Midlife Growth

Submitted by: Gwen Soffer

I never really thought about what fifty would look and feel like because it always seemed so far away, but here I am smack dab in the middle of life. Somewhere between being a college student contemplating my career ambitions and sending my own kids off to college, life started to speed up. The five-year time compartments that I used to organize my life around disappeared. Instead, at age fifty, I find myself more comfortable with the year-to- year and even the moment- to-moment.

I went back to graduate school for a degree in social work last year, something I had wanted to do when I headed off to college at age seventeen. I ended up not pursuing this then because I did not know exactly what the profession was, and often times people responded in a questioning manner when I suggested that is what I wanted to do—not enough money, too much burn out. I was not confident enough then to tackle those questions, and instead I shifted to another career path.

When my youngest son prepared to leave for college, I had a sudden burst of clarity, and the calling that had reached out to me at seventeen came back to knock on my door again. I realized that all of the work that I had pursued since then had me leaning in this direction all along. I found the right program that fit into my life, and before I knew it, I was sitting in class, studying, reading, doing research, writing papers, completing projects, and interning at my field placement. Something I had not done since 1989. I still have people ask me, “So what exactly are you going to do with that degree?” but instead of conjuring up a neat, concise and carefully formulated answer, I am okay with not knowing exactly and trusting the process as it unfolds. I know that I am moving in the right direction, and that is enough for me right now.

Let’s face it. Change is scary, and it can be even scarier when you know your time to accommodate the change is not as abundant as it used to be. When I was younger, I had lots of options, and if things did not work out, there was time to pivot. Although it can feel intimidating to know that time is more limited, there is a really big advantage as well. This time around I am very clear and focused, but I also leave space for the unknown. I can accommodate a balance between being laser-focused and being open to unknown possibilities. This is not something I would have had access to earlier in my life. I would have had to know what the plan was step-by-step.

I think that many people get stuck in the idea of a mid-life crisis when they meet a moment of undeniable change at this age, but I am going to suggest that we consider the more sustainable alternative that is mid-life growth. The stereotypical mid-life crisis is usually some sort of out of control and desperate clinging to youth that manifests in all sorts of out of character and often destructive behaviors. For sure there can be a moment of crisis at this age that is based in how we redefine ourselves and what our role is in the world moving forward. Instead of the mid-life crisis approach of looking backwards with a sense of loss, there is an opportunity to take the mid-life growth approach and look forward to what we have to offer the world now that we did not have in our youth. What untapped potential that is the result of years of life-experience is waiting to be unleashed? The many five-year blocks that you had ahead of you when you were younger are gone, but there is a clarity and freedom that comes with the moment-to- moment that is now before you.

Although a moment of crisis may be the catalyst to the changes we make at midlife, the outcome can still be midlife growth. With this growth comes an understanding that you have a lot to offer and that you still have the energy and courage to start something new. With this growth comes the understanding that EVERYTHING you have done up to this point including work, family, and life-experience is applicable to your new path. There is a deep knowledge in those experiences that only living a long time can give you.

At a field placement interview, I was asked, “ Where do you see yourself in five years?” I smiled a bit at this question. My interviewer was young, so I understood her reference. If I were younger, I would have thought that I had to come up with some professional sounding response that lined up my goals in orderly progressive segments of anticipated hierarchical accomplishments. My response was instead what is the truth, “ I don’t know.” I explained to her that at age fifty I don’t think in five-year blocks anymore and that I am not sure where I will land after completing my social work degree. What I do know with confidence, however, is that I am moving in the right direction and that I trust that the opportunities will reveal themselves when I am ready. This is not a response you can give at age seventeen. You need half a lifetime to have that kind of growth.

Gwen Soffer, co-owner of Enso yoga studio in Media, Pa. and co-founder of Trauma-Informed Lens Yoga , is a Masters in Social Work and Trauma Certificate candidate at Widener University. In addition to her trauma-informed weekly public classes, she leads trauma-sensitive group classes and individual sessions with community groups as well as in service agency settings.

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