These are hard times to be a caring, thinking person, let alone a caring, thinking person at midlife. Some days it can look like all of the hard-won progress made in your lifetime has been swept away. Add to that a firehose of unsubtle cultural messaging telling you your best years have long since passed, that your experiences are irrelevant and obsolete, and that you’ve missed your window to make a difference. What can I tell you, fellow midlife person? None of this feels great.
But if you’re finding yourself weighed down by all this heaviness, you’re not alone. A lot of us are feeling this way. I spent the first year of the pandemic engaged in deep, meaningful conversations with over 100 midlife women while researching my book. So many I spoke to reported experiencing almost soul-deep levels of despair, both in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president and pretty much ever since.
“I thought things would be so much better by now,” I often heard. “I’m running out of patience and time.”
I suspect that if I were speaking with those same women today, they’d echo similar sentiments. Along with the fallout of a global pandemic, we’re dealing with extreme weather events; rising political tensions; an overdue reckoning with racism, colonialism and other forms of oppression; and a loss of faith in institutions and each other. It’s almost as if we’re living in a chronic state of emergency, with only specific details changing from day to day.
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Disappointment is the downside to caring deeply about others. The upside? Allowing those emotions to fuel your determination to insist on something better — for yourself, your community and our world.
Instead of feeling crushed by all of the things that need fixing, you can feel heartened by the number of caring people who are willing to do the work — and the number of ways there are to nudge the needle of progress in the right direction. None of us has to do everything, but all of us need to do something. Our challenge is to figure out what our own unique “something” is.
Instead of feeling isolated, you can begin to see yourself as part of a long chain of caring people who lit the way for you and future generations who will follow in your footsteps. You can encourage older people to reflect on the kinds of progress that they’ve witnessed in their lifetimes, and you can shine a light on the hopes and dreams of the young.
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Instead of feeling helpless, you can seize the opportunity to make a difference during the time that you’re here, even if you won’t be able to witness the fruits of your labours. You can reflect on all the ways your life mattered and will continue to matter. Think ripples, not waves.
Because here’s the thing: your life will be richer simply by virtue of the fact that you tried to make things better. You chose to be part of something bigger than yourself and to be in community with others. This, after all, may be one of the pandemic’s greatest lessons — that we were never meant to journey through life on our own. It’s not just about you or me doing better; it’s about all of us doing better. And the only path forward is together.
Ann Douglas’s latest book is Navigating the Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s December 2023 issue with the title “A Letter for the Exhausted.”
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