Turning a midlife crisis into a creative manifesto
Unfortunately, a big chunk of my life has been spent following orders, or doing what was expected. Once I entered the institutions of learning, I towed the line. Attended classes, completed homework, took the tests. Year after year. After all the grades were completed, I took a gap year and worked full-time, living on my own. This forced me to realize that a full-time salary from a retail sector job was not going to cut it. I was convinced I needed to have a job which earned more money.
So began my post-secondary education. Probably the most unconventional thing I did was to leave University after just a year, in favour of a technical program offered at college. I couldn’t stomach a theoretical education where I felt I was learning something to prove I could learn, rather than the course material being of intrinsic value to a job I might one day have.
After having a really rewarding, hands-on college experience, I expected to enter into working situations which were equally fantastic. Yes, I was naïve. My first years, working in my field, were tedious and not very much fun. But I kept thinking it would get better. Over time, in many ways, the work I got to do was interesting. I also got to be involved with projects I couldn’t conceive of, back in school. That is the nature of a rapidly changing workplace during the digital revolution.
Over the years, I was involved at the highest levels of strategy and business building sessions. But, in my experience, corporations talk a lot about ‘being creative’, ‘thinking outside the box’ and ‘adding value’, but they don’t tolerate too much ‘colouring outside the lines’. I have been as guilty as the next manager in promoting this way of thinking. After all, it worked before, so why not do it that way again? With a bunch of people, constantly acting in risk averse ways, the results are predictable, but never remarkable. (How to be remarkable by Seth Godin).
Even in my personal life, where I had ultimate autonomy over my actions, I followed a well-worn path. Getting married, buying a house, having children, staying put. I found myself working really hard to earn enough to pay for all kinds of stuff I didn’t necessarily want. I spent most of my waking hours with co-workers instead of family and friends. At midlife, I looked forward to more of the same, until I could afford to retire, according to the criteria in the pamphlets handed out at the bank. Or age 65, whichever came first.
Then, I walked away from my 25-year career. The bravest thing I’ve ever done. Something which has caused me to question my sanity. It is the best thing I have ever done for myself. I drew a line in the sand and decided it was time to do stuff I wasn’t told to do. Think and act for myself. Crazy scary, but the pain of staying put was finally greater than the fear of trying something radically new.
To understand my feelings, in my new life, I decided to write my own retirement book. Since I was only in my mid-forties, I think my coworkers didn’t believe I was actually retiring, for real. So, they didn’t stitch up a scrapbook of memories for me. Which might be a blessing, because I probably prefer my version of my life, rather than what other people saw looking in.
To begin, I gathered up all the photos I could find. The old school printed versions and online search results, which often didn’t turn up much. I wanted a reference point to anchor my thoughts. As my ideas began to flow in, patterns began to emerge.
During the times of my life when I was doing my best work and felt most fulfilled, a common set of circumstances and feelings prevailed.
- I was learning a great deal.
- I felt safe, secure and protected by the people around me.
- I was inspired by everything.
- I easily collaborated on projects and shared ideas.
- I had no trouble being and thinking creatively.
- My reservoir of good ideas was always full.
The specific tasks which supported my best work have been things like:
- Handwork – knitting, sewing, cooking, photography, crafting
- Being in nature – gardening, the beach, forests
- Autonomy – doing what I want, when I want
- Learning – throwing myself into something new without any worry of how long mastery will take to accomplish
- Connection – creative, like-minded people and groups
- Self-care – being mindful of my limits and taking proper care of myself, even if that means less time spent working
After compiling these lists, it occurred to me that I have been working on bettering myself and my attitude towards life since my 40th birthday. This is my midlife crisis. Not a typical one you read about in the newspapers. Nothing terrible is going to happen here. Instead I’m going to lead by example; the path is towards a better, more creative life.
I am going to show how the creative process works in everyday life. In every moment of our days, we can choose to be positive or negative. See the good or the bad. Move forward, stay put or roll back. By continuing to take positive steps, inspiration and support will appear.
Join me in this creative journey. I think it will be worth your time. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: Christine@dailycreatives.com