I had food poisoning. Not an upset stomach, but full-blown food poisoning, the kind that’s so violent it would have exploded through my ears if it could.
It took a few days to feel better, then the strangest thing occurred. I began to see my old Self, the me that seemed lost. I realised that for several years, a constant, low-level anxiety, the beat subtle but strong, underscored choices I had made since childhood. Choices that no longer worked for me as I wandered through this wilderness that was Midlife.
A glimpse of light in childhood
The best gift my mother gave me was to send me to live in Nigeria in my teens. As a child of immigrants I spent a large chunk of my life trying to get a sense of where I fit. I wasn’t quite British and not quite Nigerian. My mother saw what was happening; that my light was gradually dimming the longer I stayed in the school system here so I went to live in Nigeria where I could see a country run by people who looked like me, where I could learn history that was relevant to me and where my difference was seen as a good thing.
But I was born and spent my early years here so when I finished secondary school, I wanted to come back and I did. I returned with the confidence of a British/Nigerian girl who knew she could be whatever she wanted.
I was lucky, my parents let me go to drama school instead of university. I enjoyed several years working as an actor, then unintentionally walked away from a promising career by taking a part-time job in a mental health drop-in centre. This led me to doing a post grad Diploma in Dramatherapy and then an MBA and working in various roles in local government until 2010.
I had some great managers who saw something in me and encouraged me to grow. I frequently found myself in situations where I would be invited to step up faster than others, but it came at price because those I worked with felt that I didn’t deserve to be promoted so quickly. Add to that the fact I looked younger than I was and I was on a hiding to nothing. The same managers that encouraged me didn’t understand how to support me and I didn’t really know what that support would look like so what should have been victory became struggle.
Tired of pretending
And then I was tired.
I was tired of feeling I had to dumb down in order to be accepted.
I was tired of being told it might be best to ‘stop being so confident’ (That was a real suggestion).
I was tired of feeling I couldn’t express myself without being labelled aggressive.
I was tired of feeling I had to work harder than everyone else so I wasn’t labelled lazy.
I was tired of being labelled.
The focus of my anxiety was projected on what I would do next. I no longer wanted to do what I had been doing but didn’t know what I did want – except I did. I wanted to write more of the fiction I enjoyed, the fiction that enabled me to fully express myself and at the same time I needed a regular income. If writing had to be a hobby then I needed to earn money by doing something I enjoyed.
I tried to get support but agencies ‘didn’t know what to do with me’. Then I was told that my age was a barrier to me getting employment – I was 49 – and I realised it was time to follow through on the previously aborted attempts to set up a business.
I came upon coaching by accident and realised it was something I had done in some way all my life so I trained and started as a career coach. The New 5ifty came about as a desire to help others who like me needed support and guidance to create their next chapter, to reconnect with their passion, purpose and joy.
I had found my next step and the anxiety kicked in with a vengeance but went undetected amidst the hot flashes that in hindsight I see came on when I had a stressful thought (which was frequent), that woke me up in the middle of the night, heart pounding and unable to get back to sleep. I had never run a business; I didn’t know what I was doing – others made it look easy so I thought there must be something wrong with me and that added to the anxiety. I also found myself in a couple of toxic situations which left me feeling very much that there was something wrong with me and until I figured out what that something was my business couldn’t take off, or so I thought.
A friend recently asked me how I managed to work through the anxiety. I realised that it was my spiritual practice that saw me through. I had developed a morning routine that included gratitude, spiritual study, prayer/meditation and a number of processes aimed at clearing present issues that triggered past challenges.
And then I discovered the Enneagram which is, very simply put, a spiritual typology, like a Myers Briggs kind of thing. It’s aimed at understanding why you may react or respond the way you do and became the key to what Christianity would describe as my salvation.
I discovered my Enneagram type and all of a sudden my life fell into perspective. I didn’t have to be the outsider, I didn’t need fixing, I had simply created a mechanism to survive the world in which I found myself and I could choose differently. I remember walking down the road, crying as I listened to a podcast conversation between people of my Enneagram type. They seemed to describe my life and my experience through their own.
And I was free.
A couple days later I had food poisoning.
And I reconnected with Me.
My hero’s journey
I’m not going to pretend that my life miraculously turned around, but my mindset did. My spiritual practice has changed from trying to fix myself to embracing my magnificence, to reconnecting with my confidence, my courage and my ability to know what I want and do what I need to get it. Now I’m learning to trust that Spirit within me and not my ego, the persona I created in order to survive.
The Hero’s Journey is where the Hero is called to leave their ‘home’ to face a challenge that will change them. They return ‘home’ and this transformation is incorporated in a way that enriches their ordinary world.
This resonates so much with Midlife.
The Midlife Hero’s Journey
The Midlife Hero’s Journey is where you, the Hero are called to leave the home of who you think you are and face the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual challenges, a moving away from what was comfortable to bring you closer to who you truly are. It is a journey of the Spirit. An invitation to be seen again; by you in the first instance, and then by those around you in a way that enriches their world.
The Midlife Hero embarks on their journey to win their prize – their Self, their magnificence. I write this, seven weeks shy of my 60th birthday, and realise that while my fifties was a really challenging decade it has been the most rewarding. I found my prize.
My joy has been to share that prize with all I encounter so they too can become the Hero in their Midlife Journey, because every Hero needs a Guide and I’ve discovered that I can be that Guide.
“I was spread so thinly that nothing I did ever felt good enough.”
Helen Barnes on how she gave up traditional notions of success, concentrated on her family and discovered the joy of reinventing herself.
Becoming a painter at 50
Jocasta Shakespeare loves that she found the artist inside in midlife, not earlier….
How learning to surf at 50-plus changed me
Danielle Cass began surfing age 50 plus and turned from invisible to strong and beautiful
I lost the job I’d had for 23 years. My world fell apart but now I am glad
Losing her job left Noon editor Eleanor Mills at sea. But then she discovered something new
Midlife reskilling is a revolution we need
The government’s reskilling initiative is perfect now that we’re all reconsidering returning to our old lives.