For some, midlife can feel like a balancing act. Like three quarters of women, you may experience unpleasant menopause symptoms. And this transition can all-too-often coincide with professional challenges — it might be feeling aged out of your job; it could be stepping into a significant role that requires you to be performing at your best. For others, it might be finally having the financial independence to launch a solo enterprise or switch careers — life events that carry a whole heap of challenges of their own.
In this time of life, it can be tempting to lean towards ‘coping strategies’. But what if these years could actually be some of the most inspiring, productive and fulfilling of your life? They absolutely can, says Karen Davis — everywomanAmbassador and author of The Time of Your Life: The Ultimate Women’s Guide to Living Midlife Brilliantly — and in fact, having a ‘power decade’ starts with integrating these four pillars of purpose into your life.
Pillar one: health
Create a health action plan. If menopause symptoms are impacting your ability to lead the life you want, visit your GP or search for menopause advice online. There is far more available than just HRT these days. And if HRT does turn out to be the right thing for you, there’s much more awareness around that too. If you are peri-menopausal, start noting down any regular symptoms you experience. It can be helpful to look at lists of recognised symptoms, ticking off any you experience and checking back regularly to see if anything has changed. Identifying symptoms is the first step to seeking the targeted help you need.
It won’t come as a surprise that exercise is proven to improve mood and mental wellbeing. However, a recent study showed that almost 50% of women don’t exercise regularly or vigorously enough, with ‘lack of time’ and ‘low motivation’ cited as common reasons. If you struggle to find the time to exercise, try stacking it on top of something you already do. Walking meetings have become increasingly popular in the past few years — as well as getting you moving, evidence shows that walking fosters creative thinking and more productive work output.
Pillar two: creativity
When was the last time you did a creative activity outside of work? Doing something creative can put us in a state of ‘flow’: the feeling of being fully present in the moment and not distracted by anything else. If you don’t already have one, find a creative outlet that will allow you to feel in the ‘flow’. This can be anything: painting, colouring, photography, singing in a choir, needlework, crafting, writing, decorating or reorganising an area of your home, or anything else that requires your full focus.
Pillar three: volunteering
The warm, fuzzy feeling associated with ‘giving back’ is well-documented, but that’s not the only reason that taking on a voluntary role is beneficial in your power decade. The British Medical Journal has published research that points to tangible mental benefits of volunteering that are specific to volunteers over the age of 40. Giving back in midlife can make you feel good, expose you to new and different viewpoints and is now easier than ever. You can volunteer remotely, in-person, or even incorporate it into a holiday, so do put aside some time for looking for opportunities you could try out.
Pillar four: your dreams
In his bestselling novel The Chimp Paradox, Steve Peters outlines an exercise called ‘The Stone of Life’. It’s an effective way to work out which values and truths define who you are now, so that you can recalibrate your life accordingly.
Take some time to reflect on what you believe to be your truths in life. These are statements about how you believe the world works, with evidence and proof to back them up. For example, one of your truths might be that ‘Life is not fair’. If you try to live by this truth, it will cause you less upset and angst when something unjust happens in your life. Whilst this is much easier said than done, the more you establish this as a truth, the better you will get at accepting unfair events.
The values on your Stone of Life cannot be proven; rather they act as moral guides for the way you want to live your life. A common example might be that ‘Lying is bad’. You can’t prove this, as ‘bad’ is subjective, but you can use this value as a personal point of reference for how you want to live your life.
Finally, your Stone of Life contains your ‘Life Force’. Imagine you are on your deathbed and your great-grandchild asks, ‘What should I do with my life?’ Take a few minutes to work out what your answer would be. Whatever your advice to that child, this should be what guides your own life from this point forward.
Use this exercise to take stock of your current lifestyle and plan any changes you need to make to live life to the fullest. For example, you may continue working for several decades — so what job would make you most happy in the future? What actions do you need to take to get there?