Welcome to Mid-life: Reflection, Regrets, and the Emotional Rollercoaster
A weird thing happened around the age of 45, I suddenly felt old. Mostly I found it surfacing when it came to my teenage daughters. While I was thoroughly captivated watching my oldest daughter, a visionary like myself, bounding with ideas and enthusiasm, but I also felt strangely sad. It took real effort not to warn her of impracticalities and to get her to adjust her sights a little lower. After all, many of my own dreams had long been tempered by realism. The young dreaming girl I had been had trouble dreaming that freely anymore. She felt old.
And of course I felt guilty. I have an amazing life where many, many dreams have come true. But my journey has also held plenty of mistakes and disappointments, and I found myself wanting to protect my children from living too open-hearted. I would swing from wildly grateful for my amazing life to a startling disappointment over some unfilled longing. And all this before the hormonal changes of mid-life had begun!
Mid-life usually announce its arrival by a mixture of nostalgia, regret, and a wild emotional roller coaster.
The actual age of mid-life varies depending on who you ask, but generally people make a mid-life transition somewhere between the ages of 45-55 years. There are variables that might push some of your transition back or forward a few years (i.e. where you are in your career development and/or raising a family), but usually by the time you are in your late 50s, you are moving towards your next developmental transition.
Here are some of the signs you may be entering the first stages of mid-life transition:
Expect to be more REFLECTIVE.
A strange melancholy might be one of the first signs that you are heading into mid-life. You will find yourself thinking back on your life about things like: Decisions you made. Special memories you wish you could relive. Relationship successes and failures. Progress you have made in your life dreams. The lack of progress you have made in your life dreams.
If ever there is a time to take a pause and look back, mid-life is one of the best. Consider your life as a journey over a mountain range. On long hikes, one of most helpful things you can do, is to find a place somewhere halfway to stop and look back on where you’ve been. You’ve covered some amazing territory. You see the twists and turns. You have some battle scars. And you owe it to yourself to soak in the magnificent views.
Most of us will have areas of our lives that we can celebrate. Pay attention to the unexpected swells of gratitude over various aspects of your life: a group of friends who now hold decades of your history, a meaningful career, financial stability, children moving into adulthood, health, a faith that has sustained you through the storms. In mid-life we are experiencing some of the fruit of our labors from the 30s and 40s, and we realize, we are rich indeed. Savor the beauty of your life!
But our reflection will certainly hold questions as well. Expect to find yourself revisiting significant decisions of your adult life. Should I have made that move? Should we have left that kid in such a difficult school? Should I handled that conflict differently? Should I have chosen business instead of art?
Time which moved so slowly in our 20s and 30’s is suddenly moving more swiftly and we begin to realize there is no guarantee of a long life. This inevitably leads to questions about our future: What am I investing my life in? Do I really want to stay in this job for the rest of my life? Do I have enough in common with my spouse to be happy together as we grow older? Will I achieve the things I’ve dreamed about?
Many nuggets will surface in your mid-life reflections, don’t miss them. Buy a journal and capture some of what is emerging. Your gratitude. Your questions. Your longings. Your life lessons. Rich things are surfacing if you make space to listen.
Expect to have REGRETS.
But of course, everyone will have regrets. No matter what path you took, you will find yourself wondering whether the other way would have worked out better.
Sometimes this comes in the form of “What if’s..” What if I had gone back to college? What if I had chosen to stay home with my kids? What if I had married that amazing person in college? What if I had invested in that company? Be careful of wasting too much time and energy in trying to envision a mythical alternative life. Dig deeper into the underlying disappointment; there is usually something to grieve and release underneath there.
Because we are all human, we might have regrets over…
- Missed opportunities with aging parents, friendships, or children
- Neglect of our spiritual life.
- Places you know you took the easy path.
- Places you may have compromised your values.
- Places of moral failure.
- How fear kept you from taking risks.
- Not caring for your body or soul adequately through the years
For many, this will be an important season of learning to forgive yourself. You are staring your brokenness and personal limitations right in the face. If you haven’t already discovered just how unconditional God’s love is, take Him your failures. Your divorce hasn’t changed His love for you. Nor your repeated struggle with addiction or your financial failure or your lackluster career. He loves you as much NOW as He did when you were a young dreaming child. And His specialty is redeeming any mess we make.
Expect to get in touch with your RELATIONAL HIGHS and LOWS.
As we look back over our lives, we’ll find our greatest joys and sorrows will most likely be linked to our significant relationships. Mid-life is a wonderful pause point to take stock of our relationships– both to celebrate and to make adjustments for the next half of the journey. Take time to acknowledge your fellow companions– thank and honor them. Celebrate how far you’ve come together.
But most likely, you’ll have relational disappointments you need to release: A parent who has never been able to bless us. A boss that never really sponsored or developed us. A spouse who was ‘checked out’ in parenting. The child who continually makes poor decisions. A loved one caught in the cycle of addiction. A person who refuses to seek healing and growth.
The decisions of those in our inner circle have significant impact on our lives– be prepared for disappointment, resentment, anger, and grief. In order to forgive, you must take time to acknowledge how those decisions have impacted you. For many, this feels like opening the Pandora’s box on years of stuffed emotions. This is the time to unload some of your unnecessary relational baggage, so that you can enter your next season less weighted down.
Overall, this season of mid-life reflection can lead us into a rich season of review of our relationship with God as well. “Deep calls to deep” as you wade deep into your heart in conversations with Your Maker. Gratitude for His goodness over the years. Awareness of just how much His grace has covered all our shortcomings. Questions about where He didn’t answer our prayers. Fears about asking for our deepest longings. A need to hear His affirmation over our life and choices. Not to mention He holds the path forward into your next adventure.
And to think, these are just the beginnings of mid-life! So hang on through the crazy emotional rollercoaster, these reflections will serve as a compass for where you go from here.
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
This is the first in a series on Mid-life transition. Find out about your 20’s here, your 30s here, men in your 40s here, and women in your 40s here, And check out my post on how women hit their mid-life crisis in their 30s here.