My 51st birthday was on October 19th. The picture to the left is a triple chocolate cake with a chocolate glaze which is gluten-full, fat-full, chocolate-full, calorie-full and yummy. Sadly , I am gluten-free but if you are not, I thought you can make this and have a piece for me!
I have mixed feelings about this birthday. I do enjoy the excitement of opening up a gift from someone who cares about me…actually, that is not true, I would love getting a gift from absolutely anyone because who does not love presents! What I seem to find more difficult as I age, is the fact that I am getting older. Do not get me wrong, I am thrilled that I continue to have birthdays for obvious reasons; but, I do panic a bit when I think about how the years seem to go by more quickly now. Why is that?
One of my sons is a nuclear physicist. I know, being a nuclear physicist is crazy in itself, but he goes out, has fun, and has a girlfriend so we think he is normal. I asked him about the concept of time seemingly moving at different speeds depending on our age. If there is anyone who understands the theory of time it is him. These were his answers. First he told me time appears slow when we are old because life is more boring. That makes no sense. Wouldn’t that make time seem to go slower instead of faster? When I challenged his answer, he gave it a bit more thought and told me that time appears faster because older people tend to need more naps so they are asleep for most of it. Maybe he is not as normal as I thought.
I know time moves at the same pace for everyone; it is our perception that changes. When we are young, time moves at a snail’s pace; we only want to be older. We cannot wait until we can drive, vote, legally drink alcohol (stop, do not judge me, you know that is a true statement), make our own decisions, get married, work on our careers, etc. However, as we enter into the 40 to 60 range, many begin to reassess their lives because they are more aware of their mortality. One could call this the midlife crisis…I prefer to call it the midlife transition; a less harsh word and more welcoming. Besides, only around 10% of people have a true midlife crisis. Most have a smooth transition; however, those with a poor support system may find it more difficult.
I know my transition to midlife is different from my mother’s, grandmothers and possibly even you because our life experiences are different. For instance, the roles of men and women have changed significantly from what they were 40 years ago. A major reason for this is that more women have entered the workforce. In 1971, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found only about 43% of women worked. The percentage of men in the workplace has decreased yearly since then; however, the percentage of working women has increased to nearly 60% today with a large percentage working in professional and business services. Click this link to read an interesting article discussing the causes and consequences of the increased number of women in the workforce.
Women used to have the “feminine” roles such as being the primary caregiver of the children and most of the household responsibilities while the men had the “masculine” roles such as the money-maker and the fixer upper. Many women developed problems when the kids left because they had no life outside their children thus losing a large part of their identity. Many men would try to recapture their youth when they noticed changes in their virility and masculinity. Once women entered the labor force, these roles began to blend. The midlife transition at this time had its own transition.
With binders and binders of women working, responsibilities changed. Now there are binders and binders of men who have taken an active role in child-rearing, being stay-at-home dads, and helping with household chores such as making dinner :). Between our own life experiences, personal needs, family needs, and our ever-changing culture, how can we not transform? This transformation does not have to be a “crisis”, it can be a personal growth; all you need to do is think differently. In fact, I wonder if those 30 and younger will have a less difficult time with this. They seem to evaluate their lives more frequently starting at a younger age. They also take their needs into consideration more freely. My generation is more apt to stay at the same company for years even if we are not happy, to work extra hours, and to put the job first over family. I used to think the younger generation just had a poor work ethic; but now, I think the younger generation evaluates their life constantly and makes changes so that they can have their work and life too. I wonder if the rise in health problems such as autoimmune diseases and cancer have something to do with the fact that those born before 1964 (end of the baby boomer era) rarely assessed their life unless a crisis occurred. Baby boomers tend to strive to work the hardest, be the best, even when it was harmful to their physical and emotional health, not to mention their personal lives. It appears the younger generation has learned a lesson from our history. But, do not fret, here are some suggestions so that our midlife transition will be smooth sailing:
- Change can be difficult and scary; but, the rewards are endless. Pick a quiet time and just sit and relax. Give your subconscious a chance to wake up. When your mind is open, thoughts/feelings are easier to surface. You will gain new insights about yourself and what you would like to change. If you do not have a quiet time…you need to make time for yourself because no one else will do it for you. I also journal which helps me bring my thoughts out of my subconscious. The hardest part is you need to be honest with yourself.
- Everyone has regrets whether it is with relationships, priorities, or careers. There are things we can change, and things we cannot. When you reevaluate your life, forgive yourself for the things that you cannot change otherwise it will drive you crazy.
- Make a plan for the items that you can modify and prioritize them; your bucket list. Everyone should have a bucket list. I wish I started mine sooner; but I have one and have checked things off of it. You can go back to school, reconnect with old friends, work on strained relationships, whatever it is, it is never too late.
- Find a passion. I love to cook for my family and friends. I also like to write. I started this blog 3 weeks ago and I just had my birthday…I suppose you can say this is my midlife transition new hobby.
- If you find that you are having a very hard time with this transition and are experiencing symptoms such as weight loss, unusual fatigue, poor sleep, loss of interest in activities you have enjoyed, feelings of helplessness, guilt, irritability, or hopelessness you may be depressed and you should see your health care provider and a psychotherapist. I am so happy the stigma of seeing a therapist is waning. Therapists specialize in helping you work through life issues that have become too overwhelming and work with you to develop healthy coping strategies. This does not make you a failure thinking that you should be able to do this yourself; on the contrary, this makes you a person who wants to live a life that is worthwhile, fulfilling, and with as little angst as possible.
What is your next birthday going to be—woohoo or boohoo? I know this much, I can sit back and let the world turn while I stay stagnant; or, I can live my life with no would ofs, should ofs, could ofs. I know I will have some regrets; but they will not be from not trying to reach my priorities. I hope to have many more birthdays ahead; time, though, only ticks forward so I will make each one of my ticks count, WOO-HOO!