In my twenties, I didn’t have a backstory to hold me back. Everything was fresh and new, and I wanted success so bad, I was willing to go all in, trying anything anyone told me to do. I loved being an entrepreneur. The world had so much to give, and I wanted it all.
That part has never changed. I’ve always been an idea person, the one who can start with just an inkling of potential, and design it into something that moves forward with gusto.
I loved being “that person” for the last couple of decades of my life.
But looking back, I’ve discovered that one of the things that pushed me forward, gave me my drive, was the very thing that holds me back right here in midlife.
The Go-Go Years
When I was growing my business, I would let nothing stand in my way. I set goals and did everything to achieve them.
And in a lot of ways, it cost me.
I was the type who would get up at 5 am to have a couple of hours at work before the rest of my household rose. Then I ran – dropped my daughter off at school, went to meeting after meeting, seeing how much I could accomplish before picking her up afterschool. We’d race to clubs and activities. If I could get a little work done while sitting on the sidelines, I did it. I’d often wander back into my office after everyone went to bed to get in a couple more hours.
I routinely lived on four hours of sleep. I couldn’t sit down in front of the television or I’d nod off. If I wasn’t busy, I fell asleep. In a lot of ways, that knowledge kept me busy.
And it worked.
We grew our business to be one of the premier photography studios of its time. We traveled anywhere our clients wanted us to be.
And I loved what I did.
But looking back, it took its toll.
Fear changes as we age
In my twenties, and even into my thirties, I wanted success. And I had lots of goals. Things like:
- A big paycheck
- A forever home
- A family
- Status within the community
- A lifestyle
- Savings, retirement, and investments
You know, the things we’ve deemed to be The American Dream.
Here in midlife, all of that is in place. Even if it isn’t perfect (is it ever?), it’s still a part of my American Dream, and I’ve come to love the security it provides. Even if it’s just the appearance of these things; what people see when they look in from the outside.
Can a person really change all of that?
You hit your plateau – What’s Next?
Here’s the problem.
In midlife, you get where you set out to go. You have a lot of “things” and you’ve established a certain lifestyle. Trouble is, now that you’re here, you really don’t want to be “here” anymore. You’re not happy. You’re not content.
This is where I’ve been stuck quite a bit here in my 50s.
I’ve had success. I’ve sold a book to a publishing house. I’ve self-published more than two dozen books. I’ve created several businesses. I sold one of them for a healthy profit. I’ve spoken on stages with household names. I’ve met incredible people on my journey.
But all of that is in my past. I have new goals, new dreams, and new plans. And I’m inexperienced in what it’ll take to get there.
So I ask the questions we all do when we’re faced with something new:
Is it possible?
Can I do this?
Can you relate?
Been there, done that. Midlife adds an extra complication. So now what?
Stuck. I think that’s synonymous with people in midlife, women in particular.
As a Gen Xer, I was the first in my family who was taught I could have it all. But I didn’t have a role model to show me how.
So I chased dreams meant for others, fell into my career because of my strong mindset. I had success, loved my life, until suddenly I questioned everything.
But it is possible to get unstuck too. I know, because I’ve been there. There are role models for that.
Be aware of your inner critic. Be aware of what you’re saying to yourself. Imposter syndrome most often comes when we’re uncomfortable. And let’s face it, midlife is uncomfortable. We suddenly have a life filled with questions once again.
I’ve been asking questions a lot lately:
- How did I get here?
- Why haven’t I achieved everything I set out to do?
- Why don’t I have more?
- Where did I go wrong?
No matter how much success you have in your life, I think we all reach a point where we want more. The questions begin. And that inner critic starts to grow.
- Who are you?
- What makes you think you could do that?
- Are you really going to risk everything?
- What are your friends and family going to say?
- What if you fail?
You can listen to that inner critic, let him take control. Let self-doubt control your actions.
Or you can move forward, realizing you’ve done it before.
All that you’ve accomplished in your life – it took courage and strength to get you here. Don’t let that inner critic stop you now. You have what it takes. So do it.
The breakthrough you’re most waiting for is what you’re most avoiding. I’m good at comparing myself to others. When I start something new, I always find someone else doing something similar, someone who’s at the top of their game.
And then the comparisons fly.
I remember when I was writing my first novel, I looked to several authors who I thought were doing it right. People like Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele, and Nicholas Sparks.
Several times, I sidelined my book because I spent so much time comparing my work to the “experts.” I kept my novel in draft mode, continually trying to make it better.
Until one day, I finally started thinking about what I was avoiding.
I’d built it up in my mind that these “experts” had perfect writing. And the only way I could release my book is if my writing was “perfect” too.
What I was avoiding was negative feedback. I didn’t want to hear my writing was “bad.” So instead, I avoided putting it out there altogether.
Then do it anyway. The scariest part of any endeavor is getting over your own fear.
Think bigger than yourself. I’m a big fan of Brene Brown. She talks quite honestly about imposter syndrome and living with your own self-doubt. “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we really are.”
It’s hard to have those two meet in the middle. Especially in midlife.
Head back to high school or college, and you probably had big dreams. You saw yourself in an exciting career, with a great marriage, fabulous kids, a lifestyle others truly desired.
How’d that work out for you?
We dreamed. We had big plans. And suddenly, we reach an age where we ask: What the hell happened?
Success is fluid. We have tiny wins that, over time, add up to a remarkable life. Yet, in the heart of living that life, we tend to focus on the problems rather than the good.
Go back in time and ask yourself what you really wanted.
A successful career? What does that mean? What have you done? How much money have you made? What kind of lifestyle have you achieved? What have you learned?
I was sitting in a class a couple of years ago, where each of us had a chance to talk about where we were and what was stopping us from moving forward.
I spoke frankly about being stuck. “I just can’t write as fast as I want to. I see all of these successful writers putting out a book a month, and I just can’t keep up with that schedule. I’m afraid I won’t achieve my goals.” I was questioning everything, even whether I should continue writing for a living.
One woman called me on it. “How many books have you published?”
At that point, I had four published novels. I’d published close to two dozen books in several different businesses.
Even as I said all of this, I started viewing my life through someone else’s eyes.
She said it in two words: “Overachieve much?”
If you’re comparing yourself to someone else, you’re missing out on all you have to give.
You’re not living their life. You’re living yours.
Self-doubt comes from trying to keep up with the Joneses. And I can tell you from experience, even the Joneses have trouble with self-doubt.
You have what it takes to do great things. Look at you right now – you’re here!
How are you setting your world on fire, right now?
How can you be even better tomorrow?