Looking for a Healthy Midlife Crisis? Here’s how to add a new (hoof)beat to Shellenberger’s hypothesis.
In her 2009 Wall Street Journal article, “Having a Healthy Midlife Crisis,” writer Sue Shellenberger reports that as a whole new group enters midlife, we’re just not tackling these challenges they same way as generations past. Rather than the “dark interlude of regressive behavior” it was once thought to be, more often than not triggered by fear of death, this interval of our lives is now more about reexamining such things as past disappointments, (whether career, marriage, family or friends, and health), and finding new ways to greet this traditional time of head on and find creative ways to turn it to positive ends. Finding the strengths of where we are and discovering new ways to build upon them, today’s midlifers are reassessing their earlier—oft forgotten — dreams and goals and charting a new course.
This, I think, explains better than anything else the presence of so many women over 40 at all the Clinton Anderson tour stops, demos and clinics I attended during my time at Downunder Horsemanship. These women (and quite a few men) understood the connection that horses help us make with our “real you” and in recapturing our dreams of horses we most often recapture the essence of who we are and who we want to be going forward.
Blending Shellenberger’s tips for creating a positive midlife criasis with this knowledge of how horses can help us with this process, I give you a slightly horsier take on Shellberger’s four-point advice:
1. Plan a step by Step Transition
Recognizing that this is not a “quick fix” — or a pill you can take — but rather, a process to begin, start small and figure out the steps from where you are today to where you wnt to be. In Chapter 3 of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, “Take the Reins,” we examine the smart process for getting a little more equine energy in your life:
“Making the decision to reignite an old passion — in this case, adding horses to the middle of your life— can either be much more complicated or much easier than you think. It all depends on the decisions you make, and how you make them.”
So take these first few baby steps slowly and deliberately and, for maybe the first time in your life, enjoy doing your homework. This not a race (because most of the time we don’t know where the finish line is!), and a plan and a direction is plenty good enough to get you unstuck and moving in a healthier direction without a lot of all-or-nothing drama.
2. Integrate old passions
“Go back to your core” and remember what it was that used to make your heart sing. Oftentimes the intervening years when you just thought you were drifting farther and farther away from these things, you were actually honing a new set of skills that will allow you to reignite these passions in a new way. In Chapter 2 of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, “Wy Horses? Why Now?” we explore the reason rediscovering this old dream is especially beneficial to us at this time of life:
“The mystical and magical connection between humans and horses is well documented and woven through civilizations and cultures and generations. But perhaps the most pronounced and profound examples of this connection are the relationships that develop between women and horses.”
What makes your eyes well up with tears at the very sight of it? What is that thing for you that , when you revisit it after a long absence, feels like coming home, or, as my brother once said after returning to tennis after a long layoff, “makes you remember who you are?” For me if was the sight of a galloping horse that turned me to mush. For you it may be ballet. Or opera, or a hot game of tiddly winks. Whatever it is, listen to your emotions. They’re tellilng you what you need to put pack into your life.
3. Assert Yourself
Realize, first, that these transitions aren’t always smoothes and even if they appear as a bed of roses, there WILL be some thorns to contend with. You’ll likely contend with the skepticism of family and friends — and sometimes even outright resistance — as those around you grapple with what they see as change in their definition of who you are as you move back to your own true center. Ignore this. It’s time to own up to your own dissatisfaction and chart a new course. Also in Chapter 3 of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses we grapple a bit with the resistance you may get when you try to add something as large as a horse to an already full life. This resistance may come from well-meaning family and freinds, or if may come from the obligations and commitments that already occupy all your available time (and disposable income). Here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty of melding the “real you” with your dream of owning or at least spending time with horses.
“It can be done, but it takes some mental restructuring and flexibility, a new set of rules based on our core values and what experts call “self management.”
In a series of exercises including “Find your Soul Values,” “Build Your ‘no’ Muscle,” and “Start Clearing Your Own Trail,” and “Recapture Your Day,” you’ll discover by tapping into your own answers and life experiences how to best align yourself to take your best shot at reawakening the real you using the dreams of your youth and the wisdom you’ve gained since.
4. Honor Your Creative Side
If all this sounds like WAY too much work to pack into an already overstuffed schedule, consider this. Working hard on something you’re really interested in almost never feels like work at all. Making the decision and taking action to give something you have always been interest in a permanent place in your life may well be the most energizing thing you have ever done.
“Maybe you still have your old jumping saddle stashed under a pile of outgrown kids’ clothes. Maybe you ‘ve always pictured yourself galloping on a horse across an open field with the wind in your hair. Maybe the elegant dance of dressage keeps your riveted . . .”
Maybe your happy trail has nothing to do with horses. (Although I can’t imagine why not!) The point is, whatever your midlife happy trail may look like, engage your creativity to make it a trail you can enjoy however you can at this time of life. With a computer, the internet and satellite TV, you can partake of many wonderful pastimes without ever leaving the comfort of home.
So whichever path you choose to for your midlife “crisis” (Do we really have to keep using that word? Can’t we call it “adventure” instead?), here’s to healthy solutions for your grandest ride yet! Let us hear your stories of midlife reinvention and returning to the dreams of your youth from the superior vantage point of a completely different lens! Post your story here as a comment, share it on our Facebook page, or give us the 140-character version on Twitter! Or, if you’d prefer to let me write your story, just drop me an email and we’ll see who else you might inspire!