It doesn’t matter which term you use. What matters is that awful feeling where you start looking at yourself in the mirror and asking: “Where did the last 20 years go? Is this all there is to life?” Before you know it, you’re panicking because time is ticking, and you’re nowhere near where you thought you would be by now.
Life after 40 is challenging for many women. I know this firsthand because I’m currently navigating that season of life, and also because I hear this recurring theme from many others I talk to: “Jen, I’m halfway through life, and I feel like I should have it all figured out by now. I should be happy and satisfied. But I’m more lost and miserable than ever.”
Though it’s a struggle we can all relate to at some point, it’s often impossible to pinpoint a single cause of this restless, discontent feeling. Any number of confusing factors may contribute all at once, including an empty nest, a sparkless marriage, a boring life routine, and even new aches and pains that weren’t there in our 30s.
To make matters worse, we sometimes then start feeling guilty for being unhappy at all. We beat ourselves up for not being more grateful, especially if we’ve accomplished a decent amount, are relatively financially stable, and generally don’t have it as bad as others.
No matter where you’re coming from, I’m here to comfort you with the knowledge that these feelings are perfectly natural. In fact, research shows that a dip in happiness during one’s 40s and 50s is a predictable part of the average life cycle. It occurs regardless of many aspects of life status, including marital state, education, employment, health, etc.
There are many reasons for this frustration. One of them is that we tend to be overly optimistic in our earlier years, so we have several unmet expectations after reaching our later life stages. Naturally, we feel disappointed when our hopes and dreams don’t come to pass. Another reason is our susceptibility to self-comparison. We look around at our peers with seemingly better homes, marriages, careers, and relationships with their kids and feel like failures.
The good news is that the same research also indicates that, eventually, most of us will probably reach a point where our happiness exceeds any other stage in life, including our youngest years.
Antidotes for the Midlife Blues
An emotional upturn and sunnier outlook on life typically start in our 60s as we anticipate our golden years, learn how to be more content, and feel less regret about the past.
That’s great for your future self, but you’ve got to get through in the meantime.
How are you supposed to do that?
Start by normalizing your experience. You’re not failing or weird. And you are not behind on some arbitrary timeline. Most of us go through a midlife rut at some point. It’s normal to feel lost and confused sometimes and to question our paths and life decisions. This type of frustration is not only crucial for our growth; it’s part of what makes us human.
Below are a few other things I suggest.
Practice gratitude where you are
Sometimes all you need to start feeling better is a fresh perspective. As mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not feeling grateful right now. Gratitude doesn’t always come automatically, even to the best of us. However, developing a habit of appreciating what you have and where you’re at naturally leads to greater stability and contentment. It also helps you to stop looking outside of yourself for happiness.
Over time, I learned to do this by developing what I call the Gratitude Bomb, which includes eight areas of life that you can focus on intentionally. Click here to learn how you can create your own Gratitude Bomb and make it part of your daily routine.
Assess your reality and set new (specific) goals
Sometimes, you simply wake up one day and realize that some of your goals – personal or professional – don’t matter as much as they once did. Maybe you once wanted to travel to any country where they’d let you in, but now you prefer staying local. Perhaps you once thought you’d be an entrepreneur, but today you’re content to be a proud member of someone else’s company. Goals morphe over time; that’s completely okay, and it’s probably the best-case scenario.
Other times, however, reviewing your situation is a painful process because it might involve letting go of some goals that are no longer a reality for you. Whatever the case, don’t lose hope. There are still many amazing and wonderful things to look forward to, even if everything hasn’t worked out the way you once hoped. Set new, specific goals. Learn a foreign language, develop a new spiritual practice, revamp your financial plan, set a new career target – the list is endless.
Make changes in line with your core values
When going through the midlife blues, our natural impulse is to want something – anything, to change. We think the answer lies in making drastic shifts to shake things up and experience a thrill. That’s one reason many people I come in contact with reach out to me: they want midlife career guidance to get out of a rut.
Now, those of you who are familiar with me know I’m all about finding your dream job and reinventing yourself at any age. But when talking to my clients 8 out of 10 times, I find that career stuckness isn’t the root problem. There are usually other underlying issues, and a career change feels like the most obvious solution to their frustration and stagnancy. That’s why I encourage them to dig deeper and connect with their core values. Core values are the principles we live by; they serve as a compass and guide our direction.
It’s no good waiting for things to change on their own. At the same time, if you make drastic changes just for the sake of change (without knowing who you are, what you want, or what motivates you), you’ll quickly find yourself out of balance. Find out what makes you tick and base your actions upon that. Once you narrow down your core values, you can slowly begin silencing all other confusing distractions and focus on your next steps.
Don’t Do This Alone
Deciding what you genuinely want going forward, setting new goals, and practicing gratitude are the first steps toward shaping the mindset you need to build your dream life and career. However, getting in touch with that side of yourself is easier said than done, especially for women who have spent a substantial chunk of their lives catering to other people’s needs and constantly putting themselves last. On top of that, society has a sneaky way of imposing other people’s standards upon us.
That’s why I’ve dedicated myself to career and personal development coaching. My Design Your Dream Career program includes a step-by-step process you can use to gain clarity about your life’s purpose and step into your element. More than that, I’ll be your teammate, offering the ear of someone who completely understands what it’s like to battle discouragement, low self-esteem, and a lack of fulfillment at work.
If this resonates with you, connect with me for a free Career Clarity Consult – nothing brings me more pleasure than helping other women out of midlife stuckness and find joy!