Are you ready for the re-fire-ment of your midlife?
Yes, it’s a made up word but a real emerging phenomenon
Have you noticed something burning in your belly, smouldering perhaps, brewing, and you don’t think it’s peri-menopausal indigestion? It could be an exciting side affect of this unique and extended midlife.
In my recent podcast interview I talk about this wonderfully new emerging space that I see developing between post-career and pre-retirement.
I call it re-fire-ment.
You could also call it re-purpose-ment.
Sometimes even, a re-fine-ment.
It’s an opportunity to step away from the pressured pace of a previous career and do something more fulfilling, with better balance, than was possible in that frenetic family-building, mortgage-paying couple of decades. You’re not ready to retire, but you want a change - a change of pace, a change of purpose, a change of priority.
It used to be you worked, and then you retired, almost immediately into old age. But something has happened to completely change the landscape, especially for women.
Younger for longer, we have an extra two or three decades of midlife. For women in particular there is a peri and post-menopausal renaissance. For the entirety of human history, women have been mostly valued for their role as breeders. Once this function was done, they were desexualised, devalued and fecked into the corner to knit. Now we get to live vibrant and valiant lives in our own right, in a time when, perhaps after decades of caring for others and feeling responsible for everyone’s happiness, we get to invest real time and energy on caring for ourselves and making ourselves happy. (What a revelation!). I see it in my own life (back to college in my late 40’s and a new career as an author and Midlife Coach), and in the women I coach.
It’s not always easy. Midlife can throw quite a few curve balls your way - divorce, care overwhelm of kids and parents, loss, and of course ageing in an age of anti-ageing propaganda which isn’t easy, because, you know, biology. But what we are seeing today that my mum would never have seen, is women thriving in everything from politics and business to music, arts and fashion. I recently wrote here about the sheer joy of watching a 76 year old Blondie strut her stuff.
This crucial midlife re-ignite-ment can happen in career, relationships and hobbies when we still feel young and relevant enough after the soul-shattering years of juggling perhaps career, family and home.
In our twenties we set up the checklist that we’ll spend the next couple of decades checking off. You may take a side step at some stage but on the whole, we worked until we hit the golden buzzer of retirement. But now?
Now there is this time of re-fire-ment and re-purpose-ment where we still have time to take all that experience, and re-evaluate what’s important, now, at this age and stage of your life (whether that’s your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s), after all the loss, learning, laughing, loving and living, but with a pace and purpose you just couldn’t before (or at least, enjoy as much).
Women have raised the family and worked the work. And now they want something for themselves. That can coincide with the end of a marriage, kids leaving home, parents dying, or just a feeling that finally, after years of overwhelm at the output, and underwhelm at the input, they get to look at a decade or so before old age where they get to throw their hands in the air and shout with nervous glee “This is my time!”
I see it it a lot of my coaching women at midlife. They reach a stage where they want change. Need change. Or need to respond to change.
My eldest daughter is in her last year of school and is trying to figure out “what she’s going to be.” I tell her, be you and trust the rest. When I was 18, I was the first girl in both sides of my family to go to college. It was a huge sacrifice for my parents to send me, and so the pressure was very much there to come out “as something”. So I applied to to do law. The thing was I didn’t want to do law. I wanted to be Kate Adie, the BBC war correspondent. I wanted to travel, and tell people’s stories and stay as far away as possible from a desk. Yet that wasn’t on the career guidance leaflet.
Thankfully, things have changed, especially for women. So now I tell my daughter to choose the subjects that light her up, the thing that she’ll get out of bed with a hangover to attend a lecture in. That you don’t have to have your whole career figured out right now, because you can take a left turn in your 30’s, and right turn in your 40’s, and a U turn in your 50’s.
I started law and I still remember coming home to tell my parents I was giving it up to study English and International Politics instead. They begged me (this is a nice way of saying yelled at me for weeks) but I somehow knew to follow my threads of interest. I didn’t become Kate Adie, but working in the non-profit sector for many years I got to travel all over the world and tell people’s stories. The thread of words has weaved through my whole life but it is only now, in my late 40’s and early 50’s that it became part of my profession. A passion profession.
AsEleanor Mills in her wonderful substack Queenagers writes about, this is a powerful time for women over 50. We are coming into our own.
Ason Substack is celebrating getting older and enjoying midlife rather than dreading it, we see how it used to be a problem. Now it is a promise to keep living more and more on our terms.
Perhaps now, one purpose is fulfilled or diminished, and now, for the first time in history, we have time for a new one.
I like to call this pulling at the threads of your life. When I work with a women who wants to enter her re-fire-ment, I tell them you don’t have to throw everything out. You take the bits that worked, the parts you like, the intrinsic things you are good at, the zones that you bring to the table with flair, the passions that may not have been related to a career, the things that make you angry (no, not teenagers who never make you a cup of tea or is that just me?) but perhaps issues such as climate change, misogyny, fat-shaming, seal-slaughtering - it can be anything that lights you up, things that make you yearn to learn more - fitness, nutrition, dance, darts, sea swimming, astronomy, astrology… whatever your stars, whatever brights your sky, pull them all together. I will look at her strengths, go back and reconnect her to (or discover) her values. When did you make mistakes and why? Pull it all together, and then we look at how to weave those threads into something new. Let’s not forget life experiences.. the things you didn’t know, couldn’t know when you started your original career path.
I have several clients in their late 50’s who have done the 20/30 year career and raised the family. They don’t want to retreat into the background and be irrelevant but they sure as hell don’t want to give more than they get back any more.
So I work with them to pull at the threads of their lives to come up with a new fabric for their life, one that is centred on passion, purpose and a pace that allows them to thrive, not just survive. Interestingly, none so far have made money their primary goal. They want to help others, they want to create, they want to bring value and wisdom, they want to explore (and also make money, but it’s not the driving force).
My midlife re-purpose-ment came about because of the challenges life threw at me. Once I’d Kate Adied myself to satisfaction, my midlife took a turn. After being caught in a crushing sandwich years for five years after my mum had a stroke and I had to help care for her along with three small children, I lost my mum and my marriage in nine months. Reeling from being untethered from the family I’d been born into and the family I’d created, I had to rebuild my life from the rubble.
And this is what women now get to do. To pick each piece of rubble and say - keep and use to rebuild, or leave behind.
I left a few pieces of rubble behind. And I created some new bricks and started my next phase of midlife on my terms. I single parent three teenage girls so don’t think I’ve been able to go all Eat, Pray Love. I kept those glorious little bits of rubble (despite the endless laundry, food production and lack of tea offers) so I’ve built my new career around that. But by looking at the threads of my life, I repurposed what I had - a love and experience of writing, and re-fine-ment of other things - a love of psychology so going back to college and retraining - and I weaved a new post-career, pre-retirement life. A post-career career that will see me into, and most likely through, retirement.
The threads, the threads.
They might not just be issues, subjects, topics, fields, creative expertise. They may also be the things you have learned about yourself through work, parenting, care roles, life events, hobbies, and challenges. The things that come naturally - leadership, adaptability, seeing round corners, problem solving, empathy, being a safe space for people to open up, campaigning, collaborating, emotional intelligence.
In this new time for midlife women - untethered from that crazy struggle to juggle career and family, we discover we are mature enough to have a plethora of threads, and young enough to still have length in them to weave together a new path.
So if you are emerging from a fraught period of life, or perhaps just feel an emerging space is ahead of you, here are some things you can think about.
1/ Take a breath
You don’t have to have the answer by next Tuesday at 5pm. Change, mourn acclimatise. Maybe lick some wounds or look in the mirror properly for the first time in a long time. Really check back in to who you are, how you are, where you are right now in your life before you decide what or why you are next.
2/ Take stock
What else? What worked. What checklist might you create to measure success with now? What did you excel at, come alive? Where are you now? What worked, what didn’t, what have you tolerated for a long time that you no longer want to. What are those ambitions you never quite fostered (and these can be quiet as well as loud. Ambition isn’t always about going bigger or higher. Sometimes it’s about going sideways, quieter, slower, or on a completely different path.)
3/ Take Time
It’s a process. After being Director of Operations in so many areas for so many people perhaps, this is the time to make yourself the project. Give yourself the space to invest real energy, thought and time on building up areas of your life that might not have had the investment - your health, relationships, friendships, mental health, fitness, physical health, exploring, learning, career, fun. I cannot tell you how many women I coach where the fun has become an outlier rather than an integral part of her life. So have some fucking fun! You are the project for a while. Think about how you want the next 10/15 years to look and feel. Job? Volunteer? Business? Consult? How much of your time do you want to work? How does this now balance and interact with health, fun, family and your other interests?
4/ Take off
Take action, and start being the thing you want, or go back and retrain, or volunteer or go travelling or whatever sets you in forward motion.
It can be scary. But guess what’s scarier? Looking back wishing you had done something that would have re-purpose-ed, re-ignited, redirected your life before retirement.
I had a client who was forced to retire at 63 because of the company policy. Her children had left home and two months later her marriage imploded. She was cast adrift from every stage that had defined her life to date. It took work and it took courage but I’ll never forget the day she told me she’d written her first Linked In profile. We had already done the work on being clear what she wanted and how she wanted her life to look and feel. She had some serious skills and qualifications and loved what she did, but no longer wanted to work at that level. She had found a new lease of life travelling and connecting with family and hobbies she just hadn’t had time to do for many years. So she only wanted contract work so she could own her time. She got her first interview, with an emerging non-profit. I coached her through that and every time she wailed at me “but what do I do when they ask about my age?” I reminded her that a) they knew her age, and b) talk about her experience. She got the gig. (Of course she did - they got her for a song) and she now works and thrives and lives a meaningful life on her terms. She works six months of the year, and travels six months. The project finished and they asked her to stay on and mentor the new, young CEO. She feels valuable and valued, but her work works for her life, not the other way round.
I have clients in their 40’s and 50’s stepping back from 20/30 year careers to start their own businesses. Many are going back to college to retrain or learn something very new.
The opportunities are endless in this extended midlife, in this emerging space between post-career and pre-retirement.
Call it whatever you want:
re-define-ment - but it’s there, and it’s exciting and we should all be watching that space. I’d love to know what is your midlife re-define-ment!
For my paid subscribers there is a simple exercise below where you can start to plot out some of those questions and see where embers might start to fire up.
You can also find out more about my mid-life coaching at www.themidlifecoach.org where you can book a one hour Discovery Coaching Session.
The podcast interview where I discuss this subject of re-purpose-ment more is here.