It used to be called the ‘midlife crisis’; sometime later, it became known as the ‘midlife transition’. Whatever you want to call it, it happens to us all, somewhere in the middle stages of our lives: usually in the years between forty and fifty, but sometimes a few years later. The change in terminology is helpful, though: often it isn’t a crisis, because that word suggests an acute, one-off event. The midlife transition isn’t an event, it’s a process. It can go on and on. Just when we think we’ve worked our way through it and we’re out of the dark woods, bam! – here it comes again, to make us face up to all that we had imagined we understood, but really hadn’t quite grasped at all. The midlife transition takes you by the scruff of the neck, shakes you until you rattle, until don’t know which way is up any more, and keeps on shaking you till you’ve learned what you need to learn. If you don’t fully engage with the process the first time, it’ll be coming round again. You can count on that.
The midlife transition is about waking up. About ripping away the veils, facing the darkness and the Shadow, as well as the light. Both can be equally scary. The midlife transition isn’t easy, but then it isn’t supposed to be easy. The greatest growth comes from the greatest pain, and at midlife, for better or for worse, you get to really grow. It’s not an optional add-on; it’s a developmental necessity. For women, if nothing else has pushed you into it, dealing with menopause surely will. And the only way through it is through it. There are no shortcuts. It’s the ultimate Call. No, not a Call to Adventure – this stage of our lives is all about letting go of the requirement for that kind of thing, for activity, for doing, for plot; it’s time to let go of the active, linear, all-conquering Hero’s Journey terminology. Rather, it’s a Call to something approximating pilgrimage. It is a journeying, but it isn’t about doing. It isn’t even about being – it’s about learning to become. It’s about learning to become what we can uniquely become. It’s about finally getting our act together, in the final stages of our lives. It’s about figuring out what we bring to the world, and getting on with bringing it. It’s about showing up.
All too often, people try to avoid the midlife transition. Why not? – it’s scary, and there are no guarantees. If you follow the Call, all bets are off. And so sometimes we try to resist it. Don’t bother: it’ll get you one way or another. If you don’t heed it the first time, that bell will keep on tolling till you do. But even if we hear the midlife wake-up Call, and even if we follow it, leap off the edge, embark on the Journey, it certainly isn’t plain sailing. Growing can hurt, and if we do it properly, many things must be left behind which once we thought we treasured. The gifts are concomitantly great, but sometimes it’s hard to see that for the darkness of the woods. Midlife is about letting go. About necessary lettings-go. Letting go of illusions, letting go of Shadows. Sometimes, letting go of people and places. Some people blunt the pain of new growth with alcohol or other addictions. We blunt the fear, not just because we are afraid of the dark, but because we are afraid of the light. Because we are fearful of coming into our power, especially when for so many of us – particularly if we are women – our lives have been about keeping it carefully under control. You can’t get away with that at midlife. It’s a time for shaking loose.
Over the next few months, I’ll be exploring midlife transitions on this blog. There are ways to help the process, to work with the learnings. I’ll share them here, and hope they will both resonate with and help many of you, as you grapple with your own midlife awakenings.