol to identify with because on a deep level, I felt I was changing.

And while even now, it still sounds a little silly, the idea of the butterfly as “my symbol” made me feel better. 

Why? Because the butterfly is a symbol of metamorphosis, transformation, joy, and soul. Exactly the things I was longing for soon after turning 40.

So while it was funny and slightly embarrassing to admit, I declared the butterfly as my spirit animal. Funny enough, soon after, while shopping for Christmas ornaments, I came across a beautiful, iridescent white butterfly ornament. So of course, I bought it.

And while yes, it’s super corny, the weird thing is that it made me feel better. Like somehow I was telling myself it was okay to start my own transformation….my metamorphosis. 

Deep down, even though this sounds so ridiculous and trite and silly, I felt deep in my soul that things needed to change. 

And since then, I have been changing and evolving.

That was five years ago. I still love that ornament. I still love butterflies.

What is Midlife Transition?

When I started this “midlife transition,” I didn’t even know what a midlife transition was.

If you google midlife transition, you will find various articles and several blogs. (And the numbers of midlife blogs are on the rise.)

But what you’ll find more than the phrase “midlife transition” is “midlife crisis.”

Hey – I’m not having a midlife crisis!

I’m having a midlife transition.

Midlife Crisis Vs. Midlife Transition

So what’s the difference? Let’s start with a “midlife crisis.”

The term “midlife crisis” was coined in 1965 by Canadian psychologist Elliot Jacques.

In his article, “Death and the Mid-life Crisis” in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, he refers to the Midlife Crisis as a time when adults recognize their mortality and struggle with how much time they have left in life.

A midlife crisis can be prompted by several things. Some common events include:

  • Feeling unfulfilled with work or career path 
  • Changes in marriage or relationships
  • Children getting older and/or going off to college
  • Aging parents or death of parents
  • Physical changes that come with aging
  • Feeling a loss of identity
  • Fear of growing older and not reaching goals 

These are normal life occurrences. And most of us who reach this stage probably have strong feelings about them. Maybe some good, maybe some bad. 

I think it’s how we deal with those feelings that determines if it’s a midlife crisis OR a midlife transition.

A “midlife crisis” refers to a panic about self-identity and self-confidence that can happen around mid-age. It’s just like the phrase indicates – it’s a crisis.

A transition, in my opinion, is different. And a midlife transition can be a good thing for you.

It can be a time for reflection on your goals or your purpose in life. You might want to reconsider how you approach your future. 

Midlife can be a time to embrace meditation and spirituality. Or health and fitness. Or a new career. Travel. A different home. New beginnings. 

Midlife can be whatever you want it to be.

Our midlife transition only becomes destructive when we make unhealthy choices or become angry or depressed. I think one of the main differences is irrational behavior vs. making mindful changes and going after what you want in life with intention. 

Now that I’m in mid-forties, it’s hitting me hard – there is so much more I want to do. 

I want to live differently. I want more experiences. 

It’s time to start doing more. Living more.

We can take the best care of ourselves as possible, but the hard truth is that we all have a limited amount of time.

I’d like to believe I have lots of time. But the fact is, I don’t really know how much time I have. None of us do. So we need to make the most of our time now.

Hitting this stage in life – midlife – can open your eyes to that fact.  

What’s Your Midlife Experience Like?

What are you experiencing in midlife? What changes are you going through? Are some changes harder than others?

Physical Changes in Midlife

For me, the physical changes have been the toughest. Weight gain, hair thinning, more fine lines. I’ve noticed my muscle tone diminishes faster if I’m not hitting the gym frequently.

When I work out, I can feel a slight decline in my stability and flexibility. I’ve pulled more muscles in the past two years than I ever did in all my years of competitive sports.

But that’s okay. Because I’m learning to change my approach and mindset. I’m realizing that I need to keep moving and stay active. In fact, it’s more important than ever!

It’s been eye-opening to understand that if I want to be at my best, it’s going to take a bit more effort. I’ll have to do new things. Or do things a new way.

No longer do I run around the neighborhood on the hard concrete. Because, aching joints.

I’m not saying I won’t ever run again. But if I want to run again, it’s going to take longer to condition my body to do so.

I’m so over HIIT. And boot camp. And burpees. Maybe that will change. But that’s where I am right now. I’ve spent years pushing my body. Right now, my body is saying “time-out.”

I’m embracing new types of exercise, like Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba. The Yoga and Pilates, while I’ll admit, are a little boring, are gentler. Don’t get me wrong. They are challenging. Just a different kind of challenge than I’m used to.

The Zumba? That’s an amazing workout that is FUN. If you want to go find your Inner Diva, go find a Zumba class.

Emotional Changes in Midlife

From an emotional and spiritual perspective, the changes are major. I’m experiencing significantly more self-acceptance.

I’m caring less about what others think. I’m doing more to express myself. And I’m setting boundaries. Finally.

Rather than fighting midlife, I’m trying to embrace it while living my best life. It’s about accepting the chances while knowing I have the opportunity to live better than ever before.

It’s a weird balance and it’s hard. I’m not saying it’s easy at all. But it does feel empowering to take this approach. 

Who Are You in Midlife?

So who are you? Who do you want to be? How are you becoming who you were meant to be?

At 46, I’m not the same as I was at 26 or 36. I’m more aware and less uptight.

I’m doing my best to take care of myself and feel good but I also accept where I am and what is happening. 

And at the same time, I’m not slowing down because I’m getting older. I’m more motivated to live a fuller, more vibrant life than ever before. 

I want to make this my time to shine. But also, I don’t want to try to be the younger version of myself. Because as much as I love her, I’m not her anymore.

Freedom to Express Yourself in Midlife

A few years ago, I got my first tattoo. Around the same time, I added some red/purple highlights to my hair. It felt amazing. I felt like I was ME.

Then one day, I overheard someone say, “She’s just doing the types of things most people do in their 20s.”

Ladies – let me say this now. If you start stepping out into who you are and expressing yourself, and people want to make comments like that…Ignore Them. And if necessary, eliminate or limit those negative people in your life.

That type of thinking is about them, not you. Not everyone is going to understand your midlife journey and the need to start expressing yourself and embracing who you are.

They aren’t where you are. And that’s okay.

I let that comment bother me for a while. But I eventually got over it.

Why? Because I’ve seen so many amazing women who are my age, or older, having a blast with vibrant color or body art. They’re taking trips or taking classes. They’re exploring life and exploring themselves.

These women are embracing who they want to be by expressing themselves. So don’t let someone with a limited view bring you down.

What Are Your Feelings About Midlife?

Are you frustrated? Confused? Feeling listless or unsettled?

Honestly, I feel all of those at times. I’m trying to find a reasonable balance of accepting who am I and what I’m going through while at the same time wanting to age in the best way. 

My advice? Write your feelings down. Be honest about them. Explore them. List your gratitude. 

Examine how you feel about your current situation. What are the things you can accept? (Not tolerate, but accept.)

Do you need to work on awareness? Confidence? Figuring out what you even want? 

Do you have inner work to do? How can you improve any negative feelings you are having?

Here’s where I’ve come to after a lot of self-reflection:

I’m not unhappy, nor am I discontent. (I was for a while, but I worked through it.) 

Now, I do love my life. But I want to do more and find I’m feeling more curious and adventurous. I’m making a list of the things I want to do, learn and get done. 

What about you? How do you want to feel? What will get you there?

Make a Midlife Transition Plan

Now that you’re in this phase – make the most of it. Make a plan to make it as good as you can. If you’re like me, it won’t be without struggles and frustrations. That’s probably not too realistic. But you can make still make it amazing.

Stop Asking for Permission

Seriously. Stop. Stop seeking permission and acceptance from others when it comes to living your life.

I’m so guilty of this and I’m continuously working through it. You don’t need permission to elevate your life. You don’t need permission to start doing the things you want to do. It’s your life and you need to live it the way you want to, regardless of what other people think.

Go Back to Your Childhood

What did you love doing? What did you want to do in life? Remember something you always wanted to do when you were young – and go do it. 

Me? I’ve always wanted to play the drums. Drum lessons are on my bucket list. 

In college, I took a travel writing class. It inspired me to consider travel writing as a career until I found out some peers laughed at something I wrote for an assignment. At 46, it still stings. But I’m willing to give writing a shot again. 

So get over the comments and fears and limiting beliefs that kept you from pursuing what you loved, and go do those things.

Let Go of the Past

We all have things that impacted us harshly. But ultimately, letting go of those things lets us live more freely and have a fuller life. Work to get over past hurts.

Release those things with journaling or meditation. Or go get therapy. Currently, I’m in a type of therapy called EMDR and it’s working very well to help me let go of things that have been holding me back my entire life.

Start Expressing Yourself

If you want the tattoo, get the tattoo. Get the hair color. Wear the clothes you want to wear. 

If you want to travel or to move across the country. By all means, do it. This is YOUR life. 

Say what you think and feel. Take classes. Start exploring. Get outside your comfort zone. Stop hiding. 

This blog is a great example of this. I’ve wanted to blog since 2007. Why? Just because. It’s just something that seemed fun. 

I started and stopping blogging numerous times. Because I was scared. I didn’t want to be seen. 

What if someone read my work and hated it?

Finally, I’m just doing it. I’m doing it scared. And I’m loving it. I’m finally working through my fear and using my voice. I’m letting go of perfection.

I’m choosing to ignore the memory of the two guys in college that mocked my writing. 

I hope they find this and laugh again. I really do. 

A Few More Suggestions:

  • Discover new hobbies and activities
  • Refocus on relationships
  • Eat healthily and try new exercise activities 
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation
  • Start a self-care routine
  • Go. See. Do. Get out there!

Some Final Thoughts About Midlife

I am mindful of where my life is going. Whereas before I was drifting along, now I’m making an effort to live with more intention and direct my life the way I want to. 

It takes mindful action to stop and think about how I want to spend my time and the next 40+ years. 

Chances are, if you’re in midlife, you’ve reached a point where you are thinking about what you want to do moving forward. This isn’t selfish. This is your life. What do you want to do with the rest of it?

Look at this as an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Or at the very least, an opportunity for growth and change.

Let’s do it. Let’s stop worrying so much about what we can do at the make-up counter and start thinking more about how we can live our best lives now.

P.S. – Interested in a Midlife Bucket List? Check out this post on how to create one.

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2 Responses

  1. Joan says:

    I really relate to everything in this post. My forties were very much as you describe. Now I’m 57. Since 50, my reflections have entered a new kind of phase; I find myself having some really fundamental “big picture” thoughts that I guess I didn’t allow myself to experience earlier in life. The older I get the more I’m amazed to uncover and discover,
    Inside. Life is such an adventure.

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