“Wholly unprepared [we] embark upon the second half of life… But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning:for what was great in the morning will be little at the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.
Where did my happiness go?
Once we emerge from study, marriage, child-rearing, career or care-taking we can find ourselves feeling uncertain about our identity and life purpose. We may find ourselves constrained by assigned roles and past conditioning, and dissatisfied living a life that has little to do with who we fundamentally are.
Midlife can be an important period of growth and personal evolution. Our lives can become enriched beyond recognition as we take steps towards what Carl Jung called individuation: the process of becoming our true self. We need to navigate away from our old, habitual ways of being in the world and reorient our life to serve new values and priorities. When we recognise that we can change the direction of our own lives we experience not only growth but also healing. Conversely, when we resist the call towards growth, and depression and a loss of purpose can result.
Are you looking in the right places?
Many women describe a sense of discontent, feeling stuck and a loss of optimism during this life stage. Understandably we may look to ‘happier times’, namely our carefree youth, for clues about how to find or reinstate happiness. Searching for fulfilment in the second part of life is rarely found where we left it in our youth. The old markers of success may have lost their meaning.
As we transition to this new stage of adulthood we have the opportunity to redefine our identity and align ourselves with what feels meaningful to us now. Whilst our younger selves may have looked for direction and guidance from a parent, boss, teacher, friend or partner, we come to realise that we need to write our own script and turn inward rather than outward for answers. As we seek to understand what makes a truly satisfying and fulfilling life, a successful midlife transition demands that we define this for ourselves. We cannot live by values imposed upon us by others, but instead must reclaim our personal authority, pay attention to our instinctual truths and recognise our personal needs. As we uncover the voice of our true self and acknowledge her deepest desires, the places we must venture to find purpose and deeper meaning begin to reveal themselves.
Finding fulfilment at midlife
The challenges we experience at midlife are often prompted by life events that bring us face-to-face with the parts of ourself that have not yet reached their full potential – an unhappy marriage, an unfulfilling career, etc. We begin to sense that there are changes which need to be made. In our quest to become unstuck and find fulfilment we often ask ourselves “Will this make me happy?” – a difficult question to answer with confidence or clarity. Jungian analyst James Hollis argues we should ask: “Does this path, this choice, make me larger or smaller?” Choosing to live a larger life moves us out of our old, habitual ways of being and asks that we listen to our own instincts, recognise our cravings and yearnings, pay attention to the things and places we long for and the intuition that rises from deep inside us. These are guiding messages from the true Self.
The first part of life is usually shaped by the rules, expectations and demands of others. This makes it difficult to distinguish our own voice from that of others who have shaped our lives and views. But when we learn to recognise our own needs and desires we find our inner compass. We figure out what we are passionate about, what energises us and what brings meaning and this allows us to envision our own dreams. We let go of the constraints of our youthful identity and begin to take risks and courageously explore new horizons. We find the drive to make changes which are necessary for growth to occur. As we discover a new sense of self and become the person we were meant to be we walk the path of a healthy midlife transition. And it is from this place that we discover what is deeply fulfilling and personally meaningful, and what makes us truly happy.
As you explore and uncover new parts of yourself in this process of transition, you may come up against roadblocks – blind spots or long-held, unconscious patterns, beliefs and habits – that can make this work difficult to do alone. It can be helpful to be supported by a professional counsellor who can help navigate this uncharted territory.
Michelle Seelig is a Midlife Transition Counsellor working with women to help them get unstuck, rediscover the joy and meaning in their lives and ultimately grow into the person they were truly meant to become. Learn more about these specialised services over here or book a Discovery Call over here to discuss your unique needs.
Take the midlife quiz….
Which path are you taking through midlife?
The middle part of our life can be the most challenging, but we all move through it in different ways. Let's learn a bit about your own approach....
Take this 4 minute quiz to gain clarity about your own transition.