By Kate Sanner
Mid-life has often been defined in terms of chronological age but theorists have also defined mid-life by the developmental tasks associated with it. For example, according to one developmental theory, in young adulthood (early 20’s to 40), our developmental task is to create lasting and meaningful relationships (as a friend, spouse, partner or parent). During this time, we also embark upon a career and work our way up the ladder. The focus is on our own sphere of influence – our family, peer group and colleagues. Another theorist posited that in young adulthood, we are in a phase of striving, building, acquiring and conquering.
These theories also go on to say that in mid-life (40-60 or 65), our developmental task is to look for – and hopefully find – deep satisfaction in the relationships and careers we have created in young adulthood. In mid-life, we extend our focus beyond the boundaries of intimate and work relationships to our communities, our nation and our world…to all humankind. We take on the role of the states person and we look for the ways in which we can be of service to others.
However, when theorists have developed norms, they have generally been based on data collected on men. So when I hear that in mid-life I will now begin to be of service to others, I have to laugh, wondering what I have been doing for the last 50 years! The truth is, as women in mid-life, we were raised with different expectations than our male contemporaries. .
Mid-life women, especially those born early in the Baby Boomer generation, were raised without the benefit of open access to sports and athleticism. This denied us the opportunity to really learn how to appreciate our physical body for its strength and stamina rather than just for its physical beauty. And if we didn’t have physical beauty or a shapely figure, then we were out of luck.
As for working our way up the ladder and forging ahead in our careers when we were in young adulthood…well, maybe that could have happened if we had equal access to all the professions (and there were no glass ceiling). Mid-life women were often raised with the assumption that we were not qualified for certain careers, for example, those in mathematics and science. When I was a freshman in undergraduate school, there was one woman registered in the school of engineering at the large state university I attended. Many of us tended to pick traditional careers because these were the only possibilities we saw for ourselves.
And because we have often stopped and re-started our careers to meet the demands of parenting, our chances for career advancement (and job retention for that matter) were very slim. The truth is the playing field wasn’t level – and still isn’t for that matter.
Now we can bemoan the fact that we had limited opportunities as young women or we could blame sexism and discrimination and stay in our current condition. Or we can realize that we can have a do-over of sorts. We can start by saying “It’s my turn!”…”It’s our turn!” We can embrace the fact that there are now so many opportunities and that all that stops us from embracing them is fear or a lack of self-confidence. With the right information, the right guidance and the right mindset that we deserve to be more, do more and have more, we can start new careers, launch businesses, write books, or fulfill any lifelong…or new found…ambitions. All we need to do is claim it, be open to the possibilities and take our turn. The way to accomplish what we desire will appear.
I do have to give the theorists credit for this: mid-life can be a wonderful time of regeneration. If we as women in mid-life give ourselves permission to take our turn, it can be a time of great satisfaction as well as incredible growth. And rather than being the beginning of a slide downhill, mid-life can truly be a time of hitting our stride … maybe for the first time in our lives.