It’s not a midlife crisis. It’s just “Not this.”

It’s not a midlife crisis.

Or maybe you’re just trying to excuse yourself, your thoughts, your actions. But the fact is, you are not in a midlife crisis. You did not wake up one day with your hair on fire and suddenly think, my god, I’m getting older and I need a new sports car! Or… I’m bored with my husband and children, I want a boy toy. And maybe a tummy tuck.  It wasn’t a flash of crisis to which you had sudden, dramatic reactions.

But this is what people think, this is what they say, when you tell them you’re changing your life up. And you just happen to be around 40… or 45… or 50. They say, “Oh, she’s hit her midlife crisis… poor thing…” and then they go on about how you’re destroying the life you spent all those years building, guaranteeing therapy bills for your children and undoubtedly heading towards the lonely, yoga-filled life of the 50-something cat lady…

Oh, maybe not to your face. But they say it. You can hear it every time they ask how you’re doing. You can see it in their faces as they glance uneasily at their own husbands, children… and cats. Sometimes dogs.

But here’s the hard truth – most of us hit this moment.  Men and women. Sometimes at 40 or 45. Sometimes not till 50 or 55 and sometimes as early as 30. It’s what Liz Gilbert calls the “Not this” moment. It’s the moment we look around us and think, “How did I get here? Is this what I even want from my life?”

And sometimes, the answer is, “Not this.”

And that’s ok. No matter what anyone else says or thinks, it’s ok to look around you and say, “Not this.”

That might be the hard-hitting part – the realization that your life is not where you expected or wanted it to be at this age… that your vision for your future is not really in sync with the direction of your present.  But as hard-hitting as that realization can be, it’s the not hard part.

The hard part is what you choose to do about it.  Now that you’re aware of it – now that you know that whatever you want your life to look like next, you have to make some changes – can you go through with it?  Awareness can be painful but action… action that drives change… can be excruciating.

Can be.  Doesn’t have to be.

It’s excruciating when we let the outside world tell us what we’re doing is selfish. It’s wrong. It’s chasing a pipe dream.  It’s excruciating when we believe our value is only as high as the feedback we get from the people around us.  Because your parents don’t believe in divorce, you do not leave an unhappy marriage.  Because your management job has great benefits and long-term security, you do not pursue your passion to be an entrepreneur.  Because someone once, long ago, told us we weren’t so good at dancing, we stopped dancing. Except alone in our rooms when no one was watching but we wanted to feel free.

That’s judgement.  That’s other people’s judgement telling us what we should be doing, how we ought to be thinking and how we must be behaving.

When you consider it… isn’t that exactly what got you into this “Not this” moment right now?

We can choose to acknowledge our “Not this” and then do nothing. That is our choice – to decide that what we have today is good enough – or as good as it gets.  A lot of us make this choice.  If the present isn’t so bad, even if it isn’t so great, why rock the boat? Why take the risk that your “Not this” may not turn out to be better than your “this”?

Or we can acknowledge our “Not this” and then figure out… if not this, then what?  Sometimes we know “Not this” but don’t necessarily know, then what…  And that’s ok too.  Sometimes we need a little time, a little clarity and a lot of self-belief to sort that out. If you’ve gone through life on auto-pilot, always making the rational, socially acceptable decisions, breaking out of the pattern can be startling, even in small ways.  It’s like wearing your watch on your left wrist instead of your right…. a small change that shows you how impactful old behavioral patterns are.

Sometimes small changes are enough to pull your life back into alignment with a vision you have for yourself.  Sometimes that extra bit of self-awareness and attention starts you on a new health regime that ultimately changes how you feel and how you interact with the world.  It could be a new practice of daily meditation or long walks that feeds you peace and serenity.  It could be picking up the paints again to create you own personal masterpieces, or belting one out at the karaoke bar.

Or it could be divorce. It could be a complete career change. It could be adopting a baby. It could be moving to the other side of the world. Yes, your “Not this” could be big.  It could impact others. Significantly. It could utterly, completely change your life.

But it’s not a midlife crisis. That’s a derogatory term we use to belittle the fact that many of us wake up one day to a moment of realization that tells us we have gone off course.  Our life has a taken directions we never intended – not good or bad, but not necessarily what we wanted because at the time of the decisions, what we wanted wasn’t a factor.

But now we are awakened. And what we want is a factor.

What will you do with your “Not this” when it comes?

Natalie Hahn is a principal at Dirty Girls Consulting, offering programs that support women in transition. Women work differently, think differently, and it is up to us to develop this difference into  our strength. We explore breaking free of traditional standards, accomplishing professional and personal goals to create an authentic, fully loved life. Read more Dirty Girl Consulting blogs here.

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