Where my Journey fans at?
Remember the song “Faithfully”? Sung by Steve Perry, written by Jonathan Cain, it is a ballad about lovers being separated and then reunited. The second verse of the tune is about the process of being together again after a long separation. There is a lyric in those lines that is so truthful and poignant for many of us, but for me, it is not about a long missed lover. Rather it speaks directly to the heart of self knowledge and to the idea that we lost ourselves somewhere along the journey to midlife.
“ I get the joy of rediscovering you”Journey (1983) Faithfully.Frontiers.
Talk to enough midlife women, and you will begin to hear similar stories. The idea that starting in their teens, some women began to choose self betrayal. At first it is purely a coping mechanism, one that soothes family feathers and helps the young girl stay connected to her place in the family structure.
But so often we mistake learned behaviors as personality traits. Taught how to blend and survive in the childhood family dynamic, many of us age with the urge to accommodate. To choose against our needs and wants in an effort to stay connected and safe in the group. Often we enter into adult relationships and marriage with self abandonment as our operating system, compounded by religious beliefs and broken adult role models.
We birth our children and bury our dreams.
Self sacrifice becomes the rule for many of us, not the exception. And if we choose a partner who has little concern for our personal development, we can be locked in a terrible of tango of guilt and longing. Longing for the young girl who had dreams, for her open heart, her limitless expressions of joy and delight. The world awaited her, a newly minted princess, her kingdom to be built on self love and belief in her abilities. Youthful fire and optimistic faith her twin guides. Guilt that we remember her, and shame that we suffocated her into silence.
We tell our girls that they can be anything they desire, that the world is open and the global table has a seat for her. And then, turning to the mirror we see the disbelief in our own faces, wondering where we set down our scepter and crown decades ago. We lightly call ourselves Queens and yet so often many of us find ourselves in the role of servant.
So, how do we change? What does it take to shift a mindset?
Go back to the beginning– With intention, spend some time remembering who you were in your early teens. Dig our your old diaries, flip through the long forgotten yearbooks, take some time and research yourself. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that most women knew themselves ( likes, dislikes, abilities and skills) reasonably well early in life. They didn’t have the maturity to fully operate in those things, but they knew what they liked. We had a better idea of who were and had the potential to be before so many well meaning people put the yoke of their needs and opinions on us.
Admit that you made decisions to ignore yourself– Our self care trend is useful as far as it allows us time to reflect while wearing the face mask. While sipping wine in the bathtub, spend some time thinking about your patterns of self betraying behavior. This doesn’t have to be major life defining moments. How often do you agree to things to be a good sport? Yes, we all need to be able to be team player, but if you find yourself frequently erasing your agenda to meet others demands, you might need to work on boundaries. What was the last thing you wanted to do, but deleted from you schedule because it conflicted with the desires/needs of someone in your circle of influence? Again, this is not a license to be a detached loner, but a suggestion to consider that many women are habitually putting aside their desires and dreams to ensure others succeed in life.
Ask for help– Its okay to ask the village to help you discover the value in yourself. Maybe your tribe is a couple of close girlfriends who have known you since elementary school. They can remind you of the interests you had prior to becoming a full fledged adult. At minimum, old girlfriends can bring the most hilarious memories to the surface, providing a bit of stress relief to your day. While old friends are great, seeking out new friends will add depth to your self awareness. It is a special gift to meet new friends midlife. The excitement of sharing new interests, career pursuits and enjoying the benefits of meeting for a drink is a great way to add to your chosen community. Make a commitment to expand your friend base and explore new interests.
The truth about rediscovering yourself is that it is a journey, not a destination
Decades have passed, life circumstances have required us to grow up in some uncomfortable ways. We have been shaped by choices, both ours and those around us But ultimately, it can be a journey of joy as a midlife woman chooses to connect with her younger self. As I have rediscovered myself, I find that I am still a poet and a lawyer. I can coax words into a new arrangement of beauty in my poetry, and I am able to analyze/research the crap out of any sticky situation or injustice. My third childhood dream was to be a Marine Biologist. At midlife I can confidently say deciphering dolphin squeaks was just a passing interest in Jaques Cousteau.
Take some time and focus on self discovery. There is magic in our memories. Give yourself permission to look in the rear view mirror of life. Trace out the path, consider the curves, forgive the speed bumps, be grateful for the distance traveled. There is joy in rediscovering YOU.
(As always, I encourage anyone who needs a safe space to share their story to consider talk therapy. Yes, I am biased, I am in grad school to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. You are worth it. Life is long and some wounds need help to fully heal.)