“It is not that I am so smart. But that I stay with the questions much longer.” – Albert Einstein.
It’s been a little while since I last published a post here; not for lack of interest but because I’ve been so darn busy.
It’s been a fun time; I’ve explored new places (York, Scottish Highlands and Cornwall to name a few), had a few exciting things happen professionally and met some outstandingly warm people along the way.
I read the Einstein quote in a book today. It made me giggle and prompted this blog.
This time last year I experienced a sudden awareness of my age. I was approaching 40 and started asking myself heaps of questions about everything: my career path, my health and the things I may like to do or not do in the future. It was accompanied by a renewed sense of curiosity. It wasn’t necessary a bad feeling but it was new, unfamiliar, a bit uncomfortable.
With typical dramatic flourish, I told someone I was having a mid-life crisis. After they suppressed a giggle their response surprised me. “Why’s it a crisis?,” they said. “Is it not a good thing that you’re challenging yourself and asking questions?”
I’d never thought of it like that.
This is just it isn’t it. Many (most?) of us have a tendency to catastrophise. It doesn’t help that if you Google ‘midlife crisis’ the language tends to be negative or imply an impending battle. Articles list ‘warning signs’ you’re having one and proffer tips on how to ‘cope’ with the ‘struggle’. Even the word crisis is doomed-laden and is defined as being in danger.
I may sound ‘woke’ (sorry about that), but after being challenged on my *midlife crisis* (which, in hindsight I do not think it was at all) I decided to look at it as an opportunity. After all, I spend my career asking other people questions so why not shine the light on myself?
So I allowed the curiosity and questions to come and I toyed them over rather than pushing them and the feelings aside. At times I felt anxious and out of my comfort zone (I like answers, give me answers) but tried to focus on arriving at the solution at some point, rather than forcing the issue. I remembered some good advice I’ve written about here before: ‘If in doubt, do nothing.’
Staying with those feelings takes effort, patience and resilience. But anything that’s worth it takes those three things, right? Especially if it (you, me) is worth it (which we are, by the way).
For me that has meant clarifying my career needs (including more photography and this blog), my health aspirations (raising £100 for MIND by doing RED January, 350 days alcohol-free and counting!) and lifestyle (more travelling, less ice cream – although the less ice-cream goal is probably too ambitious).
I found some comparisons between this awareness journey and a run I went for recently. The run involved a long, long climb up a big, big hill. My husband bounded ahead, his words of encouragement fading as he forged ahead and up, up, up. I was struggling. It was an effort. I lumbered on muttering questions similar to those I’d asked in my 40th year. ‘What I am doing? Why I am doing this? Do I want to do this? Why don’t I just stop, it’ll be much easier? How much further until I get there?’
And then… we reached the plateau. Devon fanned out on every side, a campus of fields and hills that fall away to the glittering blue of the sea.
I stood there and thought: this is why I do it. It was an effort and I questioned myself but I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and gained this new perspective. And I rather like it; it’s exciting and I want to carry on.
Living within your comfort zone (walking up the hill, ignoring the questions you ask yourself or pushing back against feelings) may provide a temporary sense of ease but you are less likely to grow, develop or achieve. It’s OK to stay with the questions a while and figure out the way forward. Change begins the minute you reach the answer and cross that boundary.
And it will always be worth the effort.