Mike Bellah

Identity is a major concern for midlifers and for good reason.





Midlifers need permission to reinvent themselves.





"A single fixed identity is a liability today. It only makes people more vulnerable to sudden changes in economic or personal conditions."---Gail Sheehy

Reinventing Yourself

"The fundamental quest at midlife is to figure out who we are and who we want to be as we get ready to embark on the second half of life," writes author Ross Goldstein. Goldstein is right. Identity is a major concern for midlifers and for good reason.

The identity crisis

In American society young men are taught to define themselves by what they do. "I program computers." "I work for IBM." "I'm a senior vice president." But, as we grow older, work identity can become shallow or cease to exist completely. We hit a plateau and the once exciting job seems bland. Or we get demoted, or even laid off. It is a frightening thing to be unemployed when your identity is your job. "Who am I if I'm not a geologist for Exxon?"

Women face a similar midlife identity crisis. Not only do working women face the same job disillusionments as men; mothers aren't sure who they are when children move away. And a society that taught young women to define themselves by physical beauty has nothing to offer the aging female psyche. Barbara Fried sums up the anguish of too many midlife women: "Everything that makes life worth living for me is either turning gray, drying up, or leaving home."

Reinventing yourself

Midlifers need permission to reinvent themselves. New times require new identities. Besides, some of the old ones were not good for us anyway. As a child Jean was the "pleaser" in the family. She saw to it that all her family members got what they wanted, including an alcoholic father who verbally abused her. As an adult Jean tries her best to please her husband and two teen-age sons. The problem is that she often enables them to escape the consequences of destructive behaviors, just like she did for her abusive father (she covers for her husband's missed work and her sons' missed school). Jean never takes time to please herself. Her potentialities lay undiscovered.

Fred, on the other hand, is a controller. He has to be in charge at work and at home. As a result Fred suffers from acute anxiety, and his real feelings and needs lay buried beneath a tough-guy facade. Like Jean, Fred is an unexplored gold mine. His true worth is great but will never be realized until he finds the courage to dig beneath the hard surface of a false identity.

An exciting adventure

An exciting adventure lies ahead for both Jean and Fred, if they only will take the time to forge new identities. In fact, their options are many. "A single fixed identity is a liability today," writes New Passages author Gail Sheehy. "It only makes people more vulnerable to sudden changes in economic or personal conditions." So Sheehy advocates multiple identities for today's midlifers--identities that will not only explain what we do but who we are.

Many years ago, as inexperienced and fickle teen-agers, most of us constructed our adult identities. We've lived with them now for 30 or 40 years and done surprisingly well. Now it's time to reevaluate them in light of our changing world and time-acquired wisdom. It's time to reinvent a new us that will take us through our second adulthood.

So who are you? This time, you get to decide.

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