The Five Tasks of Your 50’s
Funny to think that my great-grandmother wore orthopedic shoes, bi-focals, and a housedress in her 50’s while I’m planning to walk a part of the Camino del Santiago (a 500 mile spiritual pilgrimage) for my 50th birthday. They say 50 is the new 30, and I’m holding to it! We’ve come a long way, baby! (Though I do need reading glasses.)
We work extensively with people in their 50’s, probably because this is a natural season to seek outside help as you are navigating mid-life transitions. This is for many, a decade of changes: restlessness that leads to vocational changes, increasing needs of aging parents, empty-nesting, navigating marriage without children, making adjustments to prepare for retirement, and of course menopause for women.
Here are 5 common tasks that people face in their 50’s:
Recalibrating at the Half-Way mark… You are at a natural stopping point to stop, to check your compass, and to make some adjustments for the next half of your life. I elaborated on the emotional aspect of mid-life in my post here, but there are also some broader recalibrations you may want to reconsider at this juncture.
The decisions and rhythms you make in this decade are laying the foundations for you to finish well. Bobby Clinton, who has studied Christian leadership development extensively says, there are two reasons people don’t finish well. They either refuse to do the hard work of deep healing and/or they are in a system which will not allow an expansion into who they need to become.
The halfway mark of the 50’s requires big picture evaluation. Part of your ‘recalibration’ will involve evaluating how the various systems in your life will help or hinder you for your next season. By systems I mean: Your vocational setting. Your team/boss/work relationships. Your marriage. Your friendships. Your support system or community. You relationships with your parents. Your relationships with your children.
Run each system through these two questions: Is it healthy? Is it flexible to allow for growth? There’s usually room for growth and changes in some areas of your life. Systemic changes are not easy, nor fast. Make this a goal for this decade– to move towards health in each of these systems.
Revisiting your Signature Sin…When Alex and I joined our member care team 13 years ago, we were in our mid-30’s. Nearly everyone else on the team was in their 50’s. This dynamic group of mid-lifers gave us the gift of watching up close how to walk the decade of the 50’s well. I distinctly remember being both shocked and relieved to see they were each still wrestling through with some of their core junk. I naively thought by the time you got to mid-life you would have already worked through your stuff. Ha!
We all have an achilles heel, a particular sin or weakness that has plagued us throughout our lives: fear, insecurity, anger, envy, lust, control, gluttony, pride, control, independence. By the time we are in our 50s, you hopefully will have visited that place a few times for healing, and have experienced some growth and freedom.
Expect to revisit that place AGAIN in this decade. You will think you’ve already done healing in that area– and you have. But the 50s is one of those seasons of cycling deeper into your heart for new layers of healing. You may have to go after the disappointment in your marriage again. You may need to more fully address why you use food/alcohol/ministry to avoid your negative emotions. You may need to make hard adjustments to change your habit of being controlling or passive. (See my post on dealing with deep strongholds.)
Be aware that the temptation to settle on these issues in your 50’s will be very, very great. You will have to push through hopelessness (I’ve tried to make changes and it hasn’t worked). You will have to address places of victimhood (I can’t make changes because my boss/spouse is unwilling to change.) You will have to make this a priority (My life is too crazy to deal with this, too.) The quality of how people finish their lives is very linked to their decisions to keep growing (or not) in your 50s.
Addressing Your Health… If you are not feeling the changes in your capacity by now, you are the exception. This is the decade where our bodies begin to demand to be a priority. (See my post on Honoring our Physical and Emotional capacity.) This is more than just learning to eat healthy and exercise regularly. One of the most critical adjustments many mid-lifers have to make is establishing and holding to rhythms of rest. In other words, you need to learn to sabbath well. When you were younger, you could get away with burning the candle at both ends, living without boundaries, and leaving little margin. As you age, you can cause significant damage to your health by ignoring your limitations.
But also think in terms of the health of your whole being… spiritual, social, physical, emotional, financial. I’ve noticed over the years, that most of us have certain areas we either prioritize or neglect. Some of us have dynamic prayer lives but treat our bodies horribly. Some of us are in fantastic shape, but have little meaningful community connection. Some of us are emotionally healthy, but completely neglect our financial health.
What area of your health have you neglected over the years? Don’t coast through the rest of your life on your strengths. Unfortunately, beginning in mid-life, neglect will have a compounding and rippling effect into other areas of your life. We are interconnected beings– body, mind, emotions, spirit. Healthy development means we are growing in all dimensions.
Excavating Your Dreams and Longings...Mid-life is a season of self-discovery for both men and women. The intensity of career and family during the 30s and 40’s means you’ve probably pushed some of your longings and dreams to the back burner. This is the seasons to get in touch with those pieces of yourself to see what you may want to incorporate into the next season of your life.
A few tips: Don’t freak out if you can’t figure out your longings. They are buried, not dead. Create space to dream. Sometimes we need people to ask us questions; if you can, have someone help you talk through some of your longings. Pay attention to what moves you; in mid-life things will be bubbling up. Follow your tears.
This is not the time to be practical– you are brainstorming. Of course, you probably can’t resurrect your childhood dream of being a ballerina, but what did that dream stir in you? A response to beauty and the arts? The love of dance? The use of your body for expression? Dig around deeper to see what is at the root of your dreams and longings. How might you find new ways to have that longing met in your current life? (There is so much to say on this topic, I will soon be writing another post to elaborate more on dreams and longings.)
Taking Risks… You are designed to take risks in this decade. Typically, when people go off the deep end in mid-life crisis, they are essentially taking risks through dramatic behavior: inappropriate sexual behaviors, extravagant spending, leaving long-term relationships. Shake up your life by taking healthy risks.
Take risks in your vocation. Your recalibrations may mean you need to leave a work situation that is clearly not interested in change. You may need to make a major change to better align with your long-term dreams. You may need to choose to step off the driving career path because you see it’s too costly in other areas of your life.
Take risks to facilitate deeper healing. Sometimes moving towards healing is not going to feel safe. You may need to open the door to explore a mountain of buried emotions. You may need draw some lines with someone in your life. You may admit to others that you are stuck. You are opening your heart up– it will be scary! But do it anyway.
Take risks in your dreams. Moving towards something new is always risky. For some people, just admitting a longing out loud is risky! But this is the season of step out of your comfort zone. Make a list of 50 things to do in your 50’s. Go back to school. Take up a class in on everyone your interests. Explore new outlets for your gifts. Get on match.com. Travel more. Live bigger– you don’t want to have regrets.
Overall, a healthy journey through your 50’s will include introspection, change, and risk-taking. If you are not a big-picture person, make sure to pull in others to help you look map your way forward. It’s an exciting season where new things will be coming to life- hang in there for the hard work!
This is the second in a series on Mid-life transition. You can read the first post, Welcome to Mid-life: Reflection, Regrets, and the Emotional Rollercoaster here.