On midlife and vulnerability in a brave new world

“A road less traveled and a life less led. The path between the spirit and the voice in your head.” Brown Bird 

Midlife crisis. The very words evoke images of a man with thinning hair and maybe even a toupee, dashing off to get a fancy sports car and perhaps displacing his partner of many years for a younger model while he goes off in search of that last big buzz before he hits the downward slope. While that image is based in someone’s reality, increasingly I find for myself and others in my sphere, that midlife is the place where life corrections occur. Where the life that has been led is evaluated and reevaluated, a place where dreams and reality are laid down and the search for inner consensus begins. A place where you hold to the inner energy of youth but come face to face with the physical manifestations that present somewhere after forty that are clearly not the domain of the very young. The magically expanding waistline and heat surges anyone?

The search for self never stops, as I am coming to learn; it’s just that no longer is my life guided by a frantic to-do list but more the refinement of self that aligns with my emotional, mental and spiritual self.  The quest to be true to my inner guide and not yield to the pressures of the outside world.

Yet the search for self at the stage in life when our society says we are supposed to have it all together is fraught with fear. Fear of the unknown and the fear of making oneself vulnerable to others while still searching for that inner child who knows happiness but at times has been replaced by the heaviness of the adult life.

As our lives increasingly are no longer private affairs thanks to technological advances, it means that our decisions are open to scrutiny from all corners. The openness of modern life and the ways in which we live and share our lives today only work to increase the level of tension and fear as we find ourselves struggling with the images we project in those snippets we share with friends and strangers and our lived reality.

A recent comment left here highlighted for me just how real that disconnect is at times.

“I hope that your dad feels better soon. I’m responding to your post regarding your lack of local friends. The comments are closed, so that’s why I’m leaving one here. I’m someone who’s reached out to you several times, yet you never gave me a chance. Although I’m intelligent and we have things in common, you never even give me half an hour to hangout.

You told me you would, but when warmer weather finally arrived, you couldn’t commit to any time. Ironically, you repeatedly said how bored you were on Twitter during last summer. I can only surmise, that others have also tried to connect with you. If you complain about not having companionship, you have to ask yourself: “Why am I turning down possible new friends?” You have to be willing to try too, and not expect people to continuously “court” you.”

I am going to be honest and say that this comment coming when it did hurt me. It hurt me because it reminded me that that there is a cost to opening up and opening up in public. When we read the words of others, the truth is we aren’t always seeing the entire picture. As a person who plays with words, I am fairly mindful of the words that I use in this space and other spaces, sometimes my words are very clear and sometimes they are intentionally vague enough as to leave interpretation up to the individual reader.

The commenter made valid points, but what they don’t know is that in the past two years this space has grown enough that I am bombarded with requests to hang out, speak to groups, support projects, etc. (at this moment there are over 5,000 emails in the BGIM email account from July with 90% of those being requests of some sort) Throw in the occasional stalker-type messages, the real-life stalker of a few years ago and just the messiness of personal life as well as the intensity of my professional life and well…shit happens.

I don’t share this story to dogpile on the commenter but rather to explain how I think any time we open ourselves up, be it with our inner circle, partner, friends or however we lay ourselves bare, we make ourselves open to criticism and frankly we make ourselves vulnerable. To be vulnerable can be one of the scariest fucking feelings ever because we don’t know what the outcome will be yet at midlife as we settle into our true selves, that vulnerability starts to look a little less scary. I don’t think we’ll ever not have that twitchy stomach moment yet it becomes easier to let it go.

It’s that knowledge that allows us us to let go of that which binds and maybe even confines at times. It’s how people let go of the seemingly happy marriage, the good job and all that seems just perfect yet no longer feeds and nourishes our spirit.

Once upon a time I danced around the fringes of vulnerability but I know now that I cannot fully be who I am meant to be without some level of vulnerability whether it is in this space or other areas of my life.  Instead I see vulnerability as the gift of growing a little less younger and maybe just even a little wise. So as I walk through the flames of life managing the many transitions that I face, I know occasionally I might get spanked for the vulnerable moments but I embrace them as part of the never ending process of change and even refinement of self. How do you handle the vulnerable and uncomfortable moments?
If the words in this space resonate with you regularly, please consider making a one time gift or becoming a regular monthly patron. (If the “gift” link above doesn’t work, click on the “Donate” button in the lefthand sidebar of this page)


3 thoughts on “On midlife and vulnerability in a brave new world”

  1. If you have time, you Might check out Brene Brown on TED Talk ….”The Power of Vulnerability” it’s quite enlightening….
    Great post by the way

  2. Hey Shay –

    Beautiful piece. As someone in recovery, I’m not naturally wired to sit with discomfort. My immediate reaction is to blunt it somehow. Learning to move through, and not around, was something I didn’t learn until I was in my thirties, but even now the twitchy impulses to flee and/or deliberately manufacture stupid drama to avoid feeling the feelings are something I have to constantly be mindful of.

    I think it just all comes down to honesty, really. Taking off the mask or stepping out behind the “brand” we create for ourselves as bloggers is scary. But then I’ve also learned that doing the scary thing is almost never as bad as NOT doing it.

    (As for the comment, well, I’m unclear about the motivation there. Expressing sympathy only to launch into a litany of perceived slights is just…weird. Valid points or no.)

    I never imagined myself as the kind of person who’d elucidate on “middle age,” but more and more I find myself doing exactly that. You nailed it right here: “A place where you hold to the inner energy of youth but come face to face with the physical manifestations that present somewhere after forty that are clearly not the domain of the very young.” And it’s not just the spread (and the chin hairs); it’s in the witnessing of parents growing old and frail, of having to have hard conversations about that, while internally just wanting to retreat back into to more cavalier ways of thinking.

    I suppose in the end I am grateful for experience.

    Love to you, friend.

  3. Another great post BGIM. Can’t tell how to handle the vulnerable and uncomfortable moments, but don’t spend time worrying about the waistline. It’s lovely but the most important things are spirit and thought…..

Comments are closed.