What Everybody Ought to Know About Change In Midlife and Beyond

Preparation Is Possible

Everyone says that change is inevitable, but no one really believes it. It’s fine that we see our children get older, but somehow we are left out of that picture. With the exception of those moments we look in the mirror and notice this or that is sagging a little, life goes on day to day like a comfortable trance separating us from something we don’t want to recognize.  In other words, we expect everything to stay the same if we act like the ostrich with its head in the ground. When we live in our expectations, we act and believe something will happen in life. Normally, expecting anything is a dangerous thing to do because, if unfulfilled, we can automatically devolve into a major upset.  In midlife, I’m very clear change is one thing we can all expect. Who would have expected to look the way we do now? Who would have expected life to turn out the way it did, good or bad? Who could have ever believed that anyone we loved would die, in our heart of hearts. How often have you felt shock when suddenly confronted with these inevitable circumstances?

You Never Know

The truth is, we live on the earth and, like the earth, we are in constant motion. On the outside, our earth moves in tandem with the planets, suns, and stars. Deep within it, there is a constant revisionary process of molten lava, churning and floating among  layers of plates upon which our illusion of solid ground is built. The floor of the ocean is moving constantly. New ridges are pushed up from the lava forming subterranean mountain ranges, earthquakes and tsunamis. These reshape the land, just as our external and internal environments change us on a daily basis. It can happen in increments or in major life shifts.

We never really know what a day will bring. For example, today I woke up expecting to go to lunch with a friend. She called to say she was sick. As a result, here I sit writing this post. I planned, without “expecting”, to finish it tomorrow, not today. This is a smaller shift. But I can remember a time when I went to visit my mother in the hospital with a catalogue in my purse ––  planning to ask her what she needed for Christmas. My brother walked out of a room and stopped me in my path. He looked down and told me our mother was dead. That was a big change in my life. Unable to stand and screaming a guttural cry that rang throughout the hospital, I collapsed into a chair that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

The only way we can prepare for change, in midlife or any other time, is to expect it. We clearly can’t protect ourselves from it. Change is everywhere. There is, in fact, no such thing as being immune or safe. Some say, change is the only thing in the world you can count on. Every day is an opportunity to fully experience the moment before it evolves into the next one.

Anatomy Of Aging

 Our Bodies Are Changing

One of the unavoidable aspects of aging is what happens to testosterone and estrogen in both female and male bodies. I took an Anatomy and Physiology Course about 10 years ago and learned that testosterone decreased in males leaving them with more estrogen than in their younger years. It made sense because, as we all know, estrogen decreases in menopausal women allowing testosterone to be dominant. But what amazed me was the impact this change can have on people at midlife.

It’s established that these physiological differences make men more nurturing and women more assertive. Though, oddly enough, these life changes aren’t necessarily experienced as stressors. As a matter of fact, Psychologist David Almeida, from the University of Arizona, says most people experience control over the consequences of these midlife changes. People describe them as life “challenges” that in turn promote new life decisions.

Adapting To Physical Change

But not everyone is comfortable with these new ways of operating. Dr. Margaret H. Huyck, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Psychology in Chicago, states there are certain men that do experience stress and depression in midlife. They have problems when their wives become assertive. These men grew up perceiving their mothers as strong and domineering and their fathers as weak and ineffectual. This causes them to fear they will end up with an aggressive wife, like their mother, and be captive to the impotent life of their father.

In either case, this is a challenging time for men. For example, when Gail Sheehy was interviewed by Bert Hoff in Men’s Voices Magazine, about her book “Understanding Men’s Passages”, she talked about the end of her husband’s career. Though the company wanted him to leave before he wanted to go, it appears to have been the best thing for him. Initially he was lost and wandered around with no direction. But, over time, he discovered the best way for him to think about his next step. He explored the question, what am I passionate about? His answer was to be a graduate school teacher at the University of California, Berkley. This was a more nurturing less aggressive type of job that fulfilled his need to shape and coach the next generation.

Move With The Changes

This stage isn’t necessarily a crisis. It’s a demanding time requiring new ideas and patience. Here, the sexes actually come to experience each other’s view of the world from the inside.  Our bodies change and, in turn, we alter our way of participating in the next stage of life. It is a time of growth. Hormonal change can provide a push to try something different. Like many of the posts in this blog, it’s about moving with the energy of change even if that change comes form our own bodies.

Purpose Of Aging

WHY AGE?

I mean everyone believes there are purposes to all the other stages of life. According to the Oxford American Dictionary purpose means, doing something with an intention and not by chance. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood all are recognized as periods of growth and development. They are automatic and sequential. They have the purpose of coming into adulthood. Well, midlife is sequential too. Unlike the others, no one pays much attention to its complexities and developmental purpose.  It was, until fairly recently, a period of crisis. Historically men reaching midlife would leave their wives or change jobs and act oddly. They became typecast, because they went into therapy when this happened. Overall, most people see midlife and up as a time to hold onto the past, to preserve youth. For example, when I told my cardiologist that I was blogging and doing videos about the value of aging he asked,”Is there anything good about aging?”

VALUE IN AGING?

Someone could say aging means we are closer to death. But are we? Can’t and don’t we die at many different ages? Here, I am talking about an intrinsic value in the aging process, even after we reach and go deeply into midlife and through the 60′s, 70′s , 80′s and 90′s. Now, there are physiological changes that occur naturally. These are known to  promote wisdom and societal nurturing. Some changes are so precious, I would have loved to have had them as early as possible in life. They would have made my life a lot easier. Many are only possible with the repetition and the experience age offers.

CHANGE OR DIE INSIDE

If I look at the internal pull and drive to change in midlife and the pressures  and pulls to change in the earlier stages of life, I am aware they all have something in common. The desire to be more alive!  Remember how it was? Think about what it felt like to want and get that first great job you hungered and prayed for.  What did you think you would get? I thought I would belong to a new club of people who made money to support themselves. Since I’d never done that before, it was a miracle. Wow, I had become a counselor for a program at Wesleyan University right out of college. I had fulfilled my purpose and felt alive with possibility and excitement.

TALK ABOUT EXCITEMENT

Midlife and aging seem to me to be about having lived one life and beginning a new one. This new life is filled with passions and ventures. We find direction from our unfinished interests in the past, or from new explorations in the present. Suddenly, a lawyer starts playing rock and roll with a band he gets together. A computer consultant returns to college to get a masters degree in spiritual leadership.  People in their 80′s go back to college for a degree. One women who was 89 when she graduated  with a BA, got a standing ovation from the entire class. Why not? You can do anything if you are willing to go through what it takes to do it. Isn’t that great?