A momentary pause

As I watch many of my friends make college visits with their kids this summer, I realize that culturally, we’re missing a beat here.

We send our kids off to college to “find themselves”, which for some means growing their hair and writing beat poetry; for others, drinking out of a keg. Regardless of their choice, they are given the time and space to grow, change, prepare and plan for their future.

In midlife, that opportunity might look different, but a chance to pause and regroup? That would be a blessing.woman lying near the river

I think it’s the midlife events themselves that are giving me pause—losing my parents, my sister and good friend contracting cancer, deaths of people my age. Why does it take events of this gravity to give us occasion to pause?

What should give us pause is midlife.

As my friends’ children become adults, we give them a rite of passage. Off they go to college, bags packed, to start to investigate their true passion, be it marine biology or business.

But when we hit this critical juncture of midlife, there is no rite of passage. Which is perhaps why so many men run off with young blondes in tiny convertibles. Or why so many women decide going back to the workforce is a good idea, as they struggle to find their value in a society where cocktail party conversation rarely moves beyond what we “do”.

We’ve generally worked our asses off up to this point—whether in a corner office or at home preparing our little birds to fly off into the world. Taking a breath to assess where we are would be great. And looking forward to what we want to do and who we want to be for our closing act? Priceless.

Except taking a breath is generally not encouraged by society at large.

I’m not saying we need a repeat of college’s four years—but give us a paid sabbatical and a sanctioned set of inspiring locales within which to take it. Picture midlife institutes all over the world, filled with people enjoying pushing the pause button. With guided review of where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to go before it’s too late. With peers, wiser because of their years, who can share experiences and reflect with us.

Some of us will be close to where we want to be. Others may realize that taking over Daddy’s law firm was a mistake. That being a chef calls to them. Or a minister. Or, although this stymies me, an accountant.

Why don’t we offer ourselves do-overs? Or just, additional opportunities to pursue a passion? Does deciding at 18 what we want to do with the rest of our lives sound wise? Not really.

These are random thoughts spurred on by yet another unexpected text regarding the poor health of someone my age who appeared to be just fine yesterday.

I finally have some wisdom to offer in midlife. Earned wisdom, not just whatever I may have been blessed with coming into this world. I want to use it. Share it. Expand it.

iStock_000016693957SmallImagine the world issues we could solve if we gave some of our more seasoned players the time to formulate a game plan—whether for themselves, their families or their communities.

I guess I’m trying to figure out a way to incorporate a meaningful pause into my life when there is no sanctioned one allotted to me.

I realize my dilemma is not world hunger. It’s not peacekeeping. But maybe inherent in the solution to my challenge lies progress in the world at large.

If we could make it a movement, put pauses into lives around the world, imagine what that combined wisdom could create. Solve. Imagine. Build.

Some of my favorite words.





18 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    I won’t reach middle age for quite a few years, but I appreciate reading about what’s in store. I worry every day about choices — each life decision I make, I give serious weight to, knowing that it will in the end contribute to my happiness and sense of fulfillment. It’s terrifying to think that my plans today, as I try to figure out what the heck my actual passions are, will impact me forever. But don’t forget…society today also allows us a lot of flexibility. At the age of 60, my mother got a second graduate degree and started a whole new, fulfilling career. In her lifetime, she’s had three careers: professional singer, homemaker, and now family therapist. You CAN do that. You are not stuck with whatever decisions you made early on. You can continually reinvent yourself…you just need that momentary pause to sort those jumbled thoughts out. Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  2. Marie says:

    This idea that we must determine one true path that best represents an ever-evolving self seems false and tastes bitter against the sweetness of limitless possibility. I love the idea of pausing, mIndfully, to evaluate and celebrate our place along a path shaped by choice and chance.

    1. candidkay says:

      You’ve hit upon the key concept, Marie. The every-evolving self. It seems we don’t officially sanction that in our culture. Stability is valued. But evolving from a stable base? Well, to me, that seems a perfect combo.

  3. What a great idea Kay, and although you say it’s not about world hunger or peacekeeping, I still think your suggestion is important. Perhaps if we all took the time to pause, to consider our lives and to appreciate our own place in life, we might be kinder to others and more understanding of others. Love your thoughtful words.

  4. Oh, yes please. We should be allowed to pause at so many junctures, but we rush by in an effort to be better, faster, smarter. Your words are so true. Imagine how powerful we could be mid-journey if we allowed ourselves room and time to pause. Really wonderful post, Kay.

  5. markbialczak says:

    I wish you could put that brain power to work the way you’d like, Kay, after taking that deep breath you richly deserve. No, our society doesn’t time things right for a lifetime of sane thinking and consistent growth, professional and personal. Your ideas here would do our society well.

  6. You seem to have an uncanny knack of writing about what’s going in my life! Over the past few days, I’ve been musing on these things too, prompted by three conversations with other women in their midlife. The first was – like you – finding that a close friend who had seemed fine last week is now confronting a major health issue, at the same time as she struggles with a job in which she is unhappy. The second was another friend announcing to the world that after a long career in journalism, she was about to retrain – as a paramedic! A complete switch of life and career. And the third – which saddened me a lot – was another friend who, facing an empty nest with the imminent departure of the youngest of her three children, told me that she feared an identity crisis. When I questioned that, she said: “I’ve spent the past 27 years raising children…I don’t know what I’ll do when they’re gone.” I was surprised, because while raising her children, she had always maintained her career. But clearly the loss of the children from the family home was making her question what her life was for. I think we all have these points in our lives – and taking time to ponder our direction, and change it if we want or need to, is really important. The fork in the road for some, more of the same for others…and talking about it (here, or in person with someone) is always going to help. Look forward to reading more comments on this discussion!

    1. candidkay says:

      It seems this is a transition we’re not very good at marking as a society. Wouldn’t it be great to be encouraged and supported as we go through the changes, as your friends are?

  7. Hi Kay, it is a serious bump in midlife. We seem to reach a point where, as you say, a little siesta is called for. A picnic by the beach, or at the least some quality time with someone. But our main problem is, we need those big bumps in life to make us stop and take stock of where we are at. Otherwise we would be happy and just go on with life. They are the crossroads we must come to. To make us really stop and ask ourselves, ‘is this it?’. Those bumps make us do the one thing that we avoid in our journey, and that is to look inside and finally listen to that little voice within. Step through the pain and anguish in our lives so that we do finally find the empathy and love that is created by this path we are on. All that we do comes back to how we feel about ourselves. The little hiccups are quickly forgotten and do not have much impact on us. But the times of great sorrow affect us greatly, and ask us to find that love within, for others that we care so much about, but more so to find ourselves and come to that wisdom of finally giving that love to ourselves. Once we freely give to ourselves a great change occurs and we are at peace within ourselves and then we start to give from that place within. We release all of life’s ‘got to…must have’s’, and finally begin to give from within, which is what this journey is all about. Finding that place so that we finally understand who we really are, and then help others through their path, by just being that person who has found their place within for themselves. Yes, there is still much pain in life, but it is a pain of understanding so it no longer has the impact from before. You understand just what this journey is about, what we must all go through, to find that beauty within and realize it is all ok. Your meaningful pause has been found, but just not how you expected it. As always seems to be the way 🙂 I know you will find that person within, as we all finally do, and realize that contentment isn’t of the world, but inside us, just waiting until we are ready. Namaste

  8. Wouldn’t that sabbatical be wonderful? I’ve felt that same pause you did caused by big life events and the realisation that I could change and do something else. I haven’t made big changes, but I now have different priorities. I still work, but I’m not focussed on getting any higher up the ladder. Home and creativity are most important now. Funny that you talk about mid-life sabbaticals, I understand that there is a new movement of ‘grown up gap years’ – there’ve been quite a few books published in the last few years about how to take a gap year as an adult.

    1. candidkay says:

      Let’s hope I’m tapping into the zeitgeist then:). Here’s to making midlife sabbaticals a given.

  9. Well done, Kay. an excellent piece that poses great ‘what if’ and ‘why not’? ideas.

  10. Julia says:

    Absolutely a fabulous idea! Let’s start a movement …

  11. Love this — as usual.

    It is very sobering to start feeling your mortality so keenly and yet have little useful map for what to do next. I am 57 (w no kids) and, luckily, have achieved almost all my career goals. I don’t make a lot of $$$ (which wld be pleasant, indeed) but am at a point that adding another notch on my journalism/clips belt is just really tedious…I’ve been doing that since 1978 when I started writing for payment. Now…?????

    Not in a position to quit earning income (for another decade or so..and wld be bored if I did) or run away or just do nothing, financially. It is a question I think many of us grapple with privately.

  12. Amy says:

    “Solve. Imagine. Build.”

    To these powerful words, I’ll add two more: Yes. Begin. xox

    1. candidkay says:

      Love those words. Keep ’em coming.

  13. Last February I decided to take a pause in my life. After almost six months I am still struggling to find my way. I need to remind myself not to be too hard on my 17 year old as he find his way too.

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