And then, not expecting it, you become middle-aged…You achieve a wonderful freedom. It is a positive thing. —Doris Lessing
Maturity or middle age means different things to different people. But for most, reaching a mature age means developing a new set of expectations. At mid-life it's possible to view life from a new perspective. You have goals and aspirations yet to achieve, but you also realize you’re not getting younger. Maturity is a time for re-adjusting your focus, and getting your whole act together. If you do, you’ll remove the fear that comes with getting older, and open a new vista of freedom and opportunity for yourself.
Living in a Changing Society
People in mid-life have always undergone physical changes, but in our modern society we must cope with social changes as well. In our brave ace of technology and mobility, adults have, willingly or not, been pioneers of social and technological change. As a mature adult today, you have a lot of life experience, including experience in making your own decisions and the heavy responsibility that comes with that. You may be a single parent, self-employed, or a successful professional: someone who is forward-thinking and up-to-date with the technology. You have made decisions all your life, so why would you have trouble now? Because decision-making is not easy for anyone, regardless of experience. In my work, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is “How can I trust that my decisions are good ones?”
Even educated and aware people often hesitate when making both long-term and short-term decisions, and many are very uncomfortable being decisive at all. Too much stress can lead to stress, burnout, heart attacks and other physical and emotional problems. With new technology and conveniences, life is lived at a faster pace than it was for previous generations and it is much more complex than it was for our grandparents, or even our parents.
As a mature adult, you have an opportunity to re-think your priorities. If you have children, most likely they are growing up, and no longer need you as much as they did. You have been working long enough to feel settled and experienced in your career, and you probably can see, in your aging parents and relatives, that there will be a time when you won’t have the ability and opportunity you do now. If you are like the people I see in my practice, you are longing to express all the parts of yourself that have been neglected or ignored. Reaching maturity means asking: What is my life about? Is my career gratifying enough? How am I going to feel when I reach old age? Will I be satisfied with what I’ve done? These questions require a new kind of decision-making expertise.
You Can’t Predict the Future
If there’s one thing life has taught you, it’s that the future is impossible to predict. As you pass through each stage of life, your experiences continue to be new, and your roles and relationships keep changing. Life is in constant flux, and as soon as you feel you’ve mastered a role, a job or a relationship, something shifts, and you need to re-decide.
If you have been single, focused on your career and friends, traveling all over, you may be longing to be settled and close to your family. If you have been a single parent, and your children are growing up, you may be feeling a new kind of freedom. If you’re married and working, you may be planning for and looking forward to your retirement. If life has been difficult, it may be time to reorganize your relationship to your money and your future. All of these changes require new, smart decisions—perhaps of a kind you never before considered.
In your lifetime, you have gone from dial telephones to cell phones, Instant Messaging on the Internet and shopping on the Web. In the workplace, jobs that require travel, telecommuting, and working via computer and smart phones are commonplace. Keeping up with the rapid pace of change we live in today (perhaps even defending yourself from it) requires a new kind of thinking.
In addition to keeping up with the technological evolution, you have responsibilities to meet at home, on the job and in your personal life. If you feel overwhelmed at times, and find that you simply can’t find the time to devote to looking at the big picture, you are not alone. By focusing on the day-to-day details, you forget to plan ahead, to anticipate change, and before you realize it some neglected aspect of your personal or family life is in crisis.
It’s time to stop briefly and take a look at where you are at this point of your life span. If you spend a few productive hours re-evaluating where you are and where you’re headed, you can create a much more satisfying, productive and fulfilling future for yourself and for those you love.
Successfully re-creating your life at this point involves several crucial factors:
1. Future Security: Planning a secure future for yourself, if you have not done so already, is essential now. This involves getting appropriate financial advice and managing your money. But money isn’t the whole picture. Making sure your lifestyle, habits and attitudes are consistent with maintaining your personal health and well being is crucial to making the coming years feel like a reward for all your hard work.
2. Changing Roles. About this time in your life, you see shifts in your family’s needs. The generation following you is growing up, and the generation before you is getting older. Your own generation has reached the point of maximum responsibility. Many mature adults find that just as they are being relieved of some of the responsibility for their children, they are taking on a burden of caring for aging parents or grandparents. Both of these factors impact your family decisions and your personal life in profound ways. The gift this stressful period gives is learning to handle all these changes successfully and effectively, keeping your life in balance, or perhaps achieving that balance for the first time.
3. Satisfaction. After many years of being a responsible, hard-working adult and focusing on taking care of others at home, at work and in family relationships, many adults find that they don’t know what they want for themselves. It’s time to learn how to make the decisions that create the enriched, satisfying experience you always hoped your life could be. When you do, you’ll discover what satisfaction means for you, and how to re-focus your life to create more of it.
4. Enjoyment. Your ability to take pleasure in life, to “lighten up”, to find the fun in a simple moment, may have been suppressed over the years. You may just need a slight attitude shift to become more light-hearted or it may require major decisions to simplify and re-focus your goals. You can learn how to make the decisions that free you up to have more fun.
Smart Decisions For People Over Forty
If you stop to think about it, you know the difference between those who make smart, considered choices, and those who seem to let life push them around. You probably know people who succeed despite difficulties and bad breaks, and people who seem to have everything handed to them, but still can’t get it together. You know people whose lives seem full of satisfaction and accomplishment, and others who don’t feel that they have achieved anything worthwhile, so their lives are full of regret and complaints.
Cooperating and being congenial with the people you care about makes your relationships run more smoothly (at least on the surface). However, when you relinquish your power to decide for yourself, your self-esteem suffers, and you feel out of control and unimportant, even in your own life.
As you reflect on the people you know, can you see the difference between those who know how to make good decisions, and those who aren’t sure what to do? None of us is completely confident with every choice we make in life, but those who understand that their decisions will create their outcome and choose accordingly feel more secure more of the time.
As a mature adult, you are approaching the time of greater freedom and greater responsibility toward yourself. Because you’ve lived long enough to master the basic skills of life, you may be wondering what else there is. For many in mid-life, going through days focused on material things and daily chores no longer seems to be sufficient. At this point, people begin to search for a different kind of meaning. “What is my life about?” they ask. “I have most everything I want. Why doesn’t it feel like enough?”
In my therapy practice, these are the questions mature adults ask, and the forces behind the changes they must make. Understanding the important issues of this phase of your life, and being prepared to re-evaluate your goals, find meaning, and make new choices are the tasks you face now. How you meet these challenges will make the difference in how satisfying and rewarding the rest of your life will be. From experience, you know you cannot control everything that happens to you. But you can control the your reaction and response to the events around you. If you can think clearly despite changes, surprises and unplanned circumstances, you will make good choices, and succeed in all the ways you want to.
You can reorganize and restructure your goals to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, financially and socially, no matter what your life circumstances have brought you. This is your opportunity to make the most of your life, to bring long-awaited dreams into reality, and to create meaning and satisfaction for yourself.
Create Your Own Standards
Making smart, effective decisions about your own life depends on learning to set your own standards according to the values that work for you. Observing those around you is a great way to see how various value systems work and can offer you guidance in defining your own standards. By dreaming, observing and trying new things, you can recreate yourself and your life to be more of yourself than ever before. No one is in charge of you but you.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., "Dr. Romance," is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Long Beach, Calif. since 1978 and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again and Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She publishes the Happiness Tips from Tina email newsletter, and the Dr. Romance Blog. She has written for and been interviewed in many national publications, and she has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live and many other TV and radio shows.