Mid-life: A Time of Opportunity


By Pat Duffy, LCSW

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” ~ Goethe

Mid-life today is not what it was 30 or 40 years ago. We have better health and can expect to live a longer life than our mothers and grandmothers. In 1900 a women’s average life expectancy was 47 years. In 1993 it was 75 years. Now in the 21st century, it is approaching 80, with some arguing that we should plan to live until 100. If we get stuck in a traditional view of mid-life as a period of decline after our youth, we don’t recognize the opportunities available to us. It is time for us to challenge and question our assumptions about age. It is time for a new model of mid-life.

When we were in our twenties we were absorbed in the struggle of trying to figure out who we were and what we wanted to do with our lives. Most of us spent our thirties building careers, families, and homes. In our forties and fifties we grow to know ourselves better: to know what we value and what gives our lives meaning and direction. Our opportunity in mid-life is to use this knowledge and the power it offers us.

For women mid-life can be a particularly rich period of life. For women who have been raising children, mid-life can bring an opportunity to be more focused on themselves and to challenge previous prohibitions against “selfishness.” On college campuses today we can find many women in their forties and fifties returning to school. Other women are returning to professions begun prior to marriage and motherhood. Still others who have been focused on work and career are having children at 40 or adopting children at 50. Many describe a desire for balance and a process of reevaluation.

Women today also have the advantage of medical science in the managing of physical and psychological symptoms related to menopause and perimenopause. Thanks to medications and psychotherapy women no longer have to suffer the depression and discomfort that their mothers and grandmothers did. With health and hopefulness, they find that life can continue to be full and satisfying.

Mid-life can be time for growth if we learn to embrace it. To ignore our yearnings for something different can leave us feeling stuck and unsatisfied. If we hang on to outdated views of aging we are unlikely to allow ourselves new dreams and new beginnings. With courage and creativity we have an opportunity to make the second half of our lives as rich, if not richer, than the first. With the increased health and vitality afforded us, we are limited only by our fears.