Middle-aged sounds old, doesn’t it? But it generally covers any age from 45 to 65, the period before we drift into old age. And of course we may dislike the physical effects of this midlife aging, with some unwanted ‘spreading around the middle’ going on that you saw happening to other people but vowed would never happen to you. Right? And then there’s the dreaded ‘muffin tops’ making an appearance, and you suddenly realise how marvellously named they are as you’re tucking into your weekly blueberry muffin. And then it’s a cue for a stricter diet all round (pun accidental) and more exercise, which, shock and screaming horror, doesn’t seem to make one jot of a difference and you’re still trying to hang on to what you consider your absolute limit is with regard to clothing size, like someone hanging on the edge of a cliff by their finger nails over the sheer drop of larger sizes. But hey, take heart! Who knows how big you might have become if you hadn’t changed your diet and worked out more?
And there’s also the distinct possibility, especially for thinking and feeling creative types, who I believe are more in touch with their feelings, that you might just have to navigate a midlife crisis, as I have. Fodder for all those jokes where men are concerned, but nevertheless a significant event in one’s life, and of course it happens to women too. This occurs during what psychologist, James Hollis, calls the ‘second adulthood’ in his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up. When this second adulthood is triggered into being, you may question your work, your level of success or achievements, your personal values, your very identity as an artist. You may compare yourself painfully to others, and question all the other ‘stuff’ you’ve acquired from society and your upbringing, all the shoulds and should nots, all the learned behaviours. It’s where you find out just how destructive the ego can be, and where your buried-under-received-values self yells for change and finally may assert itself with unbridled urgency to kill off the old psychologically adapted you to make way for the you who was meant to be all along, the you that you may remember as a child. It’s a case of unlearning what you’ve adopted and seizing hold of what really matters, with new skills like self-acceptance to free you while you make new meaning for yourself. It’s a kind of rebirthing process, as you emerge all tender, exposed and new like a butterfly working its way out of a chrysalis to make a fresh start and appreciate the world anew, with more wisdom this time around. And you’re going to make sure you look after this real ‘you’ this time. And this is exactly why being middle aged just could be the best time of your life.
So here’s what I think the advantages are to being a middle-aged creative, especially if you’ve worked through a midlife transformation.
1. You appreciate the real friends and loved ones in your life with far more simplicity and genuine love, and because of this, although your work may have an important place in your life, it is not the only thing in life that drives you. In other words, you can be more relaxed about it, and this helps to keep it in perspective, which you need to do with the ebb and flow of the creative life.
2. You may have a new fascination with the world around you and more tolerance for others because you know how hard it is to be human sometimes. So you may have more compassion all round. This compassion is a giving instead of a taking, and so lends some karmic balance to your life.
3. You don’t have time or patience for putting up with neurotic behaviour from others, so you don’t get all tied up in their lives, which keeps your mind clear for creating. You can sort the wheat from the chaff in relation to your friends and acquaintances, to protect yourself from ‘psychic suckers’, as one of my friends calls them, and toxic people. You become much better at saying NO, and not paying any attention to old ought to’s and musts….
4. There’s a sense of transcendence in that you feel much less self-conscious, because you’re basically happy with your core self. There’s much less self questioning and analysis, because of there being so much less inner conflict.
5.You care far less what people think about you or your work, because you’ve been right into the beating heart of the destructive nature of this in the past. It’s a road to nowhere, and you now know it. Because of this you may be more willing to contribute your voice and your opinions calmly, without the emotional force building-up within making you mount your soap box to propound your passionately-held theories and stances.
6. It is easier to withstand all the ‘too much information’ out there on-line and all the ‘how to’ books, including aspects I listed in a previous post. Too much information can, quite frankly, stun you with all its stinging darts, and paralyse a creative person, especially in the writing world, where you can accumulate prickles of do’s and don’ts as numerous as the spines on a hedgehog. Why is it easier to withstand it when you’re older? Well, it might be just years of experience, where time was wasted going down rabbit holes and getting stuck, or it might be a bloody-mindedness born of the frustrations of earlier years now demanding some self-care, enabling you to curl up into a tight defensive ball until the hazards are out of sight and mind. In other words, you know how to protect yourself.
7. You increasingly realise that your art, the work you do, is absolutely your vocation, come what may. It becomes part of your self, part of your very identity. In this sense it’s a form of Maslow’s self actualisation, and if you’ve been through a midlife crisis, believe me, you’ve earned this, so enjoy it.
8. Being older means more experiences to drawn from. I’d never have become a writer as a younger person. I needed to experience life and go places and feel and think a good deal in order to channel it into writing.
9. There’s a trusting in the creative process born from experience that is truly liberating.
10. Because your time in this life seems more finite now, it may be easier to make decisions, to be less confused and tied in knots over considering too many options.
11. There is a greater appreciation of your own creative style and commitment to it. And you may be in a position to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
12.You can re-evaluate success. Success isn’t really about money and fame, it’s about being true to yourself and your creative life and living according to your personal values every single day. Yes, it takes practice, the materialistic notion of success being so deeply entrenched in our western society, but with that practice, this re-evaluation can be so emancipating.
13.You don’t need to worry about retiring – because retiring is irrelevant to a creative life.
14. You can hopefully enjoy some fruits of your labour
15. Making a positive out of a negative – the only disadvantage to being a middle-aged creative that I can think of, is that you are so keenly aware that even if you live another 30 years and stay healthy, you’ll still never get through all those creative projects buzzing around inside you. But who says you’d have managed to get through them all anyway, in only one lifetime?! And this fact, you can come to terms with and focus on what is really important to you.
Quotes about aging to keep you in a healthily creative mindset
It is possible at any age to discover a lifelong desire you never knew you had. (American operatic singer, Robert Brault)
No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby, or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical, or too selfish, or too silly to work on your creativity. (writer, Julia Cameron)
The secret of genius (I’ll let him off this time with the genius word!) is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm (writer, Aldous Huxley)
None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm. (writer and philosopher, Thoreau)
At twenty we worry about what others think of us; at forty we don’t care about what others think of us; at sixty we discover they haven’t been thinking about us at all.
I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming… suddenly you find – at the age of 50, say – that a whole new life has opened before you. (writer, Agatha Christie)
To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent… that is to triumph over old age. (American writer, Thomas Bailey Aldritch)
Wishing you good health and plenty of ideas!
(pic from pixabay)