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of making oneself vulnerable to others while still searching for that inner child who knows happiness but at times has been replaced by the heaviness of the adult life.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?
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Vulnerability and yoga…what they give

 

It never fails that when my to-do list is a mile long, that my body decides it wants to take a break from the action. So instead of prepping for the Man Unit’s 45th birthday tomorrow and the college boy’s arrival from school in a few days (he is bringing his girlfriend home to meet me…Zoinks!) I am nursing a rather uncomfortable head cold. Of course sickness is useful as I have learned because it serves often as a period of involuntary mindfulness though at the moment this period is feeling more like a strong case of acid reflux.

Maybe it’s a coincidence; then again maybe it’s not. This week has been laden with vulnerability minefields just as I started getting into reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. For those not familiar with Brene Brown, she is a researcher who works with oh so unsexy topics such as shame and vulnerability. A local pal turned me onto her work last year and I have been hooked ever since.

Though let me just say that reading about an issue and experiencing it and working through it are two totally different issues. All week, I have been grappling with the unpleasant reality that after overseeing four glorious years of growth at the agency that I head up, the tide has shifted. Hard times abound for small agencies in this region and no matter how dynamic I am, and marvelous my ideas, I and by extension my agency have hit the wall. Right now I am grappling with some very real and hard choices that may include a thousand less meals for kids already living with scarcity this summer. For shits and giggles, add in the fact that jobs may be on the chopping block. (My staff/board already knows this, so no, I am not sharing organizational secrets) Ultimately I will do the best that I can but it is hard when you know people are depending on you to ensure that they can continue doing things such as making their rent and car payments and you don’t have the answers.

Despite the baby steps of growth I have taken in recent years to accept what I can and can’t do, I struggle mightily when I fall short in my own eyes especially at the professional level and ultimately I know where it comes from. Yet in these moments being open and honest about reality is often what pulls me out of my self-inflicted inadequacy hole.

Last night though as I thought I was on the road to making peace about the professional situations I am facing, my vulnerability monster decided to come back out to play. I learned that a longtime supporter of my work decided to end our relationship. The details aren’t important but when someone who has taken the time over the years to help move you on the path toward fulfilling a lifetime dream ends the connection, it hurts. I was initially embarrassed to admit even to the Man Unit that I was hurt by this person’s actions but when I took the baby step of telling him, he immediately understood and didn’t belittle my feelings.

In a world where we seem less willing to admit our true feelings, I admit writing this feels strange yet I know holding onto it definitely isn’t good for me. Though in this moment, I am reminded of how I often tell my seven year old that she is entitled to her feelings, and it’s okay to be hurt and saddened.

Vulnerability doesn’t feel good, in many ways it reminds me of yoga class. I don’t love getting up and going to class in fact if left to my own devices, I would never go. What I do love is what yoga gives me. As hard as my mind fights being present, by the end of a class I am whole again. I am present and at peace with myself as I am and the world as it is. Vulnerability is much the same way, it hurts at first but when we give it a chance, it gives us so much back in return.

Baby stepping towards change and going to a tweet-up

If you have been reading this thought dump of mine better known as a blog for any length of time, you know that in many ways the past several years have been about me finding myself and making peace with the world as it is. Fighting life and fighting reality is hard, or at least it is for me. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to adjust my lens rather than to expect that I can change others. I can’t change others, hell, I barely can change myself.

One of my constant struggles has been around the growing sense of isolation that I have living in Maine. I am a weird hybrid, I am both an introvert and an extrovert, and I straddle the line well. Too much time alone with my thoughts is a bad thing because once I go inside; I go too deep and can get sucked into the swirling vortex of my thoughts where my ego becomes the queen. It’s really a messy place. I need time with people on a fairly regular basis but too much time with others is also messy as I find myself absorbing too much of other people’s energy and if that energy is off in anyway, to be honest it fucks me up. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect anyone to be upbeat all the time; I just need to be mindful of what’s around me.

That said, when you live in a place where the number of people you can actually call up and suggest getting together with wouldn’t even fill up one hand, you know you have a problem. Hell, I am sure the people I know are tired of me asking do they want to get together. I know my needs and I know other people have their needs and when they don’t match up, change is needed.

However at a certain age going out and initiating new friendships is about as appealing as a root canal. To start with, new friendships involve opening up and being vulnerable and while I am really digging Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, application is still harder than theory.

The past few weeks have been scary but also exhilarating as I have found myself taking baby steps to connect with people I have only known as acquaintances. The end result has been glimmers of hope that maybe I can make a home here and eventually build a tribe of my own as I am convinced the older I become I need a tribe, a village, a crew…people I can count on in good times and bad.

Last night though was a big step for me in breaking out of my shell; I have been a user of Twitter for the past 3-4 years. In that time I have met a handful of locals from Twitter but I have never been bold enough to venture to a monthly tweet up. Tweet-ups for those not in the know are gatherings for folks who have met on Twitter. Here in Southern Maine, we have a thriving Twitter community though most twitter users tend to live in the big city and not out in the sticks like me. For months now I have toyed with the idea of going to a tweet-up but never actually taken the step. I won’t go into the reasons why I had never gone but the real reason was fear, fear of feeling uncomfortable, after all what if all these seemingly decent folks turned out to be creepy or what if they thought I was creepy? What the hell would I say?

I am happy to say that last night after much back and forth I actually left the house and headed into the city for the tweet-up and had a blast. Thankfully there were faces there that I already knew and I had a chance to meet quite a few people I didn’t know. I made it back home a little after 10pm which is late on a school night especially after a few Cosmos and while I did wake up a bit tired this morning, it was a good tired. I think there is already talk of a few of us ladies of twitter going out dancing…yikes; I haven’t done that since Chicago.

It’s easy to talk about making changes in our lives but for some reason, actually making them is harder…so very hard. I suspect creating the life I want will take some time and I will even have setbacks (was momentarily bummed that an acquaintance I wanted to hang out with didn’t return my text, but that’s life) but one of the lessons I am learning in my journey called living is that sometimes getting the life we want means baby stepping towards that change. The village won’t just knock on my door, so I am going out and creating my village, one person at a time.