I turn 40 this year.
I have to admit: I have mixed feelings about it.
A lot of the negative mostly has to do with my appearance in the mirror. I wake up a lot of mornings with these BAGS under my eyes. And I have some very clearly silver strands of hair which has recently popped up.
I also wake up sometimes with, um, sleeping injuries. My shoulders or my neck or my back or my knees, or my ankles ache from sleeping in one position on the rare nights where I sleep deeply and happily. One morning I got up and realized that the cartilage of my right EAR was sore from sleeping.
Beyond the physical stuff, I’m not sure I LIKE that Middle Age is staring me in the face. I’m old enough now to feel pangs of mortality; reminders I am not, in fact, superhuman, and that at some point my number will be up.
Worse yet, time seems to be flying by now. I swear, I blinked and lost a decade of my life. And I have this really strong gut feeling that there’s a real chance I’ll miss something if I don’t look up and pay attention.
I feel like Life is saying, Yo! Karen! This is IT – the way your life is going to BE. Figure out how to take advantage and grab onto happiness, girlfriend, before it’s over!
I’m pretty certain that my Summer of Insomnia last year was kind of my midlife, well, crisis. And for me, it all coalesced into a panic attack one day… while sitting on the Tobin Bridge in traffic, of all places.
It was this truth that did it: I might be, more or less, halfway through my entire life.
OMG. This is my life. Me, sitting in traffic, on a bridge, commuting to a job I wasn’t certain I even liked anymore. With a husband and a son and a dog at home.
The next real milestone in MY life? Death.
And that day, I couldn’t breathe, because all I could think was, Holy shit, what if I keep doing this for the rest of my life and I die without ever having been HAPPY?
I could have reacted to all of this by doing something radical like, say, quitting my job, or leaving my husband. I could have gone on a “free Karen!” trip to an ashram in India or through-hiked the AT/PCT (still on my bucket list!) or gone into the wilderness of Montana or Alaska or whatever change I needed to get myself out of my comfort zone to foster change. Maybe I could have even written a memoir on it and made the NY Times bestseller list.
But I couldn’t. And so I didn’t.
Why not? Because I have a family that I love and cherish, and I have a responsibility to them. And I take those responsibilities seriously.
But I also have a responsibility to them and myself to find – and keep – happy in my life, too.
And OMG, you guys, I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time. But for some reason I never could.
For one reason, it’s so, well stereotypical. The hashtags for this kind of stuff would read #middleagefemale #firstworldproblems, you know?
Then, too, was the work thing. Until recently, I wasn’t actually certain that the issue WASN’T my career. That is, I wrestled with a whole lot of ideas: quitting work and being a stay at home mom, quitting work and going back to school to do yet something ELSE with my life, quitting work and creating my own business, quitting work to write a book.
I never could manage to quit work. For myriad reasons, but mostly which have to do with the fact that what I do is flexible, I make good money doing it, and I never have to worry about finding work or losing my job. I don’t love it – I didn’t grow up thinking, wow, I can’t wait to be an accountant someday! – but I don’t always hate it either.
I’ve also DONE the whole CHANGE EVERYTHING! thing with careers before. Accounting is actually my third career; I’ve been a recruiter and a product marketing manager, and I have spent more money on the schooling for those changes than I care to admit. So I can’t just keep trying on new careers to see what sticks anymore. I certainly can’t spend any more money on schooling, because that’s resources I’d be taking away from my family. I have a kid who will need a college education someday.
No. If I want something new, I will have to be damn sure that it’s a choice which brings me closer to happiness.
So now that I’ve quelled the whole run away and change everything! demon, I’ve settled into a place where I’ve been exploring the two following questions:
– Does lasting contentment that I’m searching for even exist the way I’m imagining it?
– How can I find happiness in the life I lead today?
Welcome to my mid-life crisis.