If you’ve seen the popular TV show, The Goldbergs, then you’re familiar with Beverly Goldberg, a 40-something, stay-at-home, over protective “smother” with a penchant for bedazzled sweaters, who begins to question her identity and self worth as her three teenagers come of age.
Beverly has dedicated her life to caring for her family and is the quintessential helicopter parent. As her three “schmoopies” begin to spread their wings, Bevvy feels as if she’s losing her identity, her purpose. She’s not needed anymore.
After some soul searching, Beverly decides it’s time for an evolution. Or, a “Bevolution,” in which she embarks on a journey to reinvent herself by trying out new endeavors.
Can you relate? I can! Like Bevvy, I was a stay-at-home mom for many years, followed by a career as an ESL instructor. My adult life was devoted to caring for my children and my home, and then for my students. It was very rewarding and meaningful. Then, in the same year, I retired from teaching, and my youngest flew the coop.
The honeymoon stage of retirement, coupled with a new empty nest, was quickly followed by feelings of restlessness and lack of purpose, and I found myselt searching for worthwhile and meaningful activities. Sure, the free time was a luxury, but it wasn’t long before angst set in, and I started feeling useless, bored, frustrated…like I was withering. I needed to do something. I started asking myself questions like…
Who am I anymore?
What am I contributing?
What is my purpose now?
What am I going to do with the rest of my life?
I was barely into my 50s and felt I had more to offer. So, like Beverly, I started on a quest to rediscover who I was, or who I wanted to be in this new phase of life.
Everyone’s journey, methods of rediscovery, reinvention, finding purpose—whatever you want to call it—is different, but this is what mine looked like. I encourage you to try some, or all of these if you’re searching for meaning or purpose in this life stage.
1. Don’t rush it.
Be patient, and give yourself time to adjust during this transition. Take time to enjoy your new freedom. Stay up late. Sleep in. Go to the gym in the middle of the afternoon. Do whatever you want with your day, and don’t allow yourself to feel guilty.
At the same time, be mindful not to settle too deeply into a comfort zone where you’re feeling discontent and dormant for the long term. You’ll know when it’s time to get moving. And when that time comes, go!
2. Stay connected.
You’re not alone. So many women in midlife are transitioning from a full house to an empty nest, starting over on their own, retiring, or dealing with new health or family issues. You don’t have to do it alone.
Talk with family, friends, a counselor, a mentor, unload your thoughts in a journal, or get encouragement from an online community. Find others who are there or have been there and can offer insights, a compassionate, listening ear…or a glass of wine, some chocolate, or a movie date! Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you, and keep up with your hobbies or find new ones.
3. Identify gifts, talents, and experiences. Put them to work.
Reevaluate your interests, values, talents, hobbies, experiences. Do more of what you enjoy and are good at, and then teach it to others. Consider developing a class, a workshop, or be a volunteer or mentor. You have a lifetime of knowledge that can benefit others, so share your expertise. Don’t keep it to yourself.
I’m a retired teacher and enjoy working with kids, so I volunteer weekly with an organization providing homework assistance to 2nd-12th graders. It’s a great fit because I get to use my skill set and experience and am doing something I enjoy.
4. Try new things. Lots of things.
Brainstorm ideas to explore, pay attention to opportunities, and take the plunge! Even if you don’t have a long-term plan, by trying new activities, you’ll get to know yourself better and may even unlock hidden creativity or talent—or rule some things out.
I’ve always loved watercolor art, so I signed up for a 15-week class with a talented artist thinking I’d be on the road to becoming a watercolor artist myself.
After just three weeks in, I realized I didn’t enjoy painting nearly as much as I appreciate looking at watercolor paintings, so I withdrew from the class. Give yourself permission to stop something if it’s making you more unhappy than happy or if it’s causing a feeling of dread.
5. Educate yourself.
Access to education is greater now than ever before with an abundance of educational offerings. Whether you decide to audit a class, start a degree, finish a degree, take an Osher course, or enroll in a short course or skills course, the options are endless. My aunt started college in her 60s and graduated with her Master’s Degree at age 70! And I went through college in my 40s from starting from nothing to finishing with a Master’s Degree. It’s never too late!
If you live near a university or community college, look into lifelong-learner courses geared to people 50+ with no prerequisites, no tests, no degree requirements, and no stress. If you don’t have access to a nearby school, try online learning with one of the many FREE Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera, edX, or Futurelearn.
6. Challenge yourself.
Step out of your comfort zone. Try things that stretch you or scare you.
I lean slightly toward the introverted and shy side, so as I embarked on the business of starting a blog, I was scared to put myself out there and intimidated by the process. Because I felt compelled to continue on, I had to push myself way beyond what was comfortable even though it wasn’t easy. Did I feel like giving up? Many times! Was it worth it? Most definitely. It’s been a tremendous growing experience, I’ve learned new skills, made quality connections both online and in person, and am loving this new adventure.
My husband and daughter are two of the lucky ones. They knew from childhood what line of work they wanted to do, and both have careers in their dream job. Most of us aren’t that fortunate when it comes to work.
Think back to childhood dreams or aspirations you’ve had along the way. What do you really want to do or have you always wanted to do? What would it take to get that going? Do research and set goals, and whether it’s for a hobby or a new career, go for it!
8. Find inspiration and motivation.
We all have projects or things we need to do or want try. Find motivation from what inspires you, and take action! Here’s an example:
Years ago, one of my bucket list items was to do a sprint triathlon. Now I dislike swimming, and I don’t like running either, but I’m a very determined person. I read a couple of books on women triathletes (these were average women, not pro athletes) and found training plans online. I set my intention and started training. I finished the sprint triathlon coming in 3rd to last. I’ll never do another one, but I found inspiration and did it!
Everyone has something. Whatever it is for you, find a way to get motivated, and get going. I get encouragement and inspiration from research, reading, conversation, Pinterest, Instagram, and inspirational quotes.
9. Seek outside resources.
Your communities are valuable places to look for resources. Look within your circle of family, friends, colleagues, and connections. I like to learn not just from people my age or older, but from younger people too. They experience the world differently than my generation and have valuable insights. Don’t be afraid to seek out people you admire or look up to, and pick their brains.
10. Let go of uncontrollables.
Letting go of things you can’t control is essential. Be honest about what is in your power to change and what isn’t. Work on changing yourself, your attitude, your outlook, or better yet, work on finding contentment.
By doing this, you’ll free yourself from worries, anxieties, and stress, and you’ll experience more peace. And isn’t that what we all want?
11. Don’t let your doubts win.
What are you telling yourself? What do you believe? Find a way to control the narrative in your head instead of letting it control you, and push through insecurities.
Starting this website was scary for me. There were plenty of times I had doubts—and I still do! As a person with perfectionist tendencies, I was afraid of not being good enough, of being judged, of it getting too difficult, of failing, and more. But I knew what I wanted to do, what I needed to do, and I kept plugging through my insecurities.
Doubts close doors. Push back and don’t let them win!
12. Bloom where you’re planted.
There’s value in this cliché. But how do we bloom where we’re planted?
A good starting place is to adjust your perspective. Look for the good, the beauty, the opportunities around you, and to appreciate what you have. I think of it as keeping in alignment—much like when I’m driving and my car starts to pull one way. I have to physically jerk the steering wheel to get back into my lane. When my perspective gets off course, and it does frequently, I need to intentionally adjust my mindset back to the right place.
Then be flexible and willing to embrace change in order to grow. Think about all the improvements you’ve made in your life, whether it’s working toward healthy goals, stopping a bad habit, or getting a better job. Those have all come because of change, so embrace it!
Get involved, and contribute to your different communities. Plenty of research is out there about the personal benefits of involvement. It leads to feeling connected, a higher level of life satisfaction, a sense of purpose, and more.
Get rid of all negative talk, adverse self talk, fault finding, blame, and complaining. If these have become habits, it may take a while to break, but you can do it. You have to do it! Find a way to replace negative talk with positive talk, and you’ll see a difference. I promise!
No matter our age or life stage, we all want to feel that our existence has meaning and purpose. Life transitions can sometimes throw us off course and set us back, but with intention, a game plan, and action, we can set a new course.
Our middle years can be an exciting time of unprecedented discovery and growth. I’ve discovered new interests and strengths, my confidence has soared, I have more self awareness than ever before, I have authentic, deep, friendships, and I’m not afraid to set boundaries, or to push boundaries.
It took me a few years to figure out who I was and where I was going after retirement and becoming an empty nester, but by working through and applying these practices, I’ve found a purposeful and fulfilling place again.
Is it time for your Bevolution?
Do you have ideas for finding purpose in midlife or know of someone who’d benefit from reading this? Please share in the comments below or pass this along. If you’d like your comments to be private, please let me know in your comment.