When the midlife crisis hit

Turning 30 was no problem. I hit the mental marks I’d set. I was newly married with a sweet blue-eyed toddler boy, a golden dog and ten acres of land to call home. I didn’t mind turning 30 at all.

At 30, I’d been a stay-at-home mom, concerned with entertaining my young child. I made our bread from scratch every week, watching a show on PBS where a monk showed new types of loaves to try. If my son wanted to spend the day driving his yellow dump truck in “his dust factory,” then I was content to sit next to him with a book. My life at 30 had an easy pace with a natural rhythm.

It was turning 35 that was the problem. Fast forward five years from 30 to 35. At 35, I was back to work as an admin assistant. My son was in elementary school, with expensive childcare before and after school.

I shared an office with a woman who listened to a religious radio station all day. She looked directly at me without smiling as the pastor on the radio blared, “I’m going to talk about the sinners going to hell who are around you right now.” I turned away from her white-hot stare back to my computer that only worked 80 percent of the time. Unfortunately I was held responsible for deadlines 100 percent of the time. I had a volatile relationship with the computer that caused me frequent punishment.

Do you know who leaves the best tips at restaurants? People who have been servers themselves. There are some people who feel that the better title you have, the smarter and better you are. They think that people in low-paid jobs should be lucky to get a paycheck, no matter the abuse. I don’t feel that way. I think anyone who works is worthy, whether your title is janitor, admin assistant or director, you deserve respect. If you’ve ever worked as an admin assistant, you might understand how it feels when someone in power disrespects and condescends to you. Add in a boss who takes credit for your work, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for despair.

I’ve kept a daily journal since I was eight. It became too painful to write the details of my days. My sister suggested I make a cartoon of my days.

The cartoons helped. Who can seem wretched in a doodle? But the cartoons were still too sad to send to my longtime pen pal Shoshannah (who keeps a wonderful blog about her life in San Francisco. I encourage you to check it out: Crosswalk Confidential).

I asked myself, “What am I doing with my life?”

I believe in personal growth. With effort, intention, courage, a little luck and the willingness to change, anyone can improve their lives. I felt miserable at 35. Next week, you’ll find out more about how I survived—and thrived due to—my mid-life crisis.

Blessing

Lord, bless us with hope
when we face situations that test us.
Ease our heavy hearts.
Loosen our tight places of stress.
Comfort our overactive minds.

Remind us of your constant love
when the hours feel impossible
when we feel brought down so low
we can’t get up.

Tell me your thoughts!

What was a time in your life when you felt less than successful?

I’m scared of you reading this blog

Pixie runs in the snowWhether it’s biting spiders or sinkholes, we all have things we fear.

A common emotion, fear helps us when we’re in real danger. If we’re driving in bad weather, concern makes us respect the poor road conditions. When we’re passing a group of shady people, suspicion keeps us alert and motivates us to move away from a bad situation.

The problem is when fear becomes a stop sign instead of a warning. Fear can stop us from leading active lives where we participate in fun events and new adventures. People might worry about airplane crashes or shipwrecks so much that they don’t travel.

Fear often involves death, loss or some kind of ending such as the maximum entropy of the universe. Who hasn’t worried when a loved one doesn’t arrive home at the expected time? Who hasn’t felt anxious when the elevator stutters and seems to stop working? These are natural fears. We care about who we have in our lives and we prefer to be in control of our experience.

What about how we want to protect our egos and our social standing? We have a real need for others to accept us. We’re afraid of losing face, looking stupid and being embarrassed. Sometimes we dread others’ anger, rejection or judgment so much that we don’t say what we think.

This is my fear.

For me, 2013 is the time to face my social timidity and make this the year of my voice. I’m not a natural speaker or writer. I’m more comfortable being quiet and keeping my thoughts to myself, the words deep in private journals far from eyeballs. But just because it’s comfortable, is it right?

Sometimes the right thing for your life is the terrifying thing. Be open to your purpose. Where do you feel guided?

For me, I felt a calling to write and speak this year, despite how these things unnerve me. This is why I started this blog. Sitting in silence on the couch is safe. This blog seems dangerous. Speaking my mind seems dangerous. What if I speak and people hate what I say? What if I write this blog and I waste people’s time? What if, after I speak and write, people stop loving me?

Are you comfortable with how you deal with fear in your life? If not, here are some ideas so you can change your relationship with this feeling.

Replace fear with faith in 4 steps

Say to yourself, “I’m feeling scared.”

Simple acknowledgement of the feeling breaks its lock on your mind. Saying these words shifts the control from fear back to you. You can start making decisions again. Gather your thoughts and get your mind back. You’ll start seeing fear for what it is—a feeling—despite how it wants to disguise itself as fact.

My friend Shoshannah told me about this quote from Frank Herbert that she uses before she starts a martial arts sparring match.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” (from Dune, Good Reads)

Breathe

A deep breath brings calm back. Breathe in, hold for a moment, breathe out. More oxygen allows you to think. Fear can make our hearts race and our breathing fast and shallow. Slower breathing brings back an easy rhythm to follow. You’ll return to being centered in your body.

Pray

Ask for strength, help and guidance. God will bless you. You don’t need to say a perfect prayer to a concept of a higher power that you completely understand at this moment. It’s OK to be scared and unsure. Your prayer will still be heard.

Do it anyway!

People who accomplish things aren’t always fearless people. They feel fear too but they go forward anyway. We can be like them.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” (Good Reads)

Keep your goals in mind. Think of all you have already lived through. You can do it. Have faith and go for it!

What do you fear that you’re working to overcome? What gives you courage? Tell me about it in the comments!

Special thanks to Tim Carson for inspiring this blog post and to all my friends who confessed their fears during my research!

Go from behind the counter to your own office

Gen at age 20

Do you want to make a change that seems overwhelming? You can succeed in a daunting situation using three ideas from the theater:

  • Practice
  • Putting it on
  • Pretending as-if

Gen at age 20One of my earliest lessons in the power of using external elements for change was in my early 20s.

I’d spent most of my time either wandering in Europe or working in food service when I was back in the States until I saved enough money to go back to Europe.

As my money went to hostels and plane tickets, I couldn’t afford a car. I got around Santa Cruz on my motorcycle in good weather and on the bus in bad.

My undergrad degree was in language studies, so I knew a good deal about linguistics and medieval France, but little about modern day American business.

I looked around and saw that there weren’t many opportunities to move upward in the places I worked. Until I took a managerial role (undesirable) or an ownership track (even less desirable), I could see that I’d still be making lattés in 10 years.

I decided I would work in an office because offices seemed to hold promotional powers that cafés didn’t. I had the ability to smile and to type. I still needed more and this is where the boldness of theater helped me.

How did I go from hippie mocha maker to a professional with good prospects?

Practice

First, I practiced my introduction. I stood in the mirror and presented myself. I worked on smiling before I answered the phone as I’d read that a smile makes your voice sound friendlier when you answer.

What will you need to do in your new role? Practice it in the safety of home or with a friend. The more you get used to the newness in privacy, the smoother it will go when you try it in public. Memorize what you need to know and say. Just like an actor runs through his lines, polish your message until it’s perfect. You’ll be ready to shine when the curtain rises!

Put it on

I needed an outfit to support me in my new career path. I imagined women who worked in offices wore silk shirts. I went to a second-hand store and bought a deep blue silk shirt with a large bow in front. Once I was in my silk shirt, I felt different. This is the power of costume.

An actor knows that clothing helps you become a different person. As my basketball player son told me, “When I put on the jersey, I’m no longer me. I’m part of the team.”

Find the outfit that fits your new role. Which clothes make you feel strong and powerful? Is there a certain color you feel most confident in?

Pretend as-if

Gen's Zen DenFinally, I thought about business people and sought to act like one. I was nervous when I went to interview and present myself as a professional.

Would they see I knew more about layering espresso in foamed milk than operating computers and phone switchboards? Inside I was as squirrely as a rodent about to fight over the last acorn.

I wasn’t familiar with business culture but I acted as if I was a competent office worker and guess what? I have my own office now!

I feel a sense of belonging in my office. I’ve made it a comfortable place where I can be productive and welcome my coworkers. My office is called Gen’s Zen Den. I’m glad I dared to make a change and try a new career.

Act confident today, be confident tomorrow!

You don’t have to feel confident to seem confident. Practice what you’ll need to do. Dress the part. Act as if you know what you’re doing. Watch and learn.

You won’t feel out of place for long. Time is a great friend—soon you will know what you’re doing and feel confident!

Which techniques helped you seem confident when you felt the opposite? Tell me about them!