Rediscover Your Self: How to Create Meaning in Middle Life and Beyond
written by Shan Watts
Fulfillment, happiness, meaning. To be really truly fulfilled in life we have to experience pleasure, we need to pursue activities that we regard as worthwhile, and we have to have meaning in our lives. Many people, particularly women who are experiencing some kind of radical change in their lives such as children leaving home, retirement, retrenchment or divorce feel that there has to be MORE to life and query whether their whole self-worth is wrapped up in their families, their role as a spouse, their paid work. When radical changes take place in areas in which we’ve invested a lot of ourselves, we’re left with wondering who we really are when we’re not being of service. Where did we lose sight of ourselves and the things that really speak to our hearts? How do we find ‘us’ and what thrills us to the core again?
Feeling like this can be overwhelming when you’ve spent literally years living your life for and through others. When you finally get some time to yourself you don’t know what to do with it. You’re so used to spending every spare second with those you love or thinking about what the next thing on the ‘to do’ list is, that even if you think of having some spare time you don’t know what you’d like to do with it.
Over the years you somehow lose your sense of who you are, what you relate most to, the things that you, as an incredibly special woman, love to see,
hear and be part of.
My daughter was born prematurely and spent the first four weeks of her life in hospital. When I finally got to bring her home, I consciously gave up listening to music, something I’d previously adored. The reason was simple. A’s cry was so weak that if I had any kind of music playing and I was in another room, I was terrified that I wouldn’t hear her. As a first –time mother, the idea of her crying and me not being there for her immediately struck terror into my heart. I made the only logical decision I felt was reasonable at the time – I stopped listening to music and started listening to her instead.
When I was admitted to hospital because of ill health during my pregnancy, I left all of my jewelry at home. For the two weeks that I was bedridden prior to her birth, I wore no jewelry, no make-up or nail polish. I’d never slathered the makeup on, but had always loved to adorn myself and took great pride in my nails. By the time A and I got home, I was so tired, so anxious and had so much to do in terms of caring for my family that I didn’t have time any more for the things that used to make me feel more feminine and added to my self-confidence.
How do we then move forward?
Slowly, insidiously, we often give up things that make up who “we” are and when that particular phase of our life is over, we’re left with a big hole to fill but have no idea what to fill it with. Time has moved on and you’re no longer the woman you used to be, the things that used to be of interest no longer appeal, but you have no idea what does! Fortunately there are many ways to explore who you are now and what speaks to your heart.
The first step is to rediscover who YOU are. Not you as a wife, mother, daughter or even best friend: YOU as an individual, as a woman with many years of experience and wisdom, passions, yearnings and desires. This is your chance to explore far and wide to discover what you really love today – right here, right now.
You can do this in many enjoyable ways:
- read books, see films and journal how you feel about them – either in text or by creating art
- join book clubs and discuss what the books mean to you, hear others points of view and expand your mind through discussion
- take up something creative like painting, drawing or ceramics
- start a scrapbook of the things that make your heart sing – colours, textures, beautiful ornaments, furnishings, clothing and go from there.
- take yourself out on coffee dates in beautiful places and people watch.
- join women’s circles for companionship, discussion and other things that make your heart sing such as meditation, exercise, craftwork and outings.
- think back to the dreams and goals you used to have and see which of these still moves you and investigate what steps you need to take to pursue them now. The trick is not to discount ANY of them that really speak to you now.
- ask around and find a great hairdresser and work with them to find a hairstyle that really expresses who you are today.
The Joy of Rediscovering YOU!
This can mean setting new boundaries.
- When adult children keep asking you to do the same old stuff (washing, cooking, picking up something from the shop for them) and you want to finish that incredible book you’ve borrowed from the library because it has you under its spell, gently but firmly tell them that you would prefer to continue with what you’re doing and that you’re sure they’re able to do it themselves.
- If you’ve decided to start meditating but the phone is always ringing off the hook, take it off the hook or divert it to voicemail.
- If you’ve discovered a course that interests you but it would mean you won’t be there to cook a meal for your partner, provide them with the ingredients for something really easy and a recipe so that they can do it themselves. Note here that I didn’t say cook extra – they’re just as capable of cooking wonderful meals as you are. (Something I recently discovered myself with much joy!)
Remain open to possibilities and refuse to be stereotyped. You may very well be a lot older than the last time you had the freedom to pursue the things you love, but that’s even MORE of a reason to get out and start doing it. Life is short! When you reconnect or discover your loves, your likes and what leaves you cold, you get clearer about the stuff that’s important – the things you want to achieve, the stuff you yearn to experience, the things you want to find out more about, what makes your heart sing and puts a permanent smile on your face.
Reclaiming Your Individual Power
You come to value yourself as an individual a whole lot more and this, in turn, sets a wonderful example for others. You no longer tolerate people thinking you’re present purely to cater to their whims and needs and begin to assert yourself as a person who has their own values, dreams and desires. It doesn’t matter what those desires are: whether it’s to be the very best composter you can be or to climb Mt Everest – what’s important is that the desire is important to YOU and you realise your value and your right to pursue and achieve it.
Rediscovering yourself IS going to mean re-educating people and having the courage to step out on your own, stand your ground and get others to be more self-sufficient and respecting of your time and space. It’s an incredibly scary and liberating process. The thing is, you don’t have to do it all at once.
It starts with one teeny, weeny step and that’s the decision to rediscover what makes your heart sing and redefine a new purpose in your life.
Make a promise to yourself, right now, that as soon as you finish reading, you’re going to take one little step towards bringing more joy and meaning to your life today, even if it’s just spending five minutes thinking about it and writing out your ideas. Plant that seed now and enjoy the fruits that it brings long into the future. You’re worth it, you deserve it and you CAN do it!
Do you find it difficult to identify what that one tiny thing should be to get you started? Shan thrives on offering mini coaching sessions of 15 minutes at a time to help identify and set your goal. You can then go off and implement it and you and she can analyse the results together in order to decide what your next step should be. Interested? Find out more at www.shanwatts.com.
Shan is the modern day equivalent of a renaissance woman, having done everything from car detailing to establishing a very successful Clinical Hypnotherapy and Life Coaching business.
She’s an expressive spirit who is passionate about connection and helping others to identify what speaks to their heart, assisting them to working out how to pursue those things and create a happier and more fulfilling life as a result.