So literally I’ve been having a midlife crisis for the last 3-4 years and I don’t know how to break this spiral. I had such a vision for myself, but once I turned 40, that vision seems to be more and more out of reach. I put up the biggest front on my social media platforms, when secretly I’m lying. I’m jealous, very jealous of my friends who have lives that I wanted for myself. I front like I’m happy for them but deep down I’m self-loathing and feeling sorry for myself. I know this is my on doing. I’ve made a lot of poor decisions that have brought me here.
I also know that I can change it. I wake up some days super motivated to make the changes and I start stuff then I lose momentum and get back in a rut. I’m at the biggest weight I’ve ever been. I don’t run anymore or workout like I use to. I haven’t read a book to completion in years and I would do that all the time, since I was a little girl, all the time. Now I just watch tv. Yeah, I know turn it off but it’s easy and it numbs me out so…
I’m sad most days. This quarantine is magnifying my pain. Yep, I’ve been to counseling, numerous times, they help in the moment but then I go home and in a couple of days I’m back. Also, it’s expensive and because of my poor decisions and lack of discipline, I don’t make as much money as should. I have no retirement, no savings, I live in a neighborhood I hate. I own my home and I am thankful but I have wanted to move for almost 10 years and I can’t or I’m scared because it won’t be easy. I like my job again, finally, but it pays shit. People keep telling me I should quit, but I like it there and it’s been a long time since I didn’t dread getting up in the morning to go to work.
I feel soooo stuck. Like is this it? I really don’t know what to do. I cry a lot when I’m alone, people just want you to show a brave face. I have people who try to hold me accountable to getting stuff done but I dismiss them most times or just ignore them until I think they’ll let it go.
Wondering if I’m too old, and too broke to get the life I want. I’m 47, I’ll be 48 in a month. Hell, at this point I just hope to retire with some dignity because I don’t have any kids so no one will take care of me.
Feeling kinda hopeless. Real hopeless.
Dear Dream Deferred,
You are so incredibly brave, honest, and self-aware! I chose your letter because I believe that many people can relate to most, if not all of your pain points. I definitely can. Many of us get into the mental gymnastics of age, or what it means to be a certain age. For me, the iconic Tina Turner is an inspirational example of someone who broke unbelievable barriers, and made an epic career “comeback” when she was over the age of 40. Maybe you’re not aspiring to become the next Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll, but there is something that you want to do as passionately as Tina wanted to reclaim her name, her talent, and literally, her voice.
You are transparent about seeking help through counseling; having accountability support, yet you “dismiss them most times or just ignore them until I think they’ll let go.” I so applaud you for being bold and clear enough to recognize that you’re literally standing in your own way. I also give you so much credit for honestly explaining how you actively resist participating in your own progress. Though this is likely not your intent. You mentioned that you have gained weight; that you don’t work out as often, that you used to enjoy reading (and finishing) books, but opt to watch television instead.
Dreamer, it seems as if you have placed yourself in a self-imposed adult time out. You’re not accepting accountability in certain areas, you’re not working out, or engaging in other activities that are more productive for you because it seems as though you simply don’t feel like it. You literally don’t feel like “you.” You don’t feel like finishing the book because maybe it takes too much effort, or maybe it’s not what you need to read right now. Could your lack of interest in activities that you normally enjoy be the result of a recent setback? This seeming apathy could be leftover residue resulting from an unfavorable outcome of something you really wanted or needed. If either assumption is true, it is okay to need a minute to regroup. It is extremely difficult to get back up and dust our knees off after suffering a major “fall” or disappointment. In response, it is absolutely okay to surrender to a period of mourning. In my opinion, mourning is simply the meaningful acknowledgment of the end of something cherished. That said, it is perfectly normal or even healthy, to mourn the end of a relationship, a friendship, a job or career, or anything that had sentimental value to you, and now no longer exists. During this period of adjustment, it is acceptable to pause. But you cannot stop and build a monument in homage to any pain or disappointment you may have encountered. Eventually, you are going to have to try again…if not the same thing, something else.
So, let’s unpack this perception of a “dream deferred” with several questions beginning with the vision you have (or had) for yourself. Let’s get specific as in, what is your dream? What do you want to do and what, if anything is stopping you? If there is something stopping you, is it a proverbial stop sign or red light? Who will you serve by acting on this dream, and how will they benefit from it? Are you an entrepreneur, are you freelancing, or a consultant? Are you working in the same city or state that you currently live in now? What about turning 40 made you feel that your dream was out of reach? Are you aspiring to enter a profession or career that has defined age limits, such as the military, professional athlete, law enforcement? Most careers do not have actual age limitations (at least not legally.)
Up until this point, you have been acquiring valuable knowledge, credentials, transferable skills, and confidence to help you launch what you’re supposed to do now. This could be the reason why it seems that your growth has been slow, or even at times feeling as though it were suspended. It could also be that you needed to temporarily defer your goals, in order to gain the necessary understanding and information, to equip you to do what you want to do today.
During my journey, I have “tried on”-meaning I have pursued many (and somewhat unrelated) career endeavors, all while having a primary and sometimes, a full-time job. I was a freelance, and part-time make-up artist, I worked in retail, I attended writer’s workshops afterwork; I have taken weekend personal development certification courses. Why? Because, I was interested in those opportunities at one time. In each experience, I learned something priceless about me. I became clear(er) about what I wanted my career to look like, and what I did not want, or could not tolerate. When you embark on a new journey or career path, sometimes you have no clue what the next steps are, or should be. Those who are willing to take chances and remain consistent, are often rewarded in the end (in the form of a career path that is best suited for them.) To claim your reward, you might be required to suppress your ego. We all have an ego, though some are more domineering than others. The ego can be boisterously bougie, all but forbidding you to take unconventional risks. The ego does not want us to waste our time, or rather its time.
I firmly believe that as long as you have breath in your lungs, it is never too late to live a life that you can be proud of. Your age cannot hold you back, however, living in the past, and stale thinking patterns definitely will. You mentioned that though you are working, you are underpaid. I can tell you for a fact that compensation is more than money. You wrote that you enjoy your current job and “it’s been a long time since I didn’t dread getting up in the morning to go to work.” Having a job that you actually like with zero dread, and no Sunday evening blues is the definition of a winning scenario. I agree with you that your job seems like a good match for you in the sense that it’s a major aspect of your life that seems to be working. When we have more aspects of our lives that are working it allows new ideas to flow effortlessly. It can be difficult to take our dreams seriously, when the mortgage or rent is due or worst, past due.
And speaking of mortgage, you suggested that you lack discipline, and have no retirement, and no savings. You also wrote that you are a home owner. The last time I checked, it takes a substantial amount of discipline to go through the homebuying/mortgage process, let alone own your property for I what presume is 10 years. Without knowing anything specific about your financials, or the value of your home versus what you owe, in the general sense, real estate is considered an asset. So, though you may not have a traditional savings, or money saved for retirement, you own real estate with potential equity in the property. You said that you hate your neighborhood. The physical property is “stuck” in that neighborhood…you are not. As a homeowner, you have options such as whether it is a viable option to rent the property to tenants, to sell it, or keep it as a part of your financial portfolio, as you build home equity. Only you know what is best for you and situation concerning your property.
As humans, we don’t want to just try to do something, we demand a guaranteed and favorable outcome. If the final results are not as we hoped or expected, we often think to ourselves, “Do I continue on this path considering how far I have come and see the final outcome through?” Or, do we say, “You mean to tell me that I have come all of this way and there is no payoff, yet? I’m done!” And nothing makes us feel more inadequate than what I call, “looking on somewhat else’s paper.”
Which brings me to your point about social media. Again, I commend you for being honest about your feelings of jealousy and self-loathing as it relates to social media feeds. I firmly believe we cannot heal what we don’t acknowledge. When you say that you’re essentially living a double life on social media versus real life, I say that you’re in good company. The majority of us are doing the same thing by carefully curating (read: filtering and altering) our images, narratives, and stories into visually appealing highlight or sizzle reels. That’s all it is and everyone has done some variation of “staging” a photo, or their present circumstances so as to appear more fabulous and acceptable to friends, associates, frenemies, and strangers. That said, what you’re jealous of may be an illusion, or only partially authentic.
It’s about embracing your choices and doing what serves your highest good. It’s also about being your authentic and amazing self. There are numerous ways to show up on social media in an honest way, which also includes not showing up at all if necessary. If you’re having a bad hair day, you don’t need to be “candid” in that moment, and post a phony selfie. Maybe you can post something else like a quote, a poem, a picture, or something else that you’re musing about at the moment.
Now more than ever, the world is a ginormous captive audience desperately seeking relatable, feel-good content. You can potentially fulfill that need. You mentioned that you have books that you have started but haven’t finished; maybe you can post the book cover and ask your followers if they’ve read the book, and if so, what did they enjoyed about it (without giving the plot away.) Maybe you can start a virtual book club, which may invigorate you to finish the book.
Complacency is often the accomplice of fear. You can do hard things, Dreamer. By now you have already mastered hard tasks and navigated through those challenging situations triumphantly. You can do it again, if you choose to. I hope you choose to. One day, you will retire with dignity, because you have chosen to start living a more distinguished life (by your own definition, and on your own terms right now.) No more frontin’ online and faking it in real life. It’s time to impress yourself. Any fear around growing older with the possibility of being alone does not have to materialize for you. By taking exceptional care of yourself today, you will eventually prove to yourself (and everyone else), that you have what it takes to take up space and do more than exist in this world. It’s time to live and thrive, dear Dreamer!
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