I’m going to a 50th birthday party later this week, and I’m pretty excited about helping the honoree to celebrate what Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson calls “the glorious years.”
Mature and childlike, filled with wonder and wisdom, bursting with huge, infectious energy, this person makes 50 seem like the antithesis of old.
Not that 50’s as old as it used to be, and I don’t say that just because the first digit in my age is closer to 6 than 4, either.
One of my clearest early memories is my future sister-in-law talking about her mom’s 50th birthday party and me thinking, “wow, Irene’s ancient,” clueless that my grandparents were in their 70s, my dad was 45, and the youngest-thinking adult ever, my Uncle Gordon, was almost 60 at the time.
Fifty-some years later, turning 50, and midlife in general, just doesn’t seem all that old any more. In many ways, it isn’t.
Irene’s midlife was pretty typical of women during her era. And significantly different from midlife of so many women in their 40s through 60s today.
Hers was about sewing fewer prom gowns and more wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses – and later baby clothes for grandkids – and spending less time at home in suburban Philadelphia and more at the family’s summer house on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Her biggest mid-career transitions were her husband’s retirement, their permanent move to Maryland, and leaving her part-time job as a church organist in Pennsylvania for a similar gig in Maryland.
Unlike so many mid-career women today, she wasn’t downsized or eased out at midlife. Didn’t scramble to find part-time work to supplement Social Security or to help pay for health insurance before Medicare kicked in. Wasn’t sandwiched between boomerang adult offspring and caregiving for elderly family members.
I don’t know if she longed for more meaning and purpose – it was the late sixties, I was a kid, adults didn’t talk to kids about stuff like that back then – but I know meaning and purpose are a big factors for mid-career professionals, especially women, in their 40s, 50s, and 60s today.
So what’s a 50-something – or 40-something through 60-something – professional woman to do when they’re maybe not experiencing a full-on midlife crisis but definitely in the throes of a midlife something?
In Life Reimagined, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, asserts that midlife is a place to pause and take stock and suggests these three questions to support your stock-taking.
- What will you do with these glorious years?
- What is your essence, the thing that feels to you like “this and no other” and how will that guide you?
- What are you really afraid of?
Looking back, I think my sister-in-law’s mom spent nearly all of her glorious years doing exactly the things she most wanted.
I have no doubt that my friend whose 50th we’re celebrating this week will do the same.
What about you? What do you want your glorious years to look like?
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image: Pixabay; used with permission