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  • Writer's picturepamradtkerussell

Leaning into the Discomfort of Midlife

The past few months have been … well, uncomfortable.

Sure, we had Hurricane Ida, an evacuation to my ex-in-laws and came home to a messy New Orleans. And on Friday our beloved collie, Celia died.

But those aren’t the discomforts I’m talking about. I’m talking about the internal uncomfortableness of changing in midlife. Of stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing an unexplored future. Of becoming, at age 53, the person I think I was meant to be.

It’s not easy. I feel like a fledgling oak trying to break through a weed barrier. I keep trying to burst out but repeatedly hit something that keeps me from getting above ground.

That something is fear. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear so painful it makes me want to turn back around and try to put things back the way they were. Or somehow unlearn what I’ve learned about myself over the last few years.

But of course, I can’t.

I’ve been uncomfortable before. In the past, rather than push through, I sought to distract myself. Food, drinking, exercise, work, TV shows and travel. Anything to quiet the voice in my head that kept saying softly at first, and then more loudly: “THIS ISN’T RIGHT,” until I had to pay attention.

Now, I’ve learned to pay attention to that inner voice. I meditate daily, shutting down the outside noise that distracts me from what my soul is telling me. I’ve learned to pay attention to the warnings of my gut when something isn’t right. But of course, I don’t always follow my instincts, and the result is more suffering.

I also know, increasingly, when something is right. I become relaxed, happy and at ease with myself and my decisions.

What these practices are telling me now is to be still and wait. I know with all of my heart that I’m doing (most of ) the right things, and that I’m on the right path. But I desperately want to know where this path leads. For years I knew where my path led – career, marriage, kids, travel, settle down in a nice house, etc.

Now, I simply don’t know, and I have to be OK with that – but the not knowing is super uncomfortable, as is the waiting. I’m impatient, I don’t like to wait. And what if the path leads me someplace I don’t want to go, like the stage or the classroom?

Sue Monk Kidd, in her book “When the Heart Waits,” likens this time of life to being a caterpillar in a cocoon. The process of change, of becoming in midlife, doesn’t happen quickly, she emphasizes, but the outcome is brilliant and life altering.

So I’m following Sue’s advice, and the advice of countless other wise women and men who have been here before: I’m leaning into the discomfort. I’m embracing change.

And yes, I’m uncomfortable, but you know what? I also know that life begins at the end of my comfort zone.

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