I wish I could promise you that your life is about to change. But that is for you to determine. The truth is that it takes a lot more than just a set of rules or advice about living to experience the adventure that is your true life: it takes effort, it takes the will to change, and it takes love. What I can promise is that with a sincere and open heart, anything you will for yourself is possible.
The reality is that your life can change if you make certain choices and do what is within your power to put them into action. The principles in this book will give you the tools to create a life that is full and true, the life you know you were meant to live. But you and only you can make that happen.
As women at midlife, we can finally take a deep breath and exhale. We have arrived at the gateway, that marvelous middle place where we are perfectly positioned, poised between where we have been and where we are going. We can look back from this unique vantage point and draw wisdom from all the experiences we've had; and we can also look forward, ahead of us, to the many exciting years to come. At this wonderful time in our lives we each have the power to choose what the years ahead will look like. Midlife presents us with so many diverging paths, so many opportunities, that these years are potentially the richest of our lives.
The best parts of our lives come together at midlife. We have health, energy, experience, and perspective. We have the vitality of our thirties and the wisdom of all our years. We have a large capacity to love and understand, and we have the compassion to live life more fully than we did when we were younger. Midlife can bring a generous sense of humor and a wonderful sense of proportion -- who among us can't laugh more easily at what once might have brought us to our knees? -- and it can deliver from friends and family the love and support we need to carry us forward. The framework of our life is set. Now, more than at any other period of our lives, we are in a position to make the most of what we have, to decide the course ahead.
Midlife is the time when we begin to ask the important questions: How can I make my life more meaningful? What should I be doing now? What am I meant to do? If my children have grown and left home, what is my role now? Do I still have the same value? How do I manage to deal with the changes in my body and in my life, and still keep a positive self-image as I get older? Is it all downhill from here? The questions we ask ourselves can really be distilled down to this: "Am I living the best life I can? Am I living true?"
How do we live our true life? What would it look like? Is it even possible to have a "true life" with all the day-to-day pressures we face? Well, it is possible. In fact, it has never been more possible. We are at the best time of our lives. Right here. Right now. It is up to us to determine what today will bring, and what the coming years will look like. Life at midlife is filled with transitions and challenges. There are so many ways we can go. That's why it is so important to experience these years with a true and open heart.
We've never been in a better place, or at a better time, to choose for ourselves. We've never been in a better place to make positive changes in our lives. We've never been in a better place to use the wisdom we have gained over the years, and to make the choices that will allow us to live our true life. Yet, at midlife, some of us may feel defeated by our daily routine. We may have given up. We may not have the energy or the courage to venture into new areas. We may have under-aimed because we felt overwhelmed. And because it was easier, we may even have settled.
Everyone has compromised at one point or another. But settling -- whether it's with our relationships, our looks, our body, or our dreams -- makes us feel defeated, dispirited, and worse, resigned. When we resign we miss out on living our own greatness. We give ourselves up to the needs of others and we take their truth for our own. Resignation is our death knell, whether we are thirty or eighty.
Don't resign. Resist the voice that has made you give up any part of your life, the voice that justifies the uncomfortable compromises, the one that says examining your life is too difficult, or that you're too old to try to get closer to the life you want to live. And about that life you want to live? Well, it's up to you...
the age quake
We are privileged to be at a different point in our lives than the generations that came before us. We have the opportunity to see ourselves differently from the way our parents or grandparents saw themselves when they were our age. We know we are not quite the same as we were in our twenties, but for the most part, we are healthy, intellectually active, interested, and have a sense of adventure and spirit much younger than generations before us.
Midlife is almost the beginning of a second life. As baby-boomer women we are creating this defining moment in time when we, together, can transform the concept of the aging process. We are the first generation of women to want something more from getting older, something more than has been shown to us. We may have grown up on attitudes and images that have placed women our age in the background, but we're certainly not about to be put in the background ourselves.
We are in the midst of what I call The Age Quake. Consider it. Some sixty million women in the United States are over the age of forty. Sixty million vital, powerful women who have helped shape the last thirty years -- and more -- are now over the age of forty. And we are a force to be reckoned with. We've been elected to office and we've flown into space. We've been appointed to the Supreme Court and we've broken down barriers. We've raised children and we've raised hell. We are not going to contribute to our decline by letting our health and our looks go. We are not going to fade away.
When I was told by the beauty and fashion industry that I was over-the-hill and no longer had a place in it -- at thirty-eight! -- I thought to myself, "Something is very wrong here." I felt very strongly that I was at a time in my life when I had something I could really offer. I believed that my age was an asset -- not, as they emphatically insisted, a liability. It had taken me that long to find my own strength and to develop a personal viewpoint that was meaningful to me. If the industry was saying that I no longer had any value, then it was also saying the same thing about all women my age. This thought moved me to action. I had been inside the beauty business for more than twenty years. I knew I was in a position to change their thinking.
I headed to the libraries. I pored over research, read every article I could, and finally put together the evidence that supported my conviction. I discovered I was part of a wave of baby boomers, one-third of the population. Imagine that -- forty-three million women strong! Yet, my industry, the beauty industry, wasn't addressing us at all. In fact, we were being dismissed. Products meant for women at midlife were being shown on twenty-year-old girls. There were no images of us. We were invisible.
That is a very loud message. Whether we perceive it or not, that message says: "You who are in your forties, you who are at the prime of your life, you who have the economic power to buy our products...you are not relevant. You must be camouflaged, represented by a different image. A younger one. You as you are have no value." Whether this message is picked up consciously or subconsciously, it goes very deep, working on us in a devastating way. We buy the message as we buy the product. We end up actually believing the negative implication that we, at midlife, are somehow not acceptable, that we don't have value. We have been traded in for a younger model. Literally.
I had a different vision of beauty, an idea that true beauty is something that evolves as we do. True beauty has to change at each age. We never stop being beautiful. Our beauty is just different. True beauty is intelligent, a beauty
to live with and grow with. And it is that difference we have to discover.
Armed with this realization, I began to knock on doors with a new message, trying to get the beauty industry to see the truth that women everywhere have known for years: true beauty includes a woman's inner life and develops as she does. After many knocks on closed doors I found that my idea of true beauty was slowly being accepted. At first, only the women within the beauty industry shared my vision and what it could mean. Remember, this was still a male-dominated industry. Then, slowly, the doors finally opened and I found myself in the position of spokesperson for my generation. And I was passionate about it.
CNN brought me on to discuss the changing role of women in the industry. Estée Lauder used me as the face and spokesperson to launch a new product designed for women in their forties, to an overwhelmingly positive response. I was surprised and moved that, after all this time, women still remembered me and were interested in my message -- although, when I thought about it, we really had grown up together. I received a great many letters from women who had reached midlife along with me, seeing my photos in the magazines over the years. They knew I was a single working mom and that seemed to comfort and reassure them. I was thrilled by their words of encouragement, how they felt inspired by finally seeing a fellow forty-year-old in the pages of the magazines, talking at health conferences, delivering a message that was not solely about beauty products but about health and happiness too.
I then started a wonderful collaboration with L'Oréal. Right away, the people at L'Oréal understood and supported my idea that not only did women -- all women -- need great products, they also needed information about how they could live fuller lives. At the very beginning I presented to them what I thought women today wanted out of their lives, what was truly important in their busy schedules: more value, more information, more support. At every level everyone at L'Oréal "got it!" With great enthusiasm, the company threw its energy behind my ideas of supporting women and worked hard so that those ideas reached women everywhere. By backing my efforts at lectures, talks, and women's conferences, to making ovarian cancer its number one women's cause, the company really demonstrated it cared. And I am grateful.
I have worked with L'Oréal for ten years now, and I'm a regular contributor to The Early Show on CBS, bringing reports on beauty, health, and well-being to women of all ages. It has been fifteen years since the beauty industry told me I was over-the-hill and would never work again. So, who says there isn't life after thirty-five?
claim your life
We usually know how to start out in life. Our first choices are clearly marked out for us: we go to school, attend college (if we are fortunate), apply for jobs, build a career. We may fall in love, marry, have children, and raise a family. But, after we hit these benchmarks, the path becomes less clear. The choices grow more confusing. What happens next? What do we strive for now? Where do we go from here?
At midlife, we may be wondering for the first time in our lives, "What am I meant to do?" The kinds of things that have driven us before may not motivate us now. We may no longer have the desire to reach certain goals -- to own a bigger house or make more and more money. We may, however, want more meaning in the things we already have: our relationships, our work, our family, ourselves.
At midlife, we need to understand that we may be going through more inner and outer changes -- and bigger changes -- than at any other stage of our life. We may see certain events or circumstances as no longer important or relevant. We may be reassessing our career, evolving our responsibility as parents, modifying our role in our extended families, and perhaps most importantly, adjusting our self-image. As we reach midlife, many of us feel motivated to reassess what we had set out as our life's goals, and what we have accomplished up to now. And we may want to make some adjustments.
My effervescent friend Mary Lou Quinlan had reached the pinnacle of success in her field -- CEO of a large advertising agency in New York City. Much lauded and honored, she was, she says, "where everyone wanted me to be!" Mary Lou had it all on the outside, but she wasn't happy. The passion that drove her success had faded and it was beginning to affect her, both physically and mentally. She had few resources left. Prudently, instead of continuing until she burned out, she made a brave decision and asked for five weeks off to "find herself" again.
During that time, Mary Lou says, she became completely selfish: "I did something that is very difficult for a woman to do. I did whatever I wanted and never asked myself, 'What do I need to do?' " She calls that period "my bratty weeks." She spent time with her family and friends. She did "frivolous and happy things!" She took classes she had always dreamed of taking: kick boxing, ice skating, salsa, and meringue. She started a journal to connect to her spiritual side. She "de-cafed" and went on a protein diet. She read books she had always wanted to read. And all during her time off, Mary Lou compiled a list of things she loved to do that made her happy and excited, things that were the opposite of being a CEO. At the end of her "walk-about" she looked at her list and discovered that not one of the things that she did at work was on it. So, against everyone's advice, she decided to quit her job and do what she was truly passionate about: start her own business advising companies about the real needs of women. Five years later, Mary Lou's company, Just Ask a Woman, is a very successful consulting and concept development company. Now a role model for other women in business to follow their potential, their passion, and their dreams, Mary Lou says that she is "healthy, happy, proud, and creative." She had the insight to listen to her inner voice and the courage to follow it.
Having the courage to make the most of your life can begin at any age, but it's important to realize that the sooner you make up your mind to take action, the faster you will see results. Why wait a moment longer to find out what you are capable of? And why settle on very modest expectations for your life ahead? You only need to want to do your best and have the discipline to carry it out, and that is true for all of us no matter what our age or circumstances.
My son-in-law, Christian, has worked as an actor since the age of nine. I admire him because he is always working toward being the best person he can be. Instead of complaining that he missed out on certain "normal" childhood things, he decided to do something about it. At age thirty-one, he sat down and made a list of all the things he wished he had done, and committed himself to doing them. In other words, he consciously chose to live his unrealized life.
One of the first items on Christian's list was to get his high school diploma. He bought all the books he needed, found a tutor, and began to study day and night. After all these years, he finally got his GED -- while in his thirties! When the exam results came in the mail, Christian left me a wonderful phone message saying, "I just wanted you to know, since you were so excited for me: I DID IT!" He then went on to the next item on his list, earning his black belt in karate. After six months, he got his purple belt -- halfway to his goal. And he is going down the list, marking off one item after the other, breathing life into each of the "unlived" parts of his life.
the power of potential
Today, more than ever, we have the inner resources to live our true lives. All we need is know-how: the tools to get there and the energy to use them. But, because we do need energy to enter new territory, energy we may not feel if we are unsure of the road ahead, we can become resigned to a small life rather than take chances. When we live our life on a small scale, less than what it could be, there is no new blood to carry us forward, no new energy to help us change, evolve, and grow.
We all have the capacity for development and achievement. That is our potential. Unrealized, that potential becomes an unlived life. When we don't connect with it, when we aren't able to access it, we live below our own promise and end up living a smaller life. We begin to feel a disparity between the life we are living and the life we long for. This can make us feel depressed. And make us very angry. And even make us sick. Because of this disparity, we struggle within, often blaming our discord on something else --
circumstances, other people, life, God. Yes, it takes courage to look at your life. It takes bravery to make things happen for yourself, sometimes by yourself. It takes daring to live up to your potential, to breathe life into your unlived parts. But what's the alternative?
Why should we live up to our potential? Why should we develop our true self? Because no one helps the world by being a small person. You help the world, your family, your partner, your friends, your community, yourself,yourself, by being your biggest, kindest, and most scintillating self. And the fabulous part of being at midlife is that we are able to say, "It's now or never." Now is the time we can create more value, find more meaning in our lives. We may have looked to others at different times in our life to complete us -- partners, children, friends, employers -- but today, as wise women, we understand that we have the power to complete ourselves.
If you are like me, then somewhere inside there is a tugging feeling, a yearning to be your true self and live your true life. We all feel it, even if we don't quite know what that true self is. Somewhere, deep within us, there is an inner blueprint that longs to be created in the outer world. It's like being turned inside out: We want the person we truly are to be revealed to the world. Inside each one of us lies greatness. We want to access our greatness and offer it to the world. We want our own light to shine. We want to make meaning out of the mundane. It is our gift, both to receive and to give.
Life doesn't always turn out as expected. We often start out with open arms, brimming with hopes and dreams, ready to embrace the world, certain that it will be a better place because of our efforts. We soon realize that life has twists and turns awaiting us, and so we try to manage the best we can with the challenges that each one of us must face.
Today, more than fifteen years have passed since my husband died, that time I now refer to as "the black hole." During those fifteen years, I juggled taking care of my daughter and searching for a way to support the two of us in an industry that revered only youth. I watched people around me move ahead with their lives when I felt mine was standing still. But I had no other choice. I had to move forward. I took stock of where I was and accepted that I had to start over. I shed a few tears, faced some fears, and managed to find my strength -- and, thank God, a good dose of humor along the way!
The difficulties that I went through gave me the chance to develop parts of myself that I might never have dared to confront. And although at the time I wished that I had left well enough alone, my journey gave me the understanding that our problems -- I prefer to call them challenges -- are our greatest gifts. Our problems offer us a chance for transformation. They dare us to change our lives.
Today, I realize that because of those challenges I have created a bank of wisdom I draw upon daily. This wisdom, this understanding of life and my role in it, is very precious to me. I now know that true wisdom can't be bought or learned in school, nor can it be taken away. I now know that when we acquire the understanding and wisdom that our experiences can give us, and work to keep a positive attitude, no matter what the obstacle we face, we do grow.
Copyright © 2003 by Dayle Haddon