I’ve been struggling since mid-September and I’ve been hesitant to share about it publicly. Much. But I’ve been meditating and journaling (because that’s how we do in Drops of Awesome Land) and I’m finally surfacing. It feels like it’s time to pull back the curtain a couple of inches and share.
I don’t love the term “midlife crisis” but I’ve been throwing it around for the past several months. It seems self-centered and indulgent to refer to something as a “crisis” when it’s completely based on internal angst and has nothing to do with actual trauma.
I am getting older and my life is changing and I don’t know what that means for me.
I want to know.
And I’m learning.
But it’s taking time and a mom-load of effort.
So, let’s call it a “midlife reflection”. It’s also a transition.
I’m not sure when it started but it really got going a few weeks after the kids went to school in the fall.
It was a transition for me from being a Stay-at-Home-Mom to a Stay-at-Home-Something-Else.
I was free. I could be whoever I wanted. And I could do literally anything. I took that seriously.
Several friends had told me about their experiences with this change, the good, the bad, and the unattractive. Some had gone back to work fulltime. Some had taken up long-forgotten hobbies or dismantled their homes completely in a decorating binge. Others told me they’d taken a full year to sleep and recharge from their many years of full-time parenting.
I’m a planner and an optimist, so I wanted to make the absolute most of this new phase of life.
I spent a lot of time questioning and mulling things over. What mattered? What was I doing with my life? Was I okay? Were my kids okay? Was I wasting my time? Should I go back to work? Should I go back to school? I started thinking in circles and I’ll admit I got a little lost.
Do I want to go back to school and become a doctor? I could.
Maybe I should get Crossfit or take up tai chi.
What if I learned how to be a contractor via YouTube and remodeled my entire house?
I settled on getting ultra-serious about my writing career.
It’s fair to say that my career has happened to me over the past ten years. I started blogging for fun. People started asking if they could pay me. I said, “Sure.”
I wrote a novel a few years back and worked to get it published and failed. When I actually did get published, it was a non-fiction book deal because a publisher reached out to me. He liked the message of my post Drops of Awesome and wanted to capitalize on my platform and all the people it resonated with.
I was excited, but again, I just rode the waves of my life.
“I want to publish fiction.”
“Someone wants to take me on a non-fiction journey? Okay. I’ll do that instead.”
And it has been amazing. I’ve met wonderful people, spoken to crowds of inspiring women and girls, had TV and radio and podcast appearances and all kinds of other fun and hoopla. I’ve defaced books with my signature multiple times and people have seen that as a good thing.
How is it then that after years of blogging for pay and selling thousands of books, I still wince when someone refers to me as a professional writer? I mean… yes… I am one?
But there’s a part of me that sees it as a happy accident.
It’s like I tripped and fell down and now I have a writing career. But I don’t feel focused or driven in a particular direction. And I feel a tremendous amount of guilt, like I’ve been given this great opportunity and I’m somehow throwing it away, like I should be doing it better.
I have books, but I don’t know how to market them well. I have a blog, but I’m stuck in limbo, not knowing what or how to write anymore. I have so much freedom in my home life, but feel glued to the spot by the sheer number of options open to me each day.
So, with the kids in school, I decided now was the time for me to research and plan and become a focused career writer. I started out strong, scheduling writing time each day.
But soon, I got roped into a cause.
I had the time, so I spent the first couple of months my kids were in school standing up to a billionaire TV-star turned politician as I volunteered several hours each day on a quixotic presidential campaign.
When I got back to writing, I found I was absolutely paralyzed. I had time. I was supposed to write or market or something. Okay, go. Be brilliant.
What had mostly been a hobby was now a vague career and it felt daunting. In the past, when I wanted to contribute to the family financially, I’d blogged for specific clients so I had clear direction. Now that I was making the rules and setting the deadlines, I felt more unsure.
I decided I had a time management problem, a focus problem. I diagnosed myself with ADD to justify my lack of progress.
And I was doubting myself as a writer.
523 Ways to Be Awesome had been recently released and wasn’t doing as well as the first book.
We had a third book on the way that I was really passionate about, but the lukewarm reception to the second book filled me with doubt. I decided to pour my energy into a marketing plan for Bucket of Awesome, the third book in the Awesome series.
But I didn’t really know what to do. So, I enrolled in e-Courses about marketing. I even created one of my own to help people write their stories and promote the new book. But I didn’t have active connections in the blogging community for reviews and I couldn’t get a handle on how to pitch the book to strangers.
It’s a book to help you tell your story. It’s a book to help you discover your story. It’s a book to help you change the way you tell your story to yourself so you can actually change the next chapter of your life.
I love it. I just don’t know how to sell it. And I don’t really want to.
All writers who began writing because you really wanted to go into sales, please raise your hands. Anyone?! Bueller?
And as for my blog platform, the main reason my publisher signed my book deal, it was dying. It was dying because I didn’t know what it was anymore.
I used to write cute stories about my kids but they are old and the most bloggable things about them are not bloggable anymore. Once you hit middle school, it’s not okay for your mom to blog about everything that makes you adorable, or quirky, or wonderfully, exasperatingly real.
My most popular posts of all time were when I was sharing nuggets of wisdom I’d gleaned through years of experience. People liked when I gave advice.
However, I’m not a guru or a fount of wisdom, so when I sat down with the intention of writing something sage and life-changing, I ended up messing around online or starting new blogs about other things.
Thermal cooking anyone?
A local blog about a city so small I will never have a large readership or make any money whatsoever?
All along this journey I was reading about personal development and writing in notebooks and trying to make sense of why this transition was so hard for me and what I needed to do differently.
I made progress, slowly.
I volunteered at the school. I cleaned my house. I went shopping. I put energy into marketing activities that didn’t yield much fruit.
After several months of being home during the day without kids and not a lot to show for it, we released the third book. It happened pretty quietly.
And I mostly stopped blogging. And writing publicly. Because my writing has always been about my real-life experiences and I didn’t think I was allowed to write about what I was currently experiencing.
My midlife crisis seemed silly.
I was a Stay-At-Home-Mom with 5 free hours during the day, endless ideas for how to fill them, and no clue what to do first or how to do it well. I was paralyzed by my fear of failure and the never-ending question, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my life?”
I couldn’t write because I felt like a fraud. Because I was worried I had let my publisher and my family down and that writing about it would just let them down more or somehow sabotage book sales.
Because it wasn’t okay to feel sad about my newfound freedom. “Oh. WAH! I have so many options and a supportive husband who just wants me to be happy. My life is the worst.”
Because it seemed excessively ungrateful to feel confused and demoralized when I had such an easy and blessed life.
I did have a problem, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.
Reaching deep inside myself to solve my “career” and “time management” problems, I’m pulling back the layers, week by week, and month by month. And I find that the core of my struggle has nothing to do with writer’s block or lack of focus.
The core of my struggle has to do with forgetting who I am and losing site of the joy and magic that makes life worth living.
Through all the doubt and questioning and self-reflection, I’m learning or re-learning four lessons that I’m working hard to incorporate into my life, four holes that need filling.
Here’s the short version:
1. I Need L.I.G.H.T – Let It Go. Hope. Trust. I am learning to let go. Of my need to control other peoples’ actions. Of my need to control what people think of me. Of my desire to project a certain persona. Of my desire to look good, sometimes at the expense of actually being good. Of my fear of failure. Of too many things to list here.
2. I Shouldn’t Be So Careful and Troubled About Many Things – I don’t need to feel stressed to feel worthwhile. I don’t need to validate my existence with a list of checkboxes and accomplishments.
3. I Don’t Have Room in My Life for Everything – I’m learning to say no to many things so I am free to say yes to the things that matter.
4. I Would Rather Be Present than Perfect – Shauna Niequist’s beautiful book has added fresh perspective to many of the thoughts I’d been struggling to frame. Reading her words often felt like reading my own journey written out. I’ve come to the realization that a real, grounded, connected life, experienced in all its joyful messiness outranks hollow perfectionism any day.
I’ll elaborate more on each of these in the coming weeks.
Soul-searching journeys are painful. It’s hard to dig into your life and heart and realize that your priorities and goals aren’t what you want them to be. Sometimes you find that you’ve been thrashing and spinning in the service of something false and shallow.
But if you don’t take the journey, you just keep thrashing. And it’s hard on your body. And your spirit. And your family. And your life.
Life is a journey worth taking with your eyes and heart wide open. I’d rather peer deep into the very core of who I am, regardless of what I find there, than never truly know myself.
At age 38, I’m coming to know this girl in a new way and I’m frequently surprised by what I find. Mostly good. Always enlightening.
Hello, Kathryn. I will take your hand. Let’s do the next 40 years up right, shall we?
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