By Leigh Morrow
Leigh Morrow and Crystal Buchan, Vancouver-based co-authors of Just Push Play– On Midlife, an interactive life-mapping program for midlife women, have created Wabi Women Radio. The title comes from the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, an aesthetic of imperfection and transience; Wabi Women Radio is mapping a new midlife and beyond, seeking a longer, healthier, happier, more playful and purposeful third chapter of life.
When I was around 58 I hit a fork in the road. Not a surprise, but one that definitely stopped me cold. My recollection was that I started feeling rudderless, something new for me.
My role as Mom had radically changed with our only child at University, three thousand miles away. My work partner and dear friend had died suddenly of ovarian cancer, and my husband and I were care taking his Mom, who was showing clear signs of dementia. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed or danced or felt creative. I was front and centre in a fork in my midlife road.
A fork in the road reveals two paths available for us to travel. It’s a metaphor for a major decision about to be made. How many of you have also felt this? This fork in the road requires us to do some soul searching. Crystal and I think it is purposely positioned in our middle years, to cause us to stop and take a breath. It’s a time to regroup before continuing on, especially if we are to choose the path that will give us more “life-gevity,” as we call it, for the years ahead.
We certainly have a choice as to which path we will choose to follow in this third chapter of our life. Yet many of us think our future is pretty much how it was for our mothers and grandmothers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you are like us, we hit this age and found too many things had lost their lustre. What we had strived for and achieved as younger women no longer held the same appeal. Maybe some of you reading this admit the hard climb up the proverbial ladder was not as advertised. Many of us have sacrificed so much for professional status, only to find the view at the top is less than enthralling. Maybe you are like us, searching secretly, or openly, for more meaning, even just more playful and creative days ahead.
Crystal and I began re-assessing our midlife because the path we saw for us as older women was pointing where we had no desire to go. The old rules, how we were to act, how we were to think, were sadly outdated. We had no desire to climb into the box that gets pushed over the hill. We did not wish to follow our mothers and grandmothers into collective silencing and invisibility. The liberated life we had as younger women, breast pumping at work, demanding and getting equal pay for equal work, and sowing the workplace with the seeds of job-sharing for when our babies arrived, had now led us to our midlife with its antiquated rules for aging females that applied more to our mother’s mother than to us. We were seeing how very little has changed in North American culture when it comes to ageism. We found this country is no country for old women. Ageism is the last frontier to be challenged and it is significantly worse for women than for men.
Wabi Women, women like us, are challenging the old road posts, as we map the new frontier for longevity and choose a different path for our future. We will leave the well trodden road of conventional midlife, and travel up the new path of possibilities.
But this will require us to do some unpacking of our lives. Wabi Women like us did not follow our mother’s rules for dating, marriage and motherhood, and we are not content to follow the outdated prescribed path of declining contribution, respect, health and value.
Midlife is a decision marker for most of us to decide which fork to travel on. Wabi Women will choose to look differently at this midlife stop. Crystal and I believe midlife and beyond afford us three new possibilities. Our fork in the road allows us to change course and embrace the power these new opportunities offer us.
This age and stage of life offers a new freedom.
Our obligations shift at home as our not-so-baby birds leave the nest, and even if they boomerang back, the dance has changed and we have new freedom from our family duties. Like us, you may want to use this time to re-wire vs. retire. We decided to use this new freedom to write a book together, which has now birthed our radio shows. It has been a well of creativity and has made our days so much brighter, hoping – and then hearing – we are helping other midlife women on the journey.
You, too, may bravely answer that whisper of your heart to do something completely different with your days with the new freedom time permits. This new freedom can also be a change of mindset. Pleasing everyone, trying to be perfect, or never saying no, as many women have been programmed, finally shifts and we cease to worry so much about choosing self-love first and what other people may say about us.
This new freedom in midlife affords us a chance to ask, perhaps for the first time, what is important to me, right now? The fork in the road allows us the wonderful opportunity to take inventory. Personally, I shared Crystal’s deep thirst to be more creative, and our co-writing of our first book was a great long tall drink of water.
I also wanted to be much more grateful for the wonderful job my body had been doing. I hadn’t been thanking it as often as I should. I started with a new pledge to treat myself better. I’m trying to be more gentle with myself, and more mindful of the phrase, “we are what we eat”. I’m on the fourth month of a mainly plant based diet, and closely following in the dietary footsteps of the longest living women on the planet, those amazing centenarians living in the blue zone of Okinawa.
I silently start each meal with a three-word reminder – hara hachi bu, the time-honoured Japanese idea of only eating till you are 80 percent full, using smaller plates as generations before us did, and being more mindful as I eat. This practice has changed my body, made it stronger and more reflective of the woman I feel I am inside. I run almost every day, and feel gratitude on those kilometres, for knees and hips that seem happy and content, and a back that will support me in my later years. I have corralled this new freedom to add life-gevity to my days, and making my pro-health rituals habitual, adding longevity as well.
The second awareness our fork in the road presents to those who take time to pause here, is what we call new simplicity.
We no longer have the same material desires we did as younger women. The clean bare simplicity of an uncluttered room gives me joy, all the more after dismantling bulging homes left for me to clean up by my parents and in-laws on their deaths.
My new simplicity allows me to live quite frugally, to recycle, and reuse to the extreme, and never being a big shopper, I contentedly wait for what I need to show up in one of my favorite thrift stores. I’m finding I’m quite over “stuff” and consciously paring down.
Creating space, physically, also creates space mentally, to let new projects and interests take root. Creative play can’t happen if there is no room for it. Making room for what’s important now may mean letting go of not just possessions, but priorities and even people. This might sound harsh, but if you are not feeling the love, it’s time to say goodbye. People, like possessions, may have served their importance in your life. Thank them and wish them well. It’s time to let new energy in to fuel your next chapter.
The third awareness in our fork in the midlife road is what we call new horizons.
These are the possibilities that open to us as we age. We will live longer than any other generation before us. In North America we are a privileged generation with more education, more wealth and more opportunities than any other group of women. Our new horizon can take us places earlier generations only fantasized; however, it must embrace our age. We cannot think that we are somehow diminished as we grow older. The pursuit of youth at all costs is erasing our existence. Some years back, Oscar winner Frances McDormand was interviewed by Katie Couric on the topic of aging and cosmetic procedures. McDormand said her untouched face was a road map of her life, and to alter your face “erases everything” – “I’m happy with the way I look and how I age.”
Ageism is the next tide to crest for women. This is the last hurdle and the one that will realize our full potential. As baby boomers, we changed the rules as we grew up. We devised a new game plan at home, at work; now in our later years we need to do the same thing. Who better to mother this trouble world than us? As the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the Western woman.” We like to think this fork in the road has the potential to be a game changer as we navigate this new third chapter of life. It is our time to shine brightly as the Wabi Women we are.
If you want to hear the complete episode of “Fork in the Road”, download the podcast on our website (www.jppMidlife.com). We hope you can listen from your Mexican hammock! In Canada, Wabi Women Radio is live-streamed on Mondays at 2:00 PM CST at CFRO (100.5 FM), Vancouver Co Op Radio.
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer, who has a rental home in San Agustinillo.