When you’ve lost significant things that were once the centerpiece of your life, you’re qualified to rebuild yourself. Not before the loss, however. You wouldn’t need to do so and couldn’t conceive the project regardless.
For people who were raised with adversity, the first half of a successful life often goes like this:
Leave childhood with whichever concoction of beliefs you can muster about how you’re going to prove them all wrong and go, go, go for 10 or more years. Live out that self-promoting, competitive life. Prove your fucking point, as much as you can. Do whatever it takes. Suffer the intolerable anxiety of it all. It’s important. Get a foothold somewhere and start working your way up.
If you haven’t gotten your shit together for at least one period of life, then none of this applies to you. You’ve got to build something before you rebuild at midlife.
Then, have a family and nurture those community dreams. Watch those dreams flourish or crash; it doesn’t matter which because one day they will be fulfilled or lost forever. And there you are. You succeeded in what you set out to do all those years ago.
The career, the family, maybe kids. In-laws, social circles and who has the coolest car. Do it all. Win! Make gargantuan mistakes and enemies and fall off financial cliffs. Survive the low valleys of your life. Pound your chest upon the peaks. Keep going. At some point, your life will stabilize. Money is no longer an obsession. The kids are leaving home in various states of disarray, bent on chasing their dream. It’s their turn and you now are the one to prove wrong.
And one day you look in the mirror and mutter, “Holy Lord God Almighty what the fuck happened?”
Nothing is as you imagined. No one is who you thought. And after all the years of excruciating effort, how do you feel on the inside? Like an abandoned ash bin. You’re nothing. No matter how much material stuff you’ve accumulated, it all adds up to fucko. You’re an emotional wreck, wondering how everything could have gone so wrong.
But now we know. Idealistic dreams of youth are not meant to come true. They serve as fuel for your ambition, that is all. Reality is different than you imagined, or at least different than you were willing to admit.
But why? Didn’t you do all the right things?
Yes! And for the right reasons. Do not indulge in regret beyond what it takes to identify the lessons learned.
But now those right reasons no longer apply. It’s….gone. Your purpose for living – is fulfilled. It doesn’t matter how happy you are about it or how much fulfillment you experienced along the way. The first half of your life is over. You came out of it with some bruises and broken bones and who knows what damage done. But you fulfilled that portion of your life, such as it was.
It’s like having the rug pulled out from under your entire life. Yet the truth remains. Thirty years later, the fulfillment of that dream has succumbed to the fate of every dream.
No doubt you’ve heard the well-intended, yet hyper-naive advice to simply set down the ashy remains of the past and move on. Drop your baggage. Yes, let go! Let it all go right now! As if that were a choice.
You’ve formed attachments to those ashes and what they represent. Your very identity was formed in the fire that produced those ashes. You are those ashes! You cannot just blip into a different person. Laying down your burden would involve sacrificing your identity. It goes without saying that this is ominous.
Your identity has become a burden.
At this time in life, you’ve faced the fact that perfection is long lost. An idealistic life with perfect relationships and health and happiness – that fantasy crumbled in the shadow of your former life. You know enough now to understand that your last breath will be taken by a perfectly imperfect person, in the midst of shattered relationships and (hopefully) at least one person who loves you for what you are.
And we press on.
Where to now? Midlife.
For people raised in adverse circumstances, midlife is a time of emotional survival. Above all else, know this: The answer you seek is NOT to be found by sorting through the ashy remains of your former life, although you cannot help but sift through them regularly.
You’ve got to build a new life, one that fits your current circumstances. The new you will arise from the old.
You have more say in who you become than the determinists believe, and less than you’d wish for. The goal is not to idealize yourself or “take total control of your destiny.” Don’t fall for that again. You just need to make the wise choices that are within your power to make.
What are those choices? They are foundational – the choices from which all other choices emerge. We can divide them into three categories: Beliefs, Values, and Rules for Living.
You cannot choose your every belief but you can choose some key perspectives to draw upon at important times. Clusters of beliefs make a paradigm. What shall your midlife paradigm be? Begin with the beliefs you’d like to adopt.
Values are specific beliefs about what to emphasize in life; about those concepts that are most important to you.
Rules for Living
Rules are the behavior prescriptions that dictate how to act.
By identifying and acting upon your identified beliefs, values and rules for living, you can forge a satisfying life at midlife, one that might take you to the end of your days.