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How to get unstuck in midlife

Aug 01, 2022

A lot of midlife women voice the same concern: "I feel stuck." Some feel stuck in their jobs or their marriages or just their general situation in life. They want to change but very often circumstances don't permit that right away since most women are reluctant to upset the apple cart, especially when it comes to uprooting the kids. 

I get it. I totally get it. This week, I've lived in a community I don't like for 10 years. 10 years! As any Bravo fan knows, you have to embezzle from orphans and widows or sell worthless computer services to the elderly to face that kind of time. Where I live is too white, too smug, too gossipy, too mean-spirited, too grasping, too patriarchal, too conservative, too racist, too homophobic, too not-in-my-backyard syndrome, too far from all the stuff I want to do. It's also named one of the best places to live in Canada on a regular basis because it has great school and is still affordable and you really don't catch the actual vibe of the place until you live there. It's also the place where my kids have built a solid community and thrived (thankfully Gen Z locals seems less toxic). So, yes, stuck. Shawshanked but lacking the Rita Hayworth poster and a spoon. 

I spend many years trying to fix it. I joined every country club out there. I wore yoga gear instead of clothes. I did all the sports. I went to the charity things. I volunteered my time. I joined the PTA. I tried to adopt the whole When in Rome thing only I wasn't in Rome. This was not a matter of getting used to Gelato and Valentino and Fendi and being surrounded by art talking with your hands. This was setting aside a fundamental part of who I was for a decade. 

So how did I do it? 

At first, not well. I complained a lot. It was not until the pandemic that I figured out a new approach. 

1. Embrace the suck. In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, one of the characters advises Tina Fey that the secret to not letting your surroundings wear you down is to embrace the suck and move forward. So I embraced the suck. I stopped trying to put lipstick on a pig. I stopped trying to redeem the unredeemable (no more sitting through lunches or dinner with other couples where wealthy white people tell me how things are so hard for their white sons and they don't get any breaks like those lucky lucky people of colour, trans folks, etc.) My God. I no longer try to reason or convince or carefully suggest another way of seeing things. I simply vote for change, write cheques for change, surrounds myself with people who don't think like this and live elsewhere. It's such a relief being able to realize this place isn't going to change and it's not my problem. I've completely embraced the philosophy of not my circus, not my monkeys so when they elect yet another conservative candidate to save taxes or write letters to editor about how they work so much harder than people in less monied communities and should therefore not have to deal with Amazon warehouses even though they love Amazon stuff, I can just roll my eyes. I've had clients embrace this same way of thinking to a dysfunctional workplace of marriage. Yup, the boss is going to yell. Yup, the spouse is going to cheat or criticize you. Accept it so you heart is not broken over and over again. This is not the same as accepting bad behavior permanently. This is accepting it as part of a strategy to craft a better plan for your future. 

2. Make the decision to leave even if you don't leave for a while. It's the unknown and the in between that cause of stress. For so long, I'd see saw back and forth as to whether I could stand to live in this place. I'd meet someone cool and think maybe and then despair when they moved away. A new store would open and I'd think maybe people will start putting on pants and then the place would go out of business and I'd feel disappointment. When I worked as a divorce coach, the unhappiest people were the ones sho kept going back and forth on the emotional decision. Once they'd decided, it was simply a matter of logistics. The same applies to your job. Make the decision to leave and stop second guessing yourself. Deep inside, you know what you need to do even if you can't or don't want to do it right away. 

3. Make the deliberate decision to stay for the time being. Nobody likes to feel they have no control over their lives. For so long, I felt stuck. My parents lived here. My kids were in a good place. I felt I had no choice but to stay. This is misery making. Now, I'm staying deliberately because I will move when the timing is right. Nothing is being done to me. It's my decision to stay. Many times, women facing divorce stay strategically because it is going to be safer, easier or financially beneficial to leave down the road (or to never leave but live her own life or to wait things out until he leaves which can make things much easier.) Same with a job. Often it's not economically feasible to simply up and quit. It takes time to build a side business or find something new. But knowing that you've made the decision will give you the peace you need and everything else is simply logistics. 

4. Find a crystal clear future that's attainable. I'm a manifestor. I'm fully convinced that if I want to retire to a place on Lake Como beside George Clooney, I can. I've had some hardships for sure, but I've also had a pretty magical life, especially lately.  That being said, I need to find a more near term future I know I can achieve to get me through the suck from point one. Based on business projections, asset appreciation, and some other crunching of numbers, I know I can buy a pretty swag condo (think Only Murders in the Building) or row house in the part of the city I love most without breaking a sweat. And so every day, I look at real estate listings. I walk my dog there. I look at news from there. I've set up my business there. I wear the clothes I'll wear there (less Lululemon, waaaay more Prada). I'm mentally there. It's my home. So when someone is being rude to a cashier yet again, I can be kind and commiserate and make a pro-union donation but I don't have to internalize it. Not my circus not my monkeys. You can do this with a job by focusing on your next job or business, and taking the steps you need to get there by uplevelling your skills or starting a side hustle. You can do it in a marriage by mentally separating yourself from your spouse's comments and behaviour. The criticisms? Nothing to do with you? The comments? Not your problem. Mentally, you are gone. 

5. Be aware of the distraction factor. For a while, I took a bandaid approach. Maybe a new bag or a summer place in another province or a weekend cottage could distract. I speak from experience: They don't. There is no bag or beach house that can counteract a neighborhood that's a bad fit, toxic boss or terrible marriage. Better to save your money so you can move, hire a divorce lawyer or quit your job. 

6. Find the good in the place where you are stuck. Before you have made the definitive decision, you can be scared to see the good in your situation for fear you won't be resolved. If you see something good about your job or marrage or community, perhaps you won't leave since we all hate breaking out of our comfort zones. Once you have made the decision, however, you can relax. You aren't changing your mind so you might as well make the best of where you are. Even though there is a lot wrong with the place I live, there is some right. It's on the lake. There are a lot of trees. Shopping is plentiful and car culture means it's very easy to park. So I embrace it. I take walks. I read in the yard under the jobs. I go to our version of TJ Maxx and buy pumpkin spice stuff and dorm room stuff for my daughter. I drive thru Starbucks a lot. Am I comfortable with the carbon foot print? No, but it's temporary. I've made my decision. I'm not going back and neither are you. And now I'm simply making the best of a temporarily less than ideal situation. So I embrace what is good: big cheap food and chain restaurants, outlet malls. I see it the way I saw a week long vacation I'd once booked to PEI. It was long. The beaches were not as promised (freezing cold and covered in jellyfish). The beach house was not my idea of a beach house. So we checked into a hotel in Charlottetown. We did the cute Anne of Green gables stuff and ate a lot of cows ice cream and went to the potato museum and saw movies and I ate my body weight in lobster every day. And it was better than being miserable. So take advantage of the perks of your job if there are any: take your vacation, max out any retirement plan contributions, book that massage, use your employee discount. If you are married, try to utilize any possible benefits such as have a physically larger husband move the heavy stuff to where you want it to be. Shed any guilt. This is a coping mechanism which is perfectly OK when you are coping. When you get unstuck, you will be able to enjoy things without looking quite so hard for the good.  

7. Take care of your self. When things get you down, which in a waiting season they will, take good care of your spirit. Sleep. Eat well. Get out for walks. Surround yourself with supportive people, even if it's on Zoom. Take naps. I think of myself as being in training and am focusing on getting myself ready for the next season. 

I can promise you that you won't be stuck forever. If you take these steps you can make a season of waiting into a season that's good and know that there are far far better things on the horizon. Xx