Midlife Experimentation


I was almost 15 years old when Dead Poet’s Society came out.  It was a movie that spoke to me.  I was deep into my persona as a thespian: on my way to playing Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.  Simultaneously I was moments away from diving into AP Chemistry and Biology.  There was nothing I couldn’t do.  The world was pure possibility.  I would make my life extraordinary just like Robin Williams character demanded of his students.

A month ago I turned 43. For the past few years I’ve found myself desiring change.  Not little change, like a new shampoo, but big fundamental change:  a new house, a writing career, or at the very least a new office at work.  Being a responsible adult married to a super-duper-risk-adverse responsible adult meant the change has been slow coming, but incrementally it’s come.  First, I decreased my work schedule to 32 hours a week, so I had a day to focus on my writing.  That has been going well.  I submit my first completed short story to a journal this past Thursday, and have another short story in the works.  Meanwhile, the first draft of my novel is slowly becoming a second draft.

Tomorrow the next phase begins.  I’m starting graduate school at a local university with a college that’s dedicated to working adults.  My degree program is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  For the lay person that’s a degree in making maps using computer software.  The college I’m going to has a master’s in creative writing, and while that’s intriguing, it doesn’t help me with my day job, and my day job is the one that allows me the ability to both pay for my degree through tuition reimbursement and write one day a week.  (Also, don’t tell anyone this part, but I have a non-fiction work I want to write that’s very dependent on me honing my GIS skills.)  So I’m starting with a practical degree to see if that quiets my need for change.

My mom went back to school later in life.  Interestingly, as she and I were chatting I realized that she started her undergraduate degree program at 42.  Isn’t that weird?  That we’d start such a big change at the same time in our lives a generation apart?

No.  It’s not weird.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the truth of the matter is, our American middle-class lives are built around 20ish year cycles.  Your first 20 years you are educated.  If you only graduate high school you are done in 18.  If you do post-graduate work, it might take you 28 years.  But in general, you complete the education phase of your life around 22-24 years old.  Then you start the work phase.  

I graduated college at 23.  Now, 20 years later I’ve done the working thing and understand how to succeed in the workforce.  I also know what would be required of me to become a high level manager or director.  With that knowledge comes a complete lack of interest.  For me, the rewards do not balance the required sacrifices of time and family.  My next phase of life will not be a slog toward executive.  On the other hand, while I like my current job, I can’t imagine doing what I do now until retirement without new opportunities to grow and change.  I’m wondering what the next 20 years holds.

Of course, I’m not the only one to get antsy when my early 40s show up.  The words mid-life crisis exist for a reason.  My need for change makes me empathize with the stereotypical 40-year-old male of my parent’s generation.  If I was the sole breadwinner with a house full of kids I might have purchased a sports car or had an affair with my secretary to force a change from the inevitability of 20 more years of sameness.  My own desire for something different felt like a crisis a year ago.  But then a wise woman (our family therapist) told me that now was the time to make a change.  While my daughter wasn’t a teenager.  While my husband’s depression was stable.  Because, she said, you never know when life is going to throw you a curveball and you won’t have the opportunity to make your life better.  I know now that she told me that while facing her own cancer diagnosis.  She died earlier this week.

Her legacy to me was allowing myself to enter an experimentation phase of my life.  Will I make it as a writer?  Will I get a break and be a novelist for my next 20 years?  Probably not, since few people make it as a writer, but I don’t want to close that door before I try to open it.  Will I be a geospatial data expert and solve the world’s future transportation problems using maps and visualizations?  That’s a direction I can see pivoting my current career.  Maybe I’ll make amazing connections at my university and become an adjunct professor in addition to my current job.  When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree 20 years ago I was voted “most likely to become a professor” so maybe my classmates knew something I didn’t.

I’m so thankful I live in an enlightened time  and work for an enlightened company so I can take the heartfelt advice of a trusted advisor.  What will I be when I grow up?  A writer?  A professor?  A map maker?  All of the above?  In some ways I feel like my decision will be a tribute to a woman who guided me through the hardest times of my life.  I want to do right by her last words to me.  I do not want the second half of my life to be a story of quiet desperation.  I want to accomplish another iota of what I am capable.  I want another opportunity to strive for extraordinary.


Quotes from Dead Poets Society (1989) and screenshots taken from IMDB – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097165/quotes.


24 thoughts on “Midlife Experimentation

  1. I feel the same and I am the same age as you. A need for change, a challenge. Sounds like you have a few balls in the air, but fun at the same time. I don’t know what I am doing or thinking. i have been running more, and in a moment of great positivity signed up for a 10k race, because the 5k wouldn’t have been enough of a challenge, ha! The race is Sunday and I am freaking out now, what was I thinking?! My goal is to finish not to make a time goal. After Sunday I will need a new challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How did your race go? In my younger days I ran races and loved the incremental goals and challenges that gave me. After my daughter was born my running became more casual. However, she started running last year and the little twerp is a speed demon. She can run a mile in 7:23. So now I’ve had to start seriously training again, because I want to be able to keep up with my 9 year old in the five 5k we are running in November. (I thought I had years before she’d be faster than me!)

      I find that when I can sit down and have a quiet moment with women my own age this theme of restlessness is prevalent. It’s not something we shout from the rooftops, but a quiet need for something different. I hope you find a path that calls to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that you are making these changes. And, I love your attitude. Published or not, you are giving something that fills your soul a whirl. Bravo! (And I, too, can totally see you as an adjunct professor.) 43 is the perfect time to do something new. You’re not late to the game. You’re right on time. Everything you’ve done so far has prepared you for what you are about to do. You’ll be amazing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kudos for having the courage to make changes – and those are some big changes! In my father’s obit, I called him a “life-long learner.” That’s exactly what I want to be, whether the learning is formal or informal. The older I get, the more I see that life is constantly offering opportunities for change and growth. It’s never too late!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I bet your dad was a pretty cool person, if that’s how you described him in his obituary. I’ve really never felt like a life long learner, because college really was not my gig. I loved it, but didn’t love the impracticality of my degree. (Yes, an engineering degree can be impractical.) But now I’m excited about learning a new skill and pivoting my career. And I adore learning about the publishing industry. So maybe I’ll be a life-long-nontraditional-learner.

      Ah, to throw off the expectation of youth that there is only one way to build a life and take a new direction. It’s so refreshing!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wasn’t thrilled with my choice of study in college either. Now though, I read about things that interest me and spark my curiosity. I think that’s what I mean by a life-long learner. I think you definitely fit into that category!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

    Never miss an opportunity to try out a path that calls to you! You certainly aren’t going to be on your deathbed and say, gee, I am glad I ignored those chances for something new. Go, go, go!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kathleen! It’s funny how there is so much security in the familiar. Even though I was miserable, I didn’t want to make a change because things were okay. But there is so much joy in change. Even little joys. The first day at school, all the 20 year-olds in line at the bookstore were so polite to me, because they thought I was a professor. What a hoot to be an old student.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ann

    Beautiful post! Sorry to hear about your family therapist. She was indeed a wise woman. Always tricky to find a path that provides enough change without disrupting the people who depend on you more than they can handle. Way to navigate that path!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh. I’m going to miss her so much. She was like a human being security blanket. The kiddo would not agree that I’m changing without disrupting her life, but she’ll get over it. One night a week without mommy is not the end of the world, right?


  6. Thanks for sharing. I’ve called my desire for change a “divine discontent”. I’m 47 and am thrilled at what the future holds. I’m more confident and prepared than ever for the next phase of life! I’m working on a book proposal now and like you, my day job allows me the time to do that. Congratulations to you for starting a new thing in your life. Many blessings to you as you move forward!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! I hope in four years I can get to where you are right now. My new succinct goal is “by 47 be able to sound like Marie.” I’m so happy you’ve acted on your “divine discontent” – great phrase – and found your path forward. Hooray for mid-life and new opportunities.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh! I am not looking forward to that day. I’ve had far away glasses since I was 9 and know I’ll be one of those weirdo old people with reading glasses on my head, around my neck and on my face simultaneously.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, dang. The first half of this made my heart smile! I’m so happy for you, and I suppose it’s because I see me in you. I’m sorry to hear about your therapist. That has to be difficult to live through. On the other hand, she gave some great advice that seems to be propelling you forward, so I’m back to my heart smiling. I wish you nothing but success Johanna and I know that whatever you do will be fulfilling, mainly because you actually want to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kathy! I think part of why you and your blog has resonated so deeply with me is because I can see you going through similar self-exploration right now. (That sounds a little kinky and weird. I don’t mean it that way at all, but I can’t come up with a better phrase…) Anywhoo. I don’t know what is going to be the end result of all these life experiments, but I know I’m already more excited by my life, and that’s refreshing.

      That said, I’m finding it hard to make time for existing things I do love, like my blog, because new things take up a lot of time and energy. I feel like everything was in an unhappy balance, and now I’m shaking everything up and will have to find a new balance. But finding that new balance doesn’t make me want to hide under the covers: it excites me. So I must be heading in a better direction. My heart is smiling right along with you, with a little touch of sadness for losing one of my life guides. I’ll miss her.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. My therapist was a special lady. She wasn’t one to give me mental homework or activities, but she really listened, and used her own life experiences to help guide others. I hope to make the most of the wisdom she gave me throughout our time together. I will miss her.


  8. Well, this hits pretty close to home for me. I’m not even surprised that we are the same age or that we love that same movie. We have so many similarities. I’m at the point in my life where I teeter between being content with the quiet status quo of life and desperately craving change.

    I am really happy to hear that your new schedule has been working well and you have made progress with your writing. Good luck with the grad school courses. What an exciting adventure! I am sorry to hear of the passing of your therapist. It sounds like she was a very wise woman. She gave you some great advice and it sounds like you are following it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I really enjoyed this post. I’m 46 years old , I served my country for 12 years and I now serve my community. I lead a happy life, yet there’s something missing, something else I strive for but I’m not quite sure what that is.
    I think we all reach a stage in our lives where we question our path and look at what more we could achieve. I particularly like this part of your post which resonates with me;

    “I do not want the second half of my life to be a story of quiet desperation. I want to accomplish another iota of what I am capable. I want another opportunity to strive for extraordinary.”

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Adam, Welcome and thank you so much for reading my post and for your thoughtful comment. (Also thanks for your service!) I’m just three years younger than you, but have felt the unease you reference coming on for a couple of years now. I seem to have the doldrums retreating, but that might just because this new phase of work, graduate school, writing, and family don’t leave time for wondering what is missing. I’m hoping through this experimentation to find something I really love doing , so I can focus my time and effort. (Today I’m going to talk to the dean of my graduate school about how to become a professor!) Good luck with your journey and I hope you find your next extraordinary.

      Liked by 1 person

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