Mid-life is a dance with fear and confidence – here are five key things we all need to know

When I was doing my masters research, I discovered that in mid-life fear and confidence interact in fascinating and unexpected ways.

A dance between two partners, where the leader of the dance can switch, the type of dance may also change, and they can also dance individually while the other watches in the background. When confidence increases, fear doesn’t often decrease. The nature of fear can change or even flip. Initially, you may be afraid of changing, then become more afraid of not changing. Confidence is multifaceted. You can be confident in your ability to do lots of things, but not really know who you are anymore.

It can be a challenging and confusing time. Here are five insights that may help you embrace the dance.

1. Dis-covering how to dance is to dis-cover the dancer  

You need to begin with dis-covering – rediscovering who you are, what matters most, what you are good at, what brings you meaning. Who you were and what you wanted at 20 will be very different to 40 or 50.

When you dance with fear and confidence, you dance with all of you – your heart, your head, your gut, your emotions, your face, your body, your thinking, your meaning, your strengths, your values, your relationships, your roles, your past, your present, your future.

When you dance with fear and confidence you step up – bringing more of you to the dance—the lead actor in your own life. Your dance, your playlist.

2. Others need you to dance, even if they make it hard

Organisations and families need the mid-life linchpins to hold everything together. Your health and happiness matter more than they realise. When you are fulfilled, engaged, and well, other around you are too.

But, everyone has an opinion about you and your dancing. Mid-lifers are discriminated against and ridiculed. The mid-life crisis isn’t real but stories pervade the media and everyday life. Big questions make people nervous; they worry about themselves, making them biased and judgemental.  

It’s hard to find an unbiased, challenging supporter to dance along side you, but it can help. Who can, or could, be this role for you?

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

3. Meaning turbocharges your dancing

Dancing like you mean it is easy when you actually do!

Without meaning you become stuck, dissatisfied, and weary. When you dance with meaning you don’t have to try—your posture is better, you are energised, you throw yourself into the dance gladly.

Meaning is a big deal in mid-life, the need grows and grows. By dis-covering your sources of meaning and your sense of purpose you can evolve your working life to better suit you. Your dance becomes more, you are more.

For most people, they have multiple sources of meaning in their life. How aware are you of yours? How satisfied are you with yours?

4. To dance and pivot well you need a strong core

You are at the pivotal point in your life, so pivoting isn’t really a choice, it’s already happening. You can’t truly stand still – everything around and within you is shifting anyway. The trick is to work out how and in what direction.

Having a strong core helps. A good sense of who you are now, what gives you meaning, and what matters most will help you to stand taller. Knowing your pivotal strengths helps keep you steady – you take them with you. Having a sense of purpose helps guide you attention, your direction, and can help you feel less dizzy.

Is it time to pause and take stock? Is it time for a new perspective?

5. To dance, you must be ready to stop not dancing

Thinking about dancing is not dancing. Watching dancing is not dancing.

Pausing to take stock is good, but not for too long. You have to try a step, move, experiment, test a new move, develop a skill, dance with new people. By starting you can discover more about what you feel, think, want, don’t want.

Transitioning begins with ending—you have to let go. You have to be sufficiently dissatisfied. You have to be willing to challenge the status quo. You have to become less immune to change.

 It will feel a bit awkward at first, but it does seem to get easier.

Your dance, your way

Dancing with fear and confidence: How to liberate yourself and your career in mid-life by Laura Walker was published in 2020 and is available from all major retailers.

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