by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
Today’s 21st-century question: When did women of a certain age all agree that we need to “reinvent” ourselves? I must have missed the text.
It isn’t my imagination. Hop onto any website’s homepage, and you’ll find some channel or thread that offers dozens of articles, tips, lists, infographics, or timelines about reinvention for women. Subtext: The life you’re living is dull, unimaginative, stagnant, and not worthy of you. You’ve reached a point in life where you have earned and deserve so much more. Grab it! Grab hold of it and make it so. You can do it!
If I may… I hate to be the wet blanket thrown atop anyone’s fiery dreams of personal renaissance, but here’s a thought: What if you’re fine? What if you’ve never considered reinventing yourself because you’re mostly content with exactly who you are?
In parallel to this, I have another question: When did women get so strident in their demands for a new life? And so angry? I skipped over yet another article about reinvention recently because I was so disturbed by the anger in the title; something about living fully in your “F-You Fifties.” Really? I guarantee you I’ve had that thought from time to time, but I’m positive I’ve never assigned it to people or events I would encounter throughout an entire decade of my life. I understand it was hyperbole chosen to make a point, but it didn’t feel good to me. That’s not how I’d like to label my world view throughout my 50s, thank you very much.
I mean, how do you follow up something like that? With your “So Sorry Sixties?” At that point, you may realize that the “new you” of your 50s was an overreaction to midlife that went slightly haywire, in no small part due to the daily reminders that accosted you and strongly implied you need to be someone other than who you are. Right now, with not a moment to lose.
Here’s the thing. I get it. I think we may all have our moments where we look around and wonder, “Is this all there is?” Many of us pick up and start again when a marriage ends or when a career screeches to an unexpected halt. What now? In my life, I’ve despaired about the book(s) I haven’t written; the book I have written that’s been rejected by any number of respected publishers; the career missteps. And more important, we despair about the personal detours. Those times that you recall and wonder: What if? What if I’d been a different kind of daughter? A different wife or mother or sister or friend? That Whittier quote comes to mind—right? “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.” In a more contemporary vein, I think we’ve all wandered down Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams at least once in a while.
Getting back to the unread “F-You Fifties” article. Just as any woman in North America would, I called a friend to discuss my aversion to it. I told her I didn’t need to jump out of an airplane or climb K2 or launch a small but spectacularly successful business that utilized empty Keurig cups in an ecologically sound manner. That the only things I really needed to reinvent myself that morning were pancakes and a really good cup of coffee. Does that count?
On this blog, I know I pose far more questions than I’ll ever be able to answer. I’m no expert (on anything), but I suggest we all just take a breath and realize that maybe growth and evolution don’t require that we fundamentally change who we are. Women much more intelligent than I have not only considered this notion of “reinvention” before, and they’ve addressed it more poetically than I ever could, as well. I give you Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and her reassuring and brilliant words about the life “women of a certain age” are living:
Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on to protect from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one need it? Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.