My UK readers probably aren’t as familiar with Brené Brown as my US friends. If you don’t know her, go and look her up immediately. (Immediately after reading this post, obviously.)
She’s a shame researcher (that’s one that JiigCal never offered me in school careers lessons…) and, as well as some groundbreaking and amazing writing and TED Talks on shame and vulnerability, Brown writes beautifully on the ‘Midlife Unravelling’
It’s a stunning essay which, now I’m 42, speaks to me. I am deep, deep in this.
Lots of things have become clear to me lately. I have spent the best part of 42 years people-pleasing and making myself small, being over accommodating, putting my needs last, worried to be fully myself, caring too much about what people think and whether they like me. The kinds of things you often do as a teenager when it’s hard to stand out and be individual. Yet, they have carried on through my entire life.
‘It seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt,
and the second half trying to open
everything back up to heal the hurt.’
A couple of years ago, when I hit 40, I was also hit by a heart-crushing feeling that life had passed me by. There was so much I hadn’t done and it was too late to do it all. So much of my life was wasted. What had I achieved? What opportunities had I squandered? What do I have to show for those years apart from a patchy bank account and even patchier memories of the London party years? Have I known success or happiness and am I living a life I am content to continue with for another 40 (or more) years? Does it matter if everyone likes me?
A lot of the answers made me uncomfortable. But that’s a good thing. That is my driving force to change my life. To be the authentic me. To push forward in creating a life that I love and don’t need to run away or numb out from. I am working on myself, pushing myself, setting boundaries, working out what I want and how to achieve it. It is taking over everything from cleaning out my house to decluttering my relationships, habits, thought processes. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. No wonder I’m ready for bed at 8pm most nights!
Life is unravelling. It might be over in one sense, but I am glad to kill off the decades of uncertainty and fear. I know I am strong and capable and resilient and good at being me.
Are you feeling that midlife unravelling?
Some of my friends are. I am lucky to belong to a women’s circle of inspiring, creative, vulnerable, brave women who share their thoughts on this stuff and support each other through our triumphs and crises. But I still feel there’s a lot more to be said.
I’d truly love to know what you’re feeling if you’re in this late-thirties to early-fifties season of your life.
Do you see yourself reflected in society and the media? Is anyone telling your story? Do you feel seen and heard? Or do you feel like your culture still expects you to quieten down and slip invisibly towards old age, not making a fuss, losing your looks and your voice and being just old and unimportant? This is a horrible stereotype but actually, it’s still a thing. We can change that, starting with one vulnerable share at a time.