Sometimes in life, we get so far lost we don’t know where we are. We get so far down the path where we thought we should be headed, only to realize it led us straight to a dead end.
That is exactly where I found myself in late 2014. I had been traveling down a road that I thought was leading me to where I planned to be in life. A wife, a mom and in a thriving and happy family, a house with a white picket fence and all those warm and fuzzies. Something I had waited for, for a long time. I married late in life, in my late 30’s so I figured I had really made a good decision by living life fully before settling down. Just like the saying, ‘We make plans and God laughs”. The reality is that life shifts based on what decisions we or others make in life and the hard reality is that we have to roll with the punches.
The downward spiral in my life all caught me by surprise as if throwing my engine in neutral while driving at full speed. It was a mere five years into my marriage and we had just had a baby, we were gearing up for the best time of our life. But life shifted for me and I needed to figure out what path I was to take next, but truth be told is that I really didn’t know. I had been so deeply asleep at the wheel that I wasn’t paying attention to where I got off track and honestly I had lost myself far before I even got lost in my life.
The days of being young and single, and living a life based on my own decisions were behind me. Growing accustomed to married life and the partnership it provides is a beautiful thing. However, it also sometimes deviates from a sense of self if you are not careful. We can quickly fall into the trap of thinking that our partner should be our everything in life. It is nice to enjoy experiences with your partner, but there needs to be balance. When you sacrifice your own identity to mold into who your partner expects of you or to be more appealing, it will backfire. Spoiler alert* this is camouflaging your own self worth issues. I have seen this so many times, and especially in my own life.
An example in my own life was that my husband loved football and I was happy to oblige his hobby because I didn’t have anything better to do and I enjoyed the excitement and camaraderie of the sport. My husband was very happy that I was involved in his interests, and he never forced me. I participated all on my own. But eventually I got resentful of having to go all the time and how it took up the whole weekend, because we’d be drinking and that meant the next day was also completely shot. Plus I really didn’t understand football and became bored after the excitement of the tailgating was over. In hindsight, I see how much I gave up my identity to please him. What I should have done was find a way that it was mutually beneficial for both of us on those weekends. And by doing what I did, it set me up for years of slowly losing myself.
In our 20’s, we are still learning and figuring life out and who we are in the world. In our thirties we begin to solidify who we are and what we want to do in our lives. Even in my 30’s I really didn’t have a good grasp on who I ‘was’ or what I wanted out of life. I wasn’t one of those lucky ones who had a linear goal to obtain. I was just kind of fleeting, day by day, week by week. I had my interests, but I never put much weight into any of them, and certainly didn’t do the things that nurtured my soul. I also attribute the presence of alcohol in my life that slowly dimmed my light, making me lazy and much less motivated.
Point blank, my life focus revolved around my husband. I was a pleaser and always have been. That is one of the places I know I got stuck. I have now realized that partnerships should compliment you, and bring the best out of you. That you (and your partner) should have your own set of interests independently. When you do the things that make you happy, you bring that happiness you have created from your own life and bring that back into the relationship. If you are using your relationship alone to create joy, you will never be as fulfilled as you could be if you create it on your own.
I became a mom and my identity once again shifted. During this time, I also dealt with postpartum hormones, which I didn’t realize at the time, and a move over 600 miles away. Even though I was ready and excited to move, it proved to be really stressful on me with a young baby.
Even though I don’t like to admit it, I became further lost. I got lost because I was pulled in so many directions and because I didn’t take enough time for myself. There was such a learning curve that I never saw coming with having a child. I am the type of person who needs to do a lot of research before every purchase just to be sure it’s safe and non-toxic. While this hyper-focus created an incredible base of knowledge, and one I am proud of to this day, it also created a huge burden. When I realized that my husband was not on the same page, doing the research that I felt was needed, I felt like the weight was all on my shoulders and I got overwhelmed.
I also let myself go, mostly because I was too exhausted. I never realized how badly stress can affect the body. It has the power to crash the adrenals and any other system that may be running low. Since every other part of my life wanted or needed something from me, taking care of myself was the only area where I could say NO. I even stopped the things that I enjoyed like doing my nails or getting a massage, mostly because there was no time, energy or money to do it. Eventually, I got so far lost I didn’t know which version of myself I needed to go back to. Then I realized none of them fit anymore, that I couldn’t go back to any of those versions, even if I wanted to. I was forced to seek a brand new existence moving forward.
Almost as if I were on autopilot, I would just try to get through every day. My little boy was the joy in my life so he brightened my days like nothing else could and for him I kept going. Because I knew I needed to be a better version of myself. I took it day by day and eventually I did start to find clarity. I would start to work through the wounds and I started making progress on my own self. I found the more I worked on myself, the more things began to shift in my life.
My hindsight perspective is that being lost can actually be the biggest advantage. It is only when we are struggling through the dark and lonely depths of our lives can we surrender. The ego is that part of our minds that always needs to be in control. In our western society, we have been taught that our brain needs to do all of the thinking and the logical mind needs to lead the way, always with little regard to the spirit or intuition. The latter is equally, if not more important because we (our heart) will always know the right choices for us, even if logic says otherwise.
When you finally come to the conclusion that what you are currently doing isn’t working, that’s when the real ‘work’ begins. Actually, in quantum theory, it is understood that even just the ‘awareness’ or observation of something brings it into motion. So in essence, just the ‘epiphany’ of seeing that life needs to change, can be the catalyst to bring about the change. Which I think is incredibly amazing!
When the ego releases control, you can finally surrender. I envision one of those little bunny robots walking into a door over and over again. Like Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” How many times have we made the same mistakes over and over again?
We need to go through that dark place so we have the opportunity to see life from a completely different perspective than where we were before. It is an initiation into a different way of being. Because without that dark place, you would never be able to gain such an enlightened perspective, nor make the better choices to bring you forward.
I remember working for an advertising agency in Atlanta when I was young, out of college. I wanted so badly to move out of the assistant role and to be a project manager. At the time, Coca-Cola was one of our clients. It was the Coca-Cola Worldwide team, too so it was a very big job. I earned the trust of the Principal and got to manage almost all of the responsibilities for the client. However, my lack of experience caught up to me and I made some really critical mistakes on the press by not catching some proofing in addition to a color error. It was a very expensive mistake and I got into a lot of trouble with it. It sucked pretty bad for a while and I was terribly embarrassed. However, without that experience, I would never have the hindsight perspective that taught me that valuable lesson. Going forward, I not only caught the potential mistakes, but I have the foresight to be able to make better decisions to guide the process more efficiently. Our experiences build upon each other so we become better versions of ourselves. When we start seeing life from the viewpoint of “what is this teaching me”, it becomes less of a struggle, more viewing it as a learning experience.
We would never intentionally put ourselves into challenging situations because they are painful. And let’s face it, they suck. But when find ourselves in that place and we summon the strength to persevere it can lead to incredible outcomes. We forge these experiences, and once on the other side, we can look back with a profound sense of accomplishment and pride. The best part is working through your flaws (or shadows) seeing life and situations with much more clarity. This work happens around midlife for many reasons. If you are brave enough to heed the call of your soul, the transformation brings enlightenment to help you live the remaining half of your in a way that brings a deep sense of happiness, fulfillment and joy. After all, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about?
Written by Tracy Szelest, author of Mid Life Rising