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Why everyone needs a midlife manifesto.

That was then… “Crumpets face inwards” …was stamped on my toaster.

How come the most mundane domestic appliance comes with instructions but midlife doesn’t? Midlife. A small but loaded word.

Look in the mirror right now. For a whole minute. Really look into your eyes. Are you the person you thought you would be? Are you the person you want to be? Am I the only one looking at my midlife reflection thinking, “Is this it?”

Jane Mathews -author

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It can hit you with a smack or it can sneak up behind you. The catalyst that makes you realise things have irrevocably changed. You have reached midlife and there’s no going back. The boom gate is lowering!

For me it was a perfect storm. The hurricane of finding myself lost in an increasingly toxic marriage followed by divorce and the death of my mother (my father and sister were already gone), while juggling two teenage children, getting back into the workforce and dealing with spiralling blood pressure – along with the gentle poke from the god of small things. Like letting the aeroplane seat belt out longer than I ever thought possible (there must have been a very, very small child sitting in the seat before me).

And seeing a multi-chinned Shar Pei photo of myself. And having the words “dementia” light up, the size of the Hollywood sign, every time I forgot something. And being reduced to tears by the Christian the lion YouTube video. And becoming a foul-mouthed harridan in traffic. And then there’s the hair thing. Chewbacca on a good day.

Chewbacca. On a good day.

Grey hair doubling as fuse wire. And not just on my head. In my eyebrows, on my chin. Marvellous. I have become The Bearded Lady.

But this is irrelevant as I am officially invisible. A whole generation of midlife women wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. (My personal best is being ignored by five, (five!), shop assistants at one counter in a Sydney department store.) Who’d have thought? Midlife has crept up on me like a body snatcher. Midlife at the oasis. I watch the top of my arms taking on a life of their own as I wave goodbye. A fruit bat in drag. Bits keep moving after I’ve stopped. I hear the siren call of elastic waists, of Birkenstocks, bifocals, naps and Crocs. But I still feel thirty inside. I need to find a way out and back to myself.

Shifting from automatic to manual

We live the first part of our lives on automatic. Childhood, university, job, marriage and children all march in line like soldiers. This was vividly illustrated at my daughter’s school’s open day when she was seven. The children had to write the story of their lives. One of them caught my eye. It went along the lines of “I‘ll go to school, then to university, get married, have children, then die.” Super.

So I guess we’re in that sliver of time between having children and dying! Better make the most of it then, and I’m not sure if doing it on “automatic” will cut it. If the first half of our lives is dictated to us, the beauty of the second half is that it is in our hands. To use a plane analogy, we finally get to have first dibs at the oxygen mask, putting ourselves first. We are in control of our destiny, not the other way round.

We are the conductors, the ringmasters, the captains of our ship. The past is irrelevant and I just don’t see the point of pulling at the threads of it. Throw the bad stuff in the river, like Winnie the Pooh and his friends did with their Pooh sticks and watch them float away.

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Winnie the Pooh playing Pooh sticks

The world has finished with your past – if you have. I know the past influences us, and we can’t change it, but we can influence the future.Time to shift to manual, ladies.

 Do more than just fill in the dash

We all will have a dash – the dash between when we’re born and when we die – for me, say, 1961-2043, assuming I live to be 82 (the average life expectancy for a woman in Australia). So it’s all about how you fill that dash, another 30-odd summers. Here’s a graphic way to demonstrate it.

Get a piece of paper. Draw a line across the middle. The bottom half represents how much of our lives we have already lived, so shade it out. Then draw a line in the remaining section one third across. That represents how much time we will spend asleep, so shade that bit out too. Then draw another line a third across. That space represents how much time we will spend doing chores (driving, supermarket shopping, cleaning, having a shower, waiting in the queue on the phone to Telstra, etc). Now shade that bit out as well. That small empty rectangle is all that we have left.

On the one hand it’s sobering. On the other hand carpe- bloody-diem. I know that technically I’ve crested the arc, but I refuse to let the days slip by, pleating into one another, blotting up time. We still have a lot of living to do! (If you are one of the few people who haven’t heard of it, have a look at the internet phenomenon that is The Dash poem by Linda Ellis at www.linda- ellis.com

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Why no Life Plan already?

Like most women I know, I am a virtuoso list maker and planner. So it’s odd, really, that for someone who spends so much time planning and writing lists, and doing stuff, largely for other people, I hadn’t spent any time writing a plan for my life. And what could be more important than that? I needed a plan. Preferably a “cunning plan” to quote Blackadder (“A plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.”) So I looked for a book to guide me.

I went to bookstores, both real and virtual, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. I wonder if I am the only person who feels very self-conscious in the self-help section of the bookshop? I am sure there is a large flashing neon arrow hovering above me shouting, “Jane is self-absorbed, has issues and low self-esteem!” I spent about one bottle of Jo Malone (or three pairs of Crocs or a dozen bottles of Sauvignon Blanc’s) worth on books that I thought would help, but I should have saved my money. They fell into two types – the annoying autobiographical ones of women travelling “on a journey” to find themselves, and the bullshit ones. Both infuriated me.

Am I alone in wanting to slap smuggins living in Tuscany or on a Greek island, waist-deep in productive olive?groves, uncovering medieval frescoes (not rising ?damp) in their kitchens and not being ripped off?by the local builders? Really? Down, Green-Eyed ?Monster, down boy. A friend of mine actually ?admitted she went to Italy to see if one well-known ?lady author lived up to her hyperbole, and she ?(rather stalkishly) tracked down her house.

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Ahh Tuscany. Via flickr

I am? not sure if I was disappointed or happy to hear that, yes, as she cast a gimlet eye over the happy throng, the doyenne was having a picture-perfect al fresco lunch in the dapply shade of an apple tree with red-and-white-checked table cloths, eating effortlessly beautiful food washed down by carafes of local wine, having a fine old time with her chums. Good for her – but of no help or relevance to me. And then there’s the other sort. With some notable exceptions so much bullshit, so little “meat”, and so painfully badly written. My local op shop did well that day.

If you Google “Life plan for midlife women” you get about five million results, mostly about losing weight. Five million sounds like a lot until you Google “how to make a cup of tea” and get one hundred million results. I kid you not. So no luck on the internet either. Better write it myself then. “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castaneda

Jane's book.

Midlife Manifesto – A summary of how it works

A manifesto is a declaration of what you believe in. The Midlife Manifesto is more than that. It is a comprehensive life plan designed to lay out a clear path to take you from where you are now, to living the life you imagine. Often we are steered off the course that we were meant to be on. The plan helps you identify what that course is, so that what you want becomes what you have. Along the way you’ll consider all aspects of your life, and incorporate elements into your plan.

The word “manifesto” is derived from the Latin word “manifestum” which means “clear”. By the end of this book, that is how you should feel. Clear about where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. The answers are in you already – there’s just a cloud covering them at the moment. The process is straightforward and simple. After some starting exercises to open your mind, you’ll go on to define your vision. There are seven chapters covering different aspects of your life:

Relationships, Your Body, Your Spiritual Self, Interests, Your home, Personal Style, Financial Independence.

ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

Each chapter will take you through some thought-provoking ideas to help attain your vision. I’ll tell you what helped me. There are no rules andnothing is mandatory! Some ideas will resonate more than others. I have tried to make it honest, practical and inspiring, which is what I’d be looking for in a plan like this.

Our lives have many different compartments, like a bento box, and all of them are covered. At the end of each chapter, there’s space to write down what strikes a chord with you. There’s also a space to write what action you’ll take immediately(in the next 48 hours), as a catalyst for change. As Martin Luther King put it, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just the first step.”

In the final chapter your thoughts are gathered to form the basis of your own life plan – your Midlife Manifesto. As your life changes, so your plan will change too, but it should still remain a bedrock and companion to your midlife transformation.

I wish you well.

This is an extract from Jane Mathews' book 'Midlife Manifesto.'
It has been republished here with full permission. To find out more about the book click here.

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