Childhood is the time for learning the basics - walking, talking, eating without making a mess, coloring inside the lines. Once we have mastered these things, we move into our adolescent and teen years. That's where the lessons get a little harder. We learn how to get along with others, how to resolve disputes and handle peer pressure, and we have our first experiences with love and relationships. Our twenties are spent learning how to wield our power without causing mass destruction. We learn how to be independent, and how to work and provide for ourselves. We learn how to handle ourselves on job interviews, and how to navigate adult relationships. Our thirties are when we're at our best. We're still young enough to have FUN, but we're old enough to know when we're going too far. Our focus begins to shift from keeping up with the Joneses to establishing and maintaining good credit. We're more enticed by a wonderful tropical vacation than by the newest Louis bag. Marriage, children, and career success are at the forefront of our minds. And we begin to see the wisdom in the things our mothers used to tell us. It's as if we've shed the rose-colored glasses through which we once viewed the world. And for the first time in our lives, we begin to see things clearly.
By the time we reach the milestone age of 40, I believe there are some things we should know. There are lessons we should have learned by now, experiences we should have had by this point. In order for us to make the most of the second half of our lives, we have to assess what occurred to us during the first half, and make peace with it. Now that we've reached The Middle, we should have a more intimate knowledge of ourselves, and have a healthy dose of self esteem to carry us the rest of the way. As I approach my 40th birthday, I've been self-evaluating more than ever, and these are the things I believe we should have mastered by the time we reach The Middle.
Trusting our instincts We spend a lot of time second guessing ourselves in our youth. Do we want to wear this or that? Do we want to go here or there? Should I go out with him or not? Should I break up with her or not? In my younger years, I would often dismiss that sixth sense that nagged at me when I encountered certain people. I pushed my reservations aside and moved forward with people even when the alarm in my head was loudly blaring, "RUN!". I convinced myself that I was just being overly suspicious or skeptical. But now I know the value of discernment. I don't just go around disliking people for no reason. But, now if the voice in my head warns me to keep my guard up around particular individuals, I'm wise enough to listen. I may not be able to avoid them altogether, but you can bet that my antennas are up, and I'm on alert. The older I get, the more I trust myself.
How to spend time alone One of the things that still utterly baffles me is encountering people in my age group who don't ever like to be by themselves. It is incredible to me that many people over the age of 40 have not learned to enjoy their own company. During their commute, they look around for someone - anyone! - to talk to. They pick up their cell phone to have the most mundane conversations just to avoid sitting alone with their own thoughts. They won't go to an event or even to the corner store unless someone goes with them. When they are forced to be alone, they grow anxious and even afraid! They just have not found the courage to spend time by themselves. I have encountered women who won't take an exercise class they've been eager to try unless someone else goes along with them. If I had waited around for some company whenever I wanted to do something exciting, my life would not be nearly as rich as it has been so far. By The Middle, we should be more comfortable in our own skin and we should look forward to those moments of "me-time". No one wants to be alone 100% of the time. But, some solitude is necessary for all of us every now and then. The need to be surrounded by people 24/7 is, in my opinion, an indication that you don't like yourself. And if you don't like spending time with you, why should I?
How to end a friendship When I was younger, I used to expect that my friends and I would be old ladies together, sitting in our rocking chairs telling dirty jokes. The reality is that sometimes we outgrow our friends, or they may outgrow us. Things fall apart. And when a friendship has run its course, there's a mature way to handle it. Contrary to what reality TV would have us think, there is a healthy and adult way to sever ties without causing irreparable damage. Name calling, physical violence, or sullying one another's reputation should not occur when two individuals in their 40s and beyond are going their separate ways. Instead, by now we should have learned how to effectively communicate with one another. And we should also know how to be honest with ourselves and accept when a friendship has run its course. This goes hand in hand with trusting our instincts.
How to resolve differences like an adult While talking with my (adult) "kids" recently, they asked me if I thought I could hypothetically win a fight against a lady in our neighborhood. We all laughed at the thought of it. I found it particularly comical because I would never dream of getting into a physical altercation with anyone at this point in my life. If I did, the situation would have to be EXTREME! I answered them by saying, "She could probably kick my a$$ in a physical fight. But in an argument, I would verbally annihilate her!" By The Middle, we should know how to use our words to effectively communicate with one another. The younger me may have been ready to fight if I was disrespected. The wiser me has learned that that's not necessary. In fact, if the other party is particularly belligerent, I won't even waste my time arguing with them. A wise man once said, "Never argue with a fool, because from a distance people can't tell who is who." So if the opposing party is an idiot, I walk away and leave them to their idiocy. Otherwise, I'm verbally adept enough to get my point across without resorting to "hoodrat" behavior.
Knowing what we won't tolerate By The Middle, we should be clear on what we will and will not tolerate from people. Whether it's a friend, coworker, one of our children, a spouse, or a potential mate, we have to have clear boundaries. One of the marks of a mature woman is her ability to say no without apology. Younger women tend to be pleasers, always eager for approval and validation. But older and wiser women don't care who may be offended. They make their preferences known and are unapologetic about wanting what they want when they want it. Life is too short to put up with less than we deserve. Sadly, some people are so determined not to be alone (see 'How to spend time alone') that they tolerate much, much more than they ought to.
How to be a good listener Women LOVE to talk! With all of the emotions we wrestle with on a daily basis, it's no wonder that we chatter on and on whenever we get together. Once we feel comfortable with one another, it's very easy to speak freely about what's on our hearts and minds. But by the time we reach The Middle, we should learn how to take the word "I" and put it on the shelf long enough to lend an ear to a friend when they need it. Sometimes people don't want to hear about what happened to you, or that you had a similar experience. Instead of feedback, all they want is a sounding board - someone to hear them without interrupting and adding our own drama to the mix. There is something so valuable and treasured about a good listener. Being one makes it more likely that people will return the favor when you need it.
How to embody "Grown & Sexy" You know what I hate? When I'm going out with a group of women (WOMEN, not girls), and one of them calls and asks, "What are you wearing?"
Maybe as young ladies, we were unsure what attire is appropriate for certain events. But as grown women, we should know what the occasion calls for. If you and the ladies are heading out for a night on the town, it shouldn't matter if your friend is planning to wear a dress, hot pants or a catsuit. That's her business. Her outfit choice will reflect her style. You should have your own style, and what you put on should reflect your own unique aesthetic. We're too mature for the "let's dress alike" thing. So do you! A mature woman in The Middle should know what to wear to a cocktail party, a wine tasting, a brunch, a wedding, or any other event that comes across her social calendar. When an invitation calls for us to dress "grown and sexy", we shouldn't have to call the promoter for clarification. In fact, we should instinctively know that flip-flops, sneakers or Timberlands are NOT what anyone would describe as grown or sexy. Once we've reached The Middle, we ought to know what's appropriate and what's not.
How to laugh at ourselves Pride. It's a gift and a curse. On the positive side, pride in one's accomplishments, surroundings, and appearance are great qualities to have. On the negative side, pride can build a wall between us and the people we love if we're not careful. One of attributes of which I'm most proud is my ability to laugh at myself. It wasn't something I knew instinctively. When I was a little girl, the other kids made fun of me for being short. It used to upset me until my father pointed out that I am short, and there's really nothing that I could do to change it. Once I accepted it, I was able to stop taking it personally. It made it easier to laugh along when the joke was truly funny. I learned to embrace the nicknames (Small Change, Shorty Doo Wop, Half Pint, etc) and I learned not to take myself so seriously. Thankfully, it was a lesson I learned early in life. But there are many adults who still suffer from such low self esteem that they can't take a joke. By The Middle, we shouldn't be so uptight anymore. Being lighthearted is an attribute that people gravitate toward, and the ability to laugh at ourselves is a sign of a healthy self image.
The good news is that The Middle is a great place to change direction. If we're not happy with the way we're going, we can change course. If we haven't achieved the level of self awareness and self love that we ought to, it's not too late to fix that. The first half of anything is a learning experience. Life is no different. By The Middle, we are becoming pros at it, gaining more expertise with each passing day. Growing, learning, evolving, and loving every minute of it.