The wonderful blank canvas of midlife

I was at my monthly professional mastermind group when an unexpected revelation about midlife occurred.

It came about from a discussion around a member’s transition to entrepreneurial work for the first time in her life.  The lack of structure, solo work from home and unknown arrival of success created a question of whether she was on the right path.   This person had attended the best schools, worked at the most recognizable companies, married well and seem successful on most every measure.  This was the launchpad for this moment.

Yet, unexpectedly, the lack of peer reviews measuring her performance, no colleagues to hand off grunt work to and the absence of afterwork happy hours were being missed.  She was worried that she had made a mistake. 

This situation was something many of us in the group could identify with: the never-ending story that occurs when you get off the hamster wheel of following a traditional career path in a big company. There’s also loss and uncertainty one can feel from having no imminent goals because you already made partner, got the dream job or don’t want to be CEO anymore.  With fewer external milestones and timetables to chase, many achievement-oriented people can begin to feel lost.  Maybe for the first time.

That’s what our group explored through sharing stories of similar experiences and idea brainstorming. Then, one member shared something brilliant:

“What no one tells you is that midlife is a blank canvas to create the life you want.”  It may not look like the past but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right. 

This is what has surprised me about midlife.  When I got off the hamster wheel and dreamed new, more entrepreneurial, family-flexible dreams – a part of my identity died. That’s because I had spent 20-30 years trying to arrive at that point.  I had believed it was the recipe for happiness. I hadn’t thought of what would come after I became a TV anchor or had my 3 children.  I was busy living my life in pursuit of these goals. Once I had reached them, I felt confused that they didn’t fully satisfy me. 

Yet, I couldn’t articulate what I wanted.

I thought this was as sign something was wrong. Or that I had made a wrong decision. In fact, I know now it was just the prompt I needed to spark a rebirth – to turn me into the creative director and artist of my own life.

This is where us achievement-oriented types don’t have as much experience: in being creative, dreaming new dreams or being artistic. This isn’t taught in medical or law school.  These weren’t skills pushed upon me by my immigrant parents.

That’s what midlife has the potential to deliver.  It becomes a time to turn within. It is a moment to start exploring one’s fullest interests and desires.  It could mean starting surf lessons and resuming piano lessons, like I did, or turning to volunteerism or entrepreneurship as peers have.

The uniqueness of this time is that we have the opportunity to transform our lives into unique masterpieces that suit us, our purpose and our desires – not our parents, society or the world. We become artists staring at the blank canvas of our lives, should we choose it.

In this dreaming, many of us are novices. In this creative rebirth process, there is no immediate satisfaction.

That’s because dreaming up who we are meant to be is a long journey, one creatives knows well. It takes months and years for an artist to paint their masterpieces.  Da Vinci took over 15 years to paint the Mona Lisa.  There will be daily grunt work, unending hard days and errors to paint over.  But this is the process for designing the life of your dreams, one that suits your purpose around work, family, health, parents, volunteerism, creativity and more.

That’s the exciting potential of midlife that few rarely discuss. Isn’t it time to spread the word?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *