Anyone else feeling pulled all over the place? Let’s shift the dynamic and get dancing.

By mid-life, most people have accumulated an impressive number of roles! How many of these do you occupy?

Personally, I can hold my hand up to almost all of these. All except artist! Amateur photographer is more apt, and I’m not really a dog-lover after I was bitten by a Dachshund three years ago. A story for another time.

Trying to face in so many different directions, makes me really dizzy at times. If I am really honest, I can feel resentful, anxious, and fearful too. Some of the time, not all the time, but more than I’d like.

I know I’m not alone. Mid-life overwhelm comes up a lot in my coaching.

Sam is a senior manager in a telecommunications company. He is committed to work, valued by the business, and has a talent for getting things done. He is also Dad to three teenagers, Son to aging parents, rugby team coach, and a regular pub quiz team member to name a few. 

Until now, he has managed to balance the many demands on his time. Recently though, he has started to feel angry and frustrated. He wishes his life wasn’t such hard work. He is the ball in the pinball machine – being catapulted around. Everyone is talking at once, talking at him. It’s noisy, overwhelming, frustrating and confusing. It’s very stressful, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.

As mid-lifers, we occupy a really important position. We are between our younger and older selves, and between the younger and older generations. Holding it all together. It’s a busy and a uniquely challenging time.

We are the linchpins

Mid-lifers are the linchpins – of our families, of businesses, of society

A linchpin is…

a pin placed transversely through an axle to keep a wheel in position 

a person or thing regarded as an essential or coordinating element

Have you ever looked closely at a linchpin? Few people ever do, they just take them for granted. Strong, capable, reassuring. Small, simple, elegant. Safe, reliable, needed.

Close up of the hub of an upside down wheelbarrow with axle showing in background.

Most people don’t choose to be linchpins, it just happens – over time, or as other generations are lost. Being at the centre of things can be a real mixed blessing – we are influential but also responsible, needed but pulled from pillar to post.

Whether I like it or not, I am a linchpin for those around me. My life, my choices, my resilience impacts many others. A mixed blessing indeed.

You might also relate to the notion of the sandwich generation. Social worker Dorothy Miller first used the phrase in 1981 to refer to adults (generally in their 40s and 50s) who are caring for both dependent children and elderly (and potentially ill) parents. Yep – that’s me too.

Becoming unstuck

It’s not unusual for linchpins to become stuck – neglected and seized up. You can become unstuck though, and the evidence for doing so is compelling.

When mid-lifers thrive, those around them thrive too. When we are engaged and committed to our work, colleagues from other generations are more engaged too. When we are happy in our lives, our families are happier too.

Becoming unstuck, begins with creating movement, shifting the dynamic that is keeping you stuck. A small movement can make all the difference.

When a jar lid is stuck fast, no amount of hand twisting is working. You have to try something else. A simple solution is to hit the centre of the lid on the corner of a worktop. The dent in the lid changes the dynamic of the jar allowing you to twist it off.

The same principle applies to people who feel stuck in their careers.

Changing the dynamic could be a break from work, such as a holiday or a gap between jobs. Exposure to new experiences, businesses or people can also provoke a difference. It’s about creating potential space, energy, possibility.

But beware, potential and possibility are only potential and possibility. You also need momentum to avoid becoming stuck again. Before too long, you need to take another step, to step onto the dance floor.

Pausing to take stock is good, but not for too long. You have act, experiment, test a new move, develop a skill, dance with new people. It will feel a bit awkward at first, but it does get easier.

To dance, you must be ready to stop not dancing. Thinking about dancing is not dancing, watching dancing is not dancing (Laura Walker)

Mid-life is a dance with fear and confidence anyway, you may as well learn to dance your dance with style.

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