Recently I have been on a protracted trip down memory lane. Last night I started looking at all of my photo books, that’s six thick albums! I’m slowly working up to possibly reading my many volumes of journals back to age 14.
As I viewed many old photos, one thing struck me. I seem to have forgotten exactly how adventurous my life has been. From 18 on I traveled the world. I started out in Mexico, Bangkok and northern Thailand, then spent months in Taiwan and Hong Kong, traveled up through Malaysia from Singapore, and right before we moved here, the Andes and Cuenca in Ecuador.
Once, before China was officially open to American tourism, I took a trip up the Pearl River in southern China on what I called “the People’s Ferry.” We arrived in Wuzhou, what appeared to be a town made of mud, and much to our surprise there were PRC government officials there to escort us onto a bus to Guilin, but not before the citizens of Wuhan surrounded us to point and exclaim, “What is that? A foreign ghost!” They had never seen a European or American before.
I visited the Caribbean a number of times, and did a couple island-hopping sails with my first husband, a windsurf instructor and sailboat captain from USVI St. John…
Locally I started out at Colorado College on a backpacking trip to Canyonlands my freshman year. Half of us got lost and I did flyovers with the rangers until my friends were found. Unfortunately the rangers mixed up our names and called my parents saying I was lost, a fact NOT appreciated by my parents. I then spent years exploring Colorado and Utah. So many hikes, backpacking, ski and river trips.
My first professional library job was in Salt Lake City. Luckily I found the BEST group of friends there, including Roy Webb, who took us on a number of fantastic week-long river trips on the Dolores, the Green, the Colorado, Desolation Canyon, etc. He has been a famous river runner for decades now, and the author of many books about river history.
My first husband pretty much insisted that we go hiking, skiing or backpacking most weekends. Those trips included a number of trips to southern Utah like one memorable backpacking trip down into Escalante Canyon to enjoy “some of the most outstanding hiking opportunities to be found on earth.”
I climbed a few fourteeners in my time, and skied from I-70 up to Shrine Pass (11,089 feet) and then into the tiny town of Minturn twice. I never forgot the glisten of fresh snow on that eleven mile trek.
So many great memories, so many wild times…
Now I see how fortunate I was to tackle these physical challenges while I could still breathe well above 7,000 feet. I’ve had bronchitis regularly for decades and in some of the most exotic places! With a recent diagnosis of COPD, alas those days are gone. So happy I spent my youth exploring the world near and far when I could handle long flights, driving long distances and the general risk and chaos of getting off the beaten path.
Now I find myself in this lovely “soft place to fall” with Mike and Rasta, where I can appreciate how profoundly fortunate I am to have done most of what I wanted to do for most of my life, and I even enjoyed most of it!
First I saw the funniest FB announcement yesterday! On our community bulletin board it said:
“Has anybody lost this chicken?” with a picture and everything.
You’ve just got to love living rural. And the chicken did find his way home too!
Then we went out to cut our own tree! Pretty nice huh?
We decorated last night…
…and this morning we had a new coat of six inches of snow!
It feels just like Christmas!
We have fallen in love with living in tune with the sun and seasons, waking up each day amazed to find ourselves in such a beautiful, quiet, natural place…
Please feel free to contact me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com to order any of my books as Christmas gifts for family & friends who are struggling with midlife mayhem!
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Now for something completely different!
Lately I have been observing how generational our belief systems can be. For example, as a middle boomer, born in 1955, most of my life I have taken a narrow view of what a good work ethic looks like. Most of us were raised to believe that being busy each day and having something to show for your efforts, especially MONEY, is a job well-done.
That is exactly how I approached my new writing career back in 2005, when I began freelancing. How much I made each year was my measure of success, and I fought very hard to make some bucks. But in the long run, this way of thinking wore me out. As I learned more about the history and importance of this marvelous time called “midlife,” I wanted to teach others how life changing it can be. What I was learning was more important than money, it was life saving for some who struggle with self-respect and self-doubt as they age.
This is what I learned from changing my perspective on the ways we choose to spend our time as we age:
Midlife and especially retirement is your time to learn something just because you have always wanted to. It’s time to follow your fantasies and dreams for once in your life, while releasing expectations and, of course, guilt.
Be grateful each day that you now have the time and money to do something completely different! How many individuals in the history of mankind have had this privilege? Very few. Most previous generations didn’t live past 60!
After taking my writer fantasy for a spin for ten years, we decided it was time for my husband Mike to experiment with one of his childhood fantasies. He had always wanted to construct a passive solar home positioned just right for fantastic views of the mountains. In the process of planning this new adventure, I found a great cartoon in New Yorker Magazine that shows a man visiting a guru at the top of the Himalayas.
The guru’s punch line? “The meaning of life is having a spectacular view.”
After we created our new passive solar home, I was then able to construct another lifetime fantasy of mine, a foothills garden full of xeric plants that love this high, dry landscape as much as we do. As I wrote this, we got our first snow fall! Yippee!
Because of what I have learned about midlife and the amazing experiences we have had in the past 15 years, I can highly recommend that you ask yourself today:
What perhaps irresponsible, but joyful dream or activity have you been fantasizing about forever? Time’s a wasting! Do it TODAY!
Life is too short to wait!
What does following what may seem to some like one crazy dream feel like?
As a lifelong student of human behavior, I now find denial to be the most ubiquitous and powerful trait known to us all. The best therapist I ever met told me,
“People can get used to anything, if they can get used to schizophrenia.”
I would only add, we do seem to specialize in getting used to emotional problems instead of doing what we can to change them. It surprises me when I see someone suffering from deep emotional challenges and yet making no effort to do anything about it. To some it must seem natural to live with emotional discomfort, feel self-critical of ourselves and yet never seek out professional help to change. Speaking from experience, this tendency literally ruins lives, because unresolved emotions lead to self criticism, unhappiness in relationships, destructive addictive habits, and reduced productivity.
Most don’t seek help for debilitating denial issues and feelings because we are also in denial that these parts of our emotional makeup can change. Our main concern may be the fear that we aren’t up to the challenge of breaking addictive cycles, ending self-abuse and the habit of choosing toxic relationships, or the simple certainty that these things can never change. So what do we do? We get comfortable with the familiar and yet frustrating habits we were raised with.
For many (including myself) our lives will continue to go gradually downhill until that final crisis that says with absolute certainty: “Things must change NOW!” Confronting that moment with self-honesty and self-responsibility is the end of denial. And once the walls of denial start to tumble, the denials underneath those denials all must go.
Admitting exactly how miserable you are is always the first step. Finding the best solutions unique to your own needs comes next.
Yes, I know how disturbing it can be to see your lovely set of life rules and plans based on absolutely nothing but denial fall to ashes before your eyes. Then you know it’s time to start from scratch, but not really. If this happens in midlife, as it did for me, you will find that you have amazing amounts of resilience, life experience, intuition and deep inner wisdom to fall back on.
Letting go of that old, worn out crap your entire life was based on and hitching your future dreams to the power of the new you, following your heart for perhaps the first time ever, now that is powerful and exhilarating! Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to have it all.
Hang on, it all changes!
As an well-informed boomer and specialist in midlife psychology, I have been trying to draw attention by writing about and publishing pieces on the ALARMING increase in depression and suicide among Boomers, especially among women going through menopause, since 2008.
DEATH NEED NOT BE AN OUTCOME OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN OUR WORLD TODAY! WE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS…
In 2013, when my cousin killed himself and my brother John disappeared after descending into a profound, private despair, I dedicated my book: Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, to them, as I continued to seek a deeper understanding of the reasons why midlife suicides keep rising. Here’s an excerpt from one of those pieces from the Huffington Post, April 2013:
There have been a number of studies on boomer suicide that seek to explain why we continue to kill ourselves at an ever-increasing rate. Some say it is the “period effect,” blaming the historical and cultural experiences we share as a generation. The “cohort effect“ theorizes that being born into the largest age cohort in American history created unbearable competition for limited resources, including jobs.
Then there are the facts: Boomers share higher depression and substance abuse rates than any previous American generation. Could it be that we did not face the kind of adversity growing up that creates successful coping skills? Were we raised to be too optimistic, and now find we cannot deal with how it all turned out?
Beyond all of the mythology around boomers, the fact is we now face extreme wage inequality, and the highest level of poverty since the generation born before World War I. We also face ever-increasing personal debt. In 1965, the ratio of household debt to income was 60%. In 2012, that ratio had risen to 163%.
We may have been born at the high point of American optimism, but that has vanished…
Some say Boomers have been witnesses to the death of the American dream. Most of us grew up with high expectations for our lives, but now, as we reassess where we’ve been and where we hope to go, we must admit, this is as good as it gets. We will never be richer or younger than we are right now.
I only know that I tire of so much misinformation about boomers and their lives. I have had enough personal experience with midlife depression to now feel determined to do what I can to alleviate some of the suffering, and this terrible waste of human potential.
Globally, about a million people kill themselves each year, the single largest cause of violent death. It remains mysterious and debilitating for those who surround every suicide and ask the question: What made him/her do it?
Through my research, I have learned just how normal and natural it is to feel depressed and disillusioned in our 40s and 50s as we discover that our lives may not turn out as previously planned. What is the best way to cope with these feelings of hopelessness? I share what I have learned in my ten years of research, and what has worked for me, in my books about boomer psychology, midlife despair and how to change your midlife for the better.
Laura Lee Carter, Midlife researcher, author, psychotherapist
Four years ago, on June 17th, Mike and I sold our nice home in suburbia and left behind everything familiar to us. After living up in the Fort Collins area for the past few decades, this move felt like a gigantic leap of faith.
Here’s a photo of our past home in south Fort Collins. In the past four years it has increased in value more than $100,000! Wow, the prices of homes up in metroland are growing by leaps and bounds!
After over a year of emotional and financial struggle, we triumphed over a million difficult challenges to create this passive solar home west of Walsenburg Colorado. We have been quite happy living here for the past few years. Retirement agrees with us, and especially in such a quiet, natural part of the West. BTW, passive solar works great down here!
Most of my worries about moving here never came to pass, and other completely unexpected problems replaced those. The biggest challenges for me have been health-related. My body made a quick decision to start falling apart soon after age 60, creating new opportunities for compassion towards others who suffer. And the truth is, I have met so many here who have been forced to retire early because of health concerns and disabilities.
Huerfano, meaning orphan, is a poor, rural county down near the New Mexico border, with a total population of around 6,500 and an average age of 54 years. With few good jobs and an abundance of natural beauty, the Huerfano attracts those with less money and more appreciation of rugged country and rural life. We live on three acres in the Pinon-Juniper ecosystem right around 7,000 feet elevation.
Judging by the rapid increase in traffic in Walsenburg, the many homes sold here in the past few years, and how crazy Highway 160 has become in the summer, it looks like this area has been “discovered” by those living up north in metroland.
We have found this area to be slow and quiet, especially in the winter, and windy as hell. If you hate the wind, don’t move here! The slow country ways are what now attract me. I can go into La Veta and always see people I know. I like that.
Laura Lee Carter is a professional photographer, writer and psychotherapist. Her midlife crisis included a divorce and the loss of her career as an academic librarian, misfortunes she now finds supremely fortuitous, as everything wonderful flowed from these challenges. Laura now sees midlife difficulties as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for personal liberation. She has produced four books and one workbook on personal change, midlife psychology and how country living changes you.
Don’t miss her new one: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado
I met a nice couple who just moved in below us on Tuesday. They are like us, newlyweds in their 60s from the metro area up north. They came by to explore their new neighborhood, although in our case the homes are pretty far apart. I showed them my memoir about the tough process we went through when we first got here and they bought one.
Then I started reading my memoir again. How time flies! It’s been almost four years now since we plopped ourselves down in Walsenburg, and started building west of town. And yes, an author can actually forget what they wrote a few years ago.
Although certainly imperfect, this book is an honest and funny account of my experiences in a part of our country which at first felt a bit like a foreign land. Building here was fraught with major challenges. In case you don’t know, one definition of fraught is: “causing great anxiety or stress.”
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you now imagine. – Thoreau
Why did we do it? Here’s a short essay from my book that explains everything:
The American Dream In Progress – March 6, 2015
I am surprised how much interest there is in building solar in rural America. My views on this blog have increased dramatically recently, and that includes views from all over the world.
But then I got to thinking, and realized the dream we are presently pursuing is the most fundamental of all. The immigrants who risked everything to come to America did so just to be able to purchase their own land and build a new life here. Having your own piece of land is, in a sense, what this country is all about.
This realization makes me very happy and proud. My husband Mike has held this dream for most of his life. Building a passive solar home has been his primary goal since he was a teenager. Now we almost have our home completed, and in spite of the many unexpected difficulties and inconveniences that have arisen in this process, we will soon be living the life we only dreamt of last year.
Hold on to your dreams! Don’t give up when those dreams require taking risks that scare you. Don’t let others talk you out of your most important goals. You have the needed vision to live your dream.
“The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” – Chinese proverb
Do YOU have what it takes to follow your dreams? Check out my memoir… and please follow me on Twitter!
An elder friend told me years ago, ‘old’ is always ten years older than you are right now! Actually, I still do struggle with the apparent fact that I am now 63 years old. In my mind people in their sixties are like my grandparents. They are retired, checked out of the work world. I barely remember my grandparents before they retired. I mostly remember them as elderly folks who hung out a lot watching TV. This all reminds me of how different and out of it I must seem to kids today.
I’m beginning to think I’m the last person on planet earth who has never owned a “smart” phone and never really needed one.
I still communicate with my friends through e-mail to set up dates, etc. It works and does not add all those additional monthly expenses for mobile phones. I suppose my thrifty nature has made it possible for us to retire early… But then you do run into the whole, “What do you do with your life now?” question.
First of all, anything would be better than my life back in 2004 when I lost my last job. I was driving a hour each way to Denver to work at Regis University Libraries. I swear I’m still suffering from back and shoulder pain from that daily trek down I-25 to a job I hated, with people who apparently hated me. After six years I got fired in a way that felt like the end of life itself, but turned out to be the best thing ever! Yes, my life since then has been the perfect example of this Chinese parable from 2,000 years ago:
A Chinese farmer gets a beautiful horse, but it soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad!” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”
The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say.
The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, but is then thrown and breaks his leg.
“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.
In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared...
Proving once again that nothing is as it seems at the time. From my first (and ONLY!) firing as a professional librarian at age 49, I learned that it’s best not to get too hung up on what happened today. Even something that seems like the worst EVER can turn out to be a hidden opportunity to improve your life!
My best example of this is four years ago when we moved down here to build solar in the foothills. When we first got here I was not certain this was such a great idea. Moving from an up-and-coming city like Fort Collins to a poor, quiet, rundown town like Walsenburg left me thinking,
“Is this a bad thing? Have I lost my mind?”
But resilience and patience got us through the difficult adjustment and building stage, and today I am supremely happy to be here now.
Note to myself: Allow LOTS of time for personal adjustment around major life changes.
And yes, we do find excellent ways to spend our days, even in retirement. We have learned to enjoy a much slower pace with lots of time to just be. I have also learned how to truly live in the present.
“There’s nothing sweeter than falling in love with the moment we’re given, the only one we have.” — Marcia Smalley
Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up. ~ Pema Chödrön
Changes outside of ourselves do have the power to shock us into seeking anew what is real within. They can cause us to finally see the need and find the courage to stop playing roles for others, and find complete honesty, integrity, and authenticity within. This is the time to finally find the strength to announce we can no longer be what everyone else wants or needs us to be. We could never save others, so for now we must put all of our energy into saving ourselves. We must stop being constantly other-focused, forever taking our cues from outside ourselves, and dig deep to discover what we want and need to happen in this final phase of our lives…
Since self-deception is a thing of the past, you can no longer count on that trusty outside armoring you have hidden behind for decades. Gone are the masks you felt so secure behind. As your authentic self emerges, it becomes ever more difficult to delude yourself with the illusions you have counted on for decades. They may have always worked before, but they are gone now.
Sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do
I was struck recently by a saying I heard in reference to horror movies:
Nothing is scarier than having no idea what is out there.
This seemed like an excellent metaphor for what can happen to us in midlife.
In the middle of our lives we may find ourselves ensconced in what seems like the safe and familiar, but somehow all of that apparent safety can begin to feel threatening. We may think: “I’ll just follow this safe route for the rest of my life. I’m too old to do anything different at this stage of the game.”
What I learned through my own experience is that sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do. Sure, you could stay in the same job, career, or relationship, living the same life indefinitely. That sounds safe, but is it?
Doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always had. If that is all you are seeking in life, then go for it. But is there perhaps a small part of you that wants more? Is there a quiet part of your brain that begs to differ on this plan to never deviate from the safe and trusted path?
What might you be missing by playing it safe?
It is not uncommon for some life-changing event to cause us to question anew the entire plan we have laid out for our life. Maybe we aren’t even aware that we have a plan, until something screws it up. Sometimes just one more birthday can help us to reconsider our overall plan and open us up to options we never dreamed of before.
Nothing is scarier than the daunting realization that we have not even tried to live up to our full potential. Sure, we did what we were told and found some success in our endeavors. Being “good” definitely has its rewards. But do you ever spend time focused on all that you could have been and then realize that none of that will ever happen? If you are anything like me, all of those “details” can only be ignored so long.
In midlife we may realize, sometimes for the first time ever, that our time here on earth is running out. When it does, how will we feel as we look back over our lives?
The best thing about being alive today is that if or when we come to this realization and achieve this new perspective, we generally have more time to seek out the tools, the inspiration, and the necessary resources to do something about it. We can begin to plan a new and different future for ourselves, if we can find the strength and courage to dig in and live the dream!
Remember, the opposite side of the coin of fear is excitement. When was the last time you felt like anything could happen? When was the last time you allowed yourself to feel your full potential to grow and change and be all that you could be? This apparent crisis is offering you the opportunity of a lifetime. Do not miss out.
This is a brief excerpt from my book: Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife. It is only available in e-book format through Amazon. Feel free to contact me at MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com if you would like to purchase one of my last few paper copies.