I read this morning that Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger are separating after 25 years of marriage. A separation is always sad news, even those ones which clearly need to happen, toll the ending of a hope which was formed when the relationship began.
I am particularly moved by Maria’s situation as this separation comes just a few months after the death of her father, Sargent Shriver, and less than two years after her mother’s passing. And apparently Maria has recently been touring colleges with one of her children so on top of all the other changes… the nest is emptying even more.
No wonder Ms. Shriver recently posted a YouTube video asking people to share the three things they did to get through their own life transitions.
Transition is a kind word for the tsunami of change which this woman is facing.
It is my experience that something happens when a woman in her fifties looses both parents in a short time. In my case I felt pushed off the bench and onto the field. This surprised me as I had believed myself to be an active player before my parents died. On this new field where I found myself I had a clear unobstructed view, where my parents had once stood between me and an unknown edge now I looked out into infinity alone.
I was bewildered by this but also intensely stimulated to understand what my purpose was now? I began to ask questions about everything. Questions like the one Maria asks in her You Tube video “what is the impact you want to have?” One of the questions that came up for me was what is a woman’s role in society after menopause? I began to interview women between 45 and 102 years of age to find the answer and four years later I published my first book Fifty& Fabulous! The Best Years of a Woman’s Life.
That was my transition and today I realize that transitions are endless and that we will cross them best when we listen to the questions that arise, reflect and let the answers inform our next steps.
Women 50 plus are transition specialists. Which is why my wise mentor, Joan Erikson, did not hesitate to remind us that we must be willing to begin again and again over the course of a lifetime, and when you think about it that is exactly what we do. Because we know life moves in a continuous cycle that we are intimately attached to, a cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. This cycle moves our body rhythms every month. We see it in the children we raise, the communities we grow, the relationships we nurture; we are creatures of the changing life cycle. But even so there are times when the shift within the cycle is enormous. Life past fifty may just be one of those times as the structures we were shaped by and we have shaped start to alter even crumble, our families of birth, our families we birthed, our work and friendships and intimate relationships are all up for grabs in the changing world around us.
Change is not variable it is constant. The variable is you—your acceptance or resistance of that change.
We have lots of practice beginning again and again. We have been married, divorced, and remarried, we have birthed and raised and then empty-nested, we have been hired, fired, and rehired, born in one country, raised in another, and living in a third. We have sometimes failed and sometimes succeeded but always kept going. We have endured loss that has changed the landscape of our lives and hearts forever, and still we have kept going. This is what women do because it is in our nature to flow with life. Oh sure we have moments of resistance, moments when we just feel too darn tired to get up and keep going but through history we have kept up the fight to look after the world, one person at a time.
But now perhaps as we walk out on the terrain of our life past fifty years, maybe it is time to look after ourselves first. Is this selfishness? No this is what we come to with the wisdom of years lived. When this happens and we give time to our self discovery, self-knowledge and wisdom speak clearly and from open hearts—the results are simple, direct, powerful, and kind.
Maria has asked for help with change and transition and here is my three point list for all the Marias out there who are feeling the change happen:
1. Check in with yourself; find out how the girl in you grew up.
In the busy “doing” we can lose track of what we have become. We will be wonderfully surprised by the talents and skills and wisdom our life experience has grown. Don’t forget to include your values and beliefs in this self inventory. Some are forever, others we may have outgrown and they just don’t suit us anymore, we have in our wisdom formed new ones without even realizing this change has happened. The struggle to keep up to the old ways while living unaware of what has changed within our perspective is confusing at best and exhausting at its worst moments.
2. Take a look at the evaluative scale with which you are assessing your current and future life.
Is it a scale which suits the stage of life in which you now find yourself or are you using a scale which served you well in the past, say in your thirties and forties but just is not appropriate for the fifties and on? Thirty year olds who evaluate life to ten year olds criteria- eat way too much ice cream and skate board to work, OK that sounds pretty good but the chances of settling a good job and beginning a family are slim. Each stage of life has its own unique energy and if you are going to tap into that energy flow you need to be evaluating your success with criteria which is appropriate to the time.
3. Assess your attitude towards, and the perspective you have, on life at your current age.
When we are younger we often look forward to the next stage of life so when change happens we approach it with a more positive view because we are positive about the future in which it will play out. A funny thing happens when we turn fifty …all of a sudden we no longer look forward to our next birthday, we try to postpone it perhaps even lie about it! We are then filtering all the events of our daily life through a perspective which is negative because we view our future negatively.
All the effort that goes into fear of aging and strategies to delay it is energy misspent—but still spent. It will exhaust you, and you will end up without the resources you need. If we don’t have a positive outlook on the destination, where do we get the energy to keep going?
Ask yourself, “What is it I am resisting today besides my age?” You may find it is the very change that will free you.
In her call for tips on how to manage transition Ms Shriver says “it is stressful not to know what you are doing next”. Yes it is but those spots of indecision and lack of direction are also rest spots designed for your reflection and to regroup your strength. I believe that is why Nature has generously given women this significant physiological event, menopause, to mark the gateway into the rest of our lives. Yes, those hot flashes are really warning lights. Perhaps the word menopause was originally created to suggest a time to pause for a moment—to think, evaluate, and assess. Without menopause we might slip into the 50+ years without realizing we are on the threshold of a new era and we have some preparation to do, we might keep going without taking this time to harvest the knowledge that will nourish the rest of our lives.
Perhaps the energy drain of grief is yet another rest spot presented to us so we can pause.
We can take that pause any time we need to ladies, sip tea or wine, hold up in a hotel alone and spend some time in good company… ourselves.
And then… in the words of Maria’s favorite poet, Mary Oliver, from her poem, from The Journey, (Listen to Ms Oliver read The Journey at the Women’s Conference on YouTube)
”One day you finally knew what you had to do and began….”
Ms Oliver goes on in that poem to say that as “you leave the voices of others behind”, as we grow more and more into our own way we begin to hear a new voice “which you slowly recognized as your own” That new voice will always be with you as you go on and begin again and again “determined to do the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.” …your own.
We celebrate every woman in transition, making her way to a new future and we can’t wait to see what that future brings to her and the world around her.
Please share what you have done to manage life’s transitional moments and maybe Ms Shriver will find our words.
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