The Search for Fulfillment in Midlife and Beyond

After reading clients’ autobiographies over the past four decades, I’ve concluded life is a story that needs to be rewritten in midlife to reflect the desires of the authentic self. This core of the personality begins to emerge in the late thirties to mid-forties, signified by dissatisfaction that indicates rebellion is underway. Youthful goals are no longer as important as finding answers to questions of ultimate concern: who am I, why am I here, and what should I do with the rest of my life. By contrast, my younger clients need to go for the personal gold, experiment with many options, try on different personas, and compete for recognition from peers and authority figures.

Navigating the transition through midlife and beyond takes courage and persistence, since the younger self holds on with all its might in a culture that values external success more than inner success. Added to societal and family influences is the normal fear of getting older most prefer to ignore. This is especially true if parents and other relatives died too early, or they did not age well.

Let Go

The usual reaction to fear of the unknown is to hold on to what you have, like a bear that hugs his adversaries as a way to defeat them. But holding onto earlier stages of life provokes the well-known midlife crisis, with its regressive symptoms of alienation and depression. Many transfer anxiety into chronic physical ailments, medicate their spiritual malaise, volunteer for multiple causes, or use escapes to avoid the challenge of change. The solution is to let go of everything that has outlived its usefulness, including the belief that age equates with loss. Removing these blockages to growth redirects life energy into goals that bring personal fulfillment, particularly in your work.

As examples of blockages to growth, one of my clients had stacks of files, magazines and books that littered her environment, inherited furniture she felt obligated to keep, knickknacks that took up every spare inch, and a garage crammed to the rafters. It didn’t cost anything for Janice to sort through all of this stuff, but it did take determination, and enlisting the aid of a co-hoarding husband.

Janice started with the smallest room in her house, and then worked through each room, closet and drawer, allowing for time to process emotions like sadness that came up as she discarded stuff. She also felt excited about the possibilities that came to mind as her surroundings became more orderly. As you may suspect, opening up space provoked disagreements between Janice and her husband, anger both had suppressed for years. Being honest with themselves and each other was frightening, but the clearing process got their grievances out into the open, where they could be discussed and resolved, with the help of a therapist.