The Middle Life: Making it Real

Hey, everyone! How’s it hangin’? Where have I been? I guess I’ve been on a writing sabbatical and not sure why.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the school year started. So much so that I’m having trouble putting two sentences together to express myself.

What is the predominant thought swirling in my brain? Middle Age. At 46 years old, I have to admit I’m smack dab in the midst of middle age. By the way, when does middle age evolve into old age? . . . . . . . . You know what? Never mind, I’ll worry about that later.

How did I envision this stage of my life? I don’t have an answer. I’d never really thought about it much until I arrived so I can’t say that it’s not what I thought it would be. I’ve been going through my life like a freight train racing through the farmlands of the Midwest. Everything a blur. Until now. The train has now come to a screeching halt awaiting directions.

It’s so weird not to have plan. I’m a planner. I’ve always had a plan – get through high school, go to college, get an awesome career, get married, buy a house, have wonderful kids, . . . . . . . . Then, the plan is blank. The items listed so far have been completed, but now what?

Obviously, the next stage is . . . . . empty nester. Yikes.

Why am I dwelling on this now?

Rachel got accepted into the first of five colleges that she is considering (yay!) – we found out a week ago.  Reading the formal written acceptance letter was like seeing a Technicolor rainbow while getting pelted with ice-cold rain. Then, the rainbow disappeared. I thought to myself, “It’s really happening – she will be leaving.” I cried the entire day and still can’t talk about it without sobbing. I really need to pull it together, but I’m struggling.

Of course, I’m always thinking waaaayyy too far in advance. Since Rachel got accepted into college, I’m seeing my future with no kids at home (I sure can make the leaps, can’t I?).  What the hell am I going to do with myself when that happens?

The hubs is always saying to me, “Don’t under estimate the value of you quitting your full-time job and being around more for our kids.” I’m sure he’s right, but it’s also easy for him to say. He has a career that he enjoys and will still have this career when the kids are gone. Most of my day revolves around managing the kids. (Holy crap! I’m going to have a lot of free time.)

This next part of my life journey is like an unformed lump of clay. I’m scared of that – I really don’t know what to do with clay.

I need a plan. Any ideas?

Still Searching

Yesterday, I read an interesting article that showed up in my Twitter feed (thanks, JS!) – This is the Worst Career Advice You Can Get. It’s posted on the blog, Resume Bear.

The title was provocative enough that I had to read it. The premise was shocking to me. But, by the end of the article, I was nodding my head. It actually gave me peace.

As you may or may not know, I’m in the 4th year of my mid-life crisis (at what age do I have to stop calling it that and just say, “crisis”?). So, this article was timely for me. It made me feel a lot better because I don’t know what I love to do. I like to do a lot of things and am pretty sure most of them aren’t career-worthy.

As a curiosity, I did order the book mentioned in the article – Do What You Are. What am I and what should I be doing? Well, I will let you know as soon as I read the book. I can’t wait to find out!

As stated in the article, “Try stuff!” That’s what I’ve been doing over the last 4 years. I’ve tried knitting, oil painting, blogging, cooking, food blogging (fogging?), kick boxing, swimming, running, etc. Now, I’m going to add another new thing to my list – drawing. 

Yeah. . . . . while in my painting class, the realization that I was severely lacking in a critical skill became glaringly clear. I really needed to know how to draw.

Take a gander at these babies ~

So, I’ve decided to learn how to draw (so I can paint better). I’ve been having a little trouble finding a beginning drawing class for my age group (they have classes for ages 10 and under). I’ve had visions of looking like Billy Madison sitting in a tiny chair at a tiny table watching 10-yr olds blow my stick-figure family drawings out of the water!

No. Thank. You.

With that image in mind, I went to my local craft store and purchased some art books for beginners, pencils and a fancy tablet of paper. I’m going to “teach” myself for a bit until I can find an appropriate class for middle-aged break-out artists like myself.

These art “things” have been sitting on the  “fancy” dining room table calling to me, “Hey, when are you gonna open us up and start drawing?” I put them there so I didn’t have to look at them – I rarely walk into the “fancy” dining room.

Why am I so intimidated? Every time I think about drawing, I’m thrown back into my 7th grade art class with Mrs. Rose. I hated art class. I was NOT good and Mrs. Rose seemed to point that out to me on a regular basis. Now, in hindsight, was she really that insensitive? Probably not. But, my insecure 12-year-old self interpreted her comments that way. You know how certain memories stick with you?

Okay, I’m drawing my Camaro using the grid process to do so. Do you know what I mean?  You rip a picture out of a magazine and using a ruler, make grid on the picture with quarter-inch squares and then you transfer your picture to a large piece of paper with a corresponding grid – do you remember doing that? I hated that project! I thought art was tedious.

Well, to make a long story short, I drew my car which I was really proud of (it actually looked like the Camaro in the picture)! She came around to my desk and . . . . . . shot me down (I can still recall this event vividly). You see, the sun that I had drawn on the horizon was “too childish and immature-looking” (see top part of the reconstruction). I needed to make it look more “artistic and modern” (see bottom part of the paper). Ummmm….. “What about my awesome car which was the whole point of the freakin’ project?”  Not a word about my car. I thought art was subjective and up for interpretation – an open-ended question with no right answer. Apparently not.

It was that day in the year of our Lord 1978 that I decided that I hated art class and anything to do with art. In my childish brain (I was twelve), it didn’t matter what I did, apparently I wasn’t good at it. That’s when I turned to and found comfort in numbers, equations and mathematics. There was only one right answer and 99% of the time I knew how to find it.

Note to Self: Be careful what you say to your children, it can make a serious impact. I try to remind myself every day.

So, back to the present. I’m trying to break out of my insecure 12-year-old self trapped in a 45-year-old body and do some drawing! Last night I finally got the courage to break out my supplies and start sketching. I read the first chapter of one of the books and, as instructed, looked at the pictures of the model tulips, put pencil to paper and Voila! A tulip was born!

You are witness to my first sketches since 7th grade art class. Behold!

Only reassuring and artistic-talent-confirming comments and opinions please. I’m still a little fragile. Of course, the hubs and the kids “said” that the sketches were “good” and “not bad”. I have a good support team.

I’m supposed to sketch about 20 minutes a day – practice makes better (I can’t say perfect in this scenario). It’s hard to find that much free time (I’m supposed to be working out 30 minutes a day too), but I’m going to make an effort.

Here’s to breaking out and trying new things!

Happy 1st Blogaversary to Me!

March 11, 2010, I posted my first online “musing”. I just finished reading it (again) – I haven’t read it since last March when I first posted it.

Have I made any progress in training my brain to think like an easy-going, non-worrying, glass half full person? I don’t think so, but I am my own worst critic. However, if I asked the hubby or my friends (the people in my life I count on to be honest with me) I would think that they would concur. I guess I’ll have to take a poll! I’ll get back to you on that one.

Have I made any big “What If?” changes in my life? – not really. I’m still a chicken-shit at heart. Changing a chicken-shit into a brave soul is really quite a feat. This will be an ongoing, long process.

Why did I decide to start blogging? I was reading a friend of mine’s blog. I loved it and it inspired me (She hasn’t been on it in a while, but I’m waiting for her to come back to it). You should check it out. I really, really enjoy her writing.

Her blog got me thinking, “What if I started a blog? What would it be about? Me? My family? Would anyone read it? Do I care if anyone reads it? What if I do care and no one reads it?, etc., etc.”

There I was analyzing the idea to death in the usual Jenni-fashion. I told myself to shut up and just do it. So, I did.

Blogging has been really great fun. I’ve made some really nice blog friends – I’ve never met these individuals, but I feel as though I know them through their writing. They are the ones that comment the most frequently on my posts and remind me that someone is actually reading what I’m dishing out!

They are:

Shouts from the Abyss

Punch it in!

Perpetually Peeved

Living Dilbert

Recovering Dawn

Writing has been a really good exercise for me – it has really made me think. So. .  . .I’ve been thinking a lot

Wait! Maybe it’s not a good thing…I think I’ve turned into a little bit of a daydreamer (What am I thinking about?Everything). That’s not good – daydreaming is not very productive. One of my traits is having the ability to hyperfocus – it seems to be slipping. Shoot!

Any who,what was I talking about? Oh yeah! What was my most popular post?  The one that described our Bed Bug Adventure last spring. This was a couple of months before bed bugs became a big news item (we were ahead of our time!).

My second most popular post has been my first one – Thoughts on “What If?”.  I find that somewhat interesting. I guess I’m not the only one out there wondering what the heck we are supposed to be doing here.

Well, I am definitely looking forward to my next year in blogging about this, that and the other thing. I hope you are looking forward to reading about it!

image source

Hidden Talent, Where Are You?

Since I’m part of the Post A Week Challenge on WordPress, I regularly receive emails with topic suggestions for posts. 

Here is Topic #59:

What’s your hidden talent? Also included were these follow-up questions: What is the skill or ability you have people are always surprised to learn you possess? What hidden talent do you wish you had?

Hidden Talent. Powerful words.

I usually read the suggestion and then toss it. But, this one has been really bugging me and so, it’s still hanging out in my inbox. Why?

I’ve been mulling this one over and over. I don’t think I have a hidden talent. Does everyone have one and I missed out?

I can’t sing like Susan Boyle (my kids will attest to that!).

I’m not really that creative or artistic. My artistic claim to fame was drawing elephants on my notebooks in junior high.

I can’t balance a lawnmower on my chin (I saw someone do this on Ellen!).

I don’t really have fashion sense so I can’t design the next “pajama jean”.

I can’t play any musical instrument except maybe the recorder (I bet I can still do Hot Cross Buns). Not really a “talent” since every kid in elementary school can do this.

I can cook, but it’s not hidden.

I can organize anything and anyone to death, but again, not hidden and  not a “talent”.

I can do the daily Indy Star crossword puzzle in about 13 minutes (my personal best). (impressive, right?)

I can fold fitted sheets like nobody’s business (thanks, mom!).

Because I am a TV hound, I can recall obscure actors and actresses names. Not really sure this is all that unique.

 Maybe….

I installed our new kitchen disposal and saved us $600.  Is that a talent?

Seriously, though, I think my 4-year mid-life crisis (4-yr anniversary is this April. You’re wondering about the start date. I’ll get to that.) has been all about finding my hidden talent and I haven’t found it yet.  You’d think after this long, it would have revealed itself by now. Maybe I’m looking too hard.

Okay, the start date of my mid-life crisis?  How can it have a start date? Well, it was the day that I quit my full-time job. When working at this crazy job, I didn’t have time to contemplate my life or what I would be doing down the road. I was just trying to get through the day: wake up, take kids to daycare, work, pick up kids from daycare (and when older, take them to practice of some sort), fix dinner, help with any homework, watch some TV, talk to family, do more work, go to bed….. you get the idea.

When I finally got the time to stop and think about what I really wanted to do (4 yrs ago), I literally locked up. “What the hell am I going to do?” I’d been going 100 mph for so long, I didn’t really have time to find my passion or time to discover my hidden talent (if it’s there).  Yoo hoo, hidden talent, come on out!

Well, I’m still here trying to figure it out. But, in the meantime, I’m still doing insurance (on a part-time basis). Not really the big switch I had fantasized about.

Maybe I need to enter the acceptance stage of this pursuit and come to grips with the fact that I may not have a hidden talent. At least one that I can use to blaze a new path for myself at this point in my life. 

Nah, I’m not completely ready to throw in the towel just yet. The one thought that keeps me focused on my pursuit is that I don’t want to be the old lady in the office that they keep around only because she is the vessel of knowledge of all of those that had gone on before her (you know, the office “tribal elder” that knows how to do everything).

I’ll just have to keep trying and be patient…..

From Fearful to Fearless

On my drive home from work today, I was thinking about the word fear. What am I most afraid of? Let’s see….

The Big Kahunas: 

  • Loss of financial security
  • Failure (all kinds – parenting, relationships, work, etc.)
  • Stagnation
  • Not being relevant

The Minor Things:

  • Spiders
  • Snakes
  • Jiggly foods (pudding, jello, creme brulee, oatmeal, etc)
  • Driving in Ft. Myers, FL (see my Florida Dreaming post)
  • Pine nuts
  • Hidden dangers (they are lurking everywhere, but where?)
  • Dentists
  • Public Speaking
  • this list could go on all day!

Of the Big Kahunas listed above, the fear that is foremost on my mind these days is stagnation. Not Changing. Not Moving.

Why stagnation? It’s taken a couple of days, but I finally came to the conclusion that the thought of waking up two (four, five, etc.) years from now doing the exact same routine that I’m doing now scares the shit out of me. Stagnation. It even sounds icky when you say it. That’s the ‘worry’ that is consuming my brain. It was a relief to finally figure out the crux of my melancholy that I’ve been feeling. What am I going to do about it? I’m not getting any younger!

Unfortunately for me, my fears of failure and financial ruin are not helping me in my quest to conquer my fear of stagnation. Egads, I’m in trouble.  On the scale from fearful (1) to fearless (10), I would say that my fear level is 4ish (not quite Monk) and I would like it to be a 7 or 8 (let’s be real, a 10 is just not in the cards!).  How do I get there? Is it even possible? 

I’ve been slowly working on this for the last four years. I finally started trying new things to help me get over my fear of not doing something perfectly the first time (this has always been a stumbling block for me).  I haven’t done anything mind-blowing like cage fighting or cliff diving, but here is a short recap:

  • Quit my full-time job without having anything else lined up (that was scary and very much unlike me)
  • Tried a kick boxing class and loved it! But, they eventually stopped offering it at my workout place :(.  I still have the pink gloves in the hopes that it will come back.
  • Took some oil painting classes last spring. This class was a small step in helping me get comfortable with not exuding perfection every time I try something new. My first, second, and third paintings are not that great and it’s okay. I can actually say this truthfully (that’s a big step for me).
  • Started a blog. Putting yourself out there is scary – I don’t do well with criticism. It’s been a great process for me and I’m getting more comfortable with being a little more “real” in my posts and accepting any comments that may come my way. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, the comments have been kind so my resolve has not really been tested.

These steps have been fine, but I feel like I’ve got to do something greater, bigger, different. I’ve had an idea swirling in my head since November, but it requires a lot of fearlessness. Where am I going to come up with all of this courage?

That is the million dollar question.

Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them.  They make the impossible happen.  – Dr. Robert Jarvik

Painting the Town (part of the ‘What If?’ project)

Are you wondering how I am doing on my “What If?” endeavor?  Me, too!

Ummmm.  Damn!  It’s really  hard to change when you’re in your mid-40s!  Ugghhh! Falling into old patterns is like wearing your favorite old t-shirt – but, the shirt may be faded, tattered, permanently stained and outdated.  Just because something is comfortable, doesn’t make right (see pic to the left)!

I was going to start with baby steps, remember?  Whenever a project or problem would arise in either my personal life or professional life, I was to say to myself, “How can we make that work?” -or- “What can we do to solve this dilemma?” -or- “What can we do differently?”  . . . .  Have I been doing that on a regular basis?  Not exactly.  It has been a struggle to suppress my automatic response of “We can’t do that because it’s too expensive, too complicated; we’re too busy, there’s no time, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. . . .”  

Hopefully, exercising the right side of my brain will eventually get me thinking in a different way (how long will this take?).

The Painting Project

As I mentioned before, I started taking painting classes in mid-March.  That surprised a lot of people because I’m a die-hard, left-brainer (for left & right brain inventory, click here).  I don’t go anywhere without my lists (and my calculator!).  Never having painted anything but my nails and interior walls, this seemed like the perfect thing to push me outside of the comfy zone.  

After 8 lessons, here are the results:

This is my first oil painting ever!  What do you think?  I think it looks like a 4th grade art project, but my family lies and tells me that it is really good (they want me to continue doing their laundry :)).  See the purplish/gray meandering thing on the left side of the picture?  Is it a river or a path?  Many have commented on the awesome path toward the mountains!  It is supposed to be a wintery river scene.  Oh well. . . . . 

Here is my second painting ever – it’s a still life instead of a landscape.  On the left side is the actual picture of the “still life”  and on the right is my artistic interpretation of the still life.  Before you comment, please note that it’s still a work in progress :).

I thought the still life would be easier, but it is NOT.  You have to worry about shadows and the direction of the “light source”, etc.  Ahhhhhhh!  This class is starting to get on my nerves a little bit because of the flashbacks to Mrs. Rose’s 8th grade art class  – it’s becoming too precise and rule-oriented (“my sun wasn’t artsy enough”, blah ,blah).  I want to do something without right & wrong answers (like street fighting! Okay, maybe not quite that but you get the picture, right?).  I wanted to do something that was less structured like a Jackson Pollock painting.  You know, where you just toss your paints on the canvas like a grown-up finger painting and then get to hang your painting in the Museum of Modern Art?!

It sounds like I’m not enjoying my art class, but I am!  I guess there are rules and guidelines for everything so I just need to chill and learn the basics.  I do look forward to Monday nights – 2.5 hours of me time!  Once I get my station set up, put my iPod earbuds in, it’s all good.

The next big step for me is to start a painting outside the classroom without the safety of having the instructor nearby. . .. . What should I paint?

 

Jen’s Mid-Life Crisis

As I somewhat alluded to in my Thoughts on “What If?” post, I’m feeling a little aimless. It has been 3 years since I jumped off of the merry-go-round and I’m still looking for that thing that will make me eager to jump out of bed every morning (oops – besides my family, of course), you know, My Purpose (I know that this is not an original quest). It dawned on me today that I’m 3 years into my mid-life crisis and I still haven’t made much progress. Don’t get me wrong, I am very blessed in my life – I have a wonderful husband, amazing children, loving parents and sister, etc. We have a home in a great neighborhood, my husband is doing well professionally and we have wonderful friends. I should feel fulfilled and not be this restless, yet here I am.

According to most people in my life, quitting my full-time job and going part-time has allowed me to be available to my children 24/7, you know, like a Meijer store (was I only available like 12/7 before?) – now I’m able to provide my children with untold benefits, experiences, etc. I get the fact that now it is a lot easier for my children to participate in more afterschool activities and to play with the neighborhood children more. So, now that also meant that I was more available to be the family’s social secretary, budget master, banker, tutor, taxi, chef, EMT, counselor, sports enthusiast, maid, judge & jury, taskmaster, etc. So, duh, THAT must be my purpose!  Whew, I’m glad we got that cleared up.

Wait a minute, if I’m doing such a great thing for the kids now, does that imply that I was doing a shitty job before? Hmmmm. I do think that would be the implication – what else could these well-meaning, yet back-handed, statements mean? Did my kids feel lonely, abandoned, unloved, ignored, and deprived when I was working full-time? (I don’t really believe that.) Because, of course, my husband working full-time apparently didn’t have that same impact. Yikes! Had I completely screwed up my kids already? They were 7, 10 & 13 when I quit the FT gig. I didn’t think we really started “ruining” their lives until they were in Jr. High. Oh Shoot, I was ahead of schedule!

I do want to stress that I have very much enjoyed being be able to hang out with my kids more. They are so interesting at the ages that they are now – we have really great conversations and I love the individuals that they are becoming. Rachel is near the end of her sophomore year and will be graduating in two years, Maddie is in junior high and we all remember what that is like, and Jack is my baby and in elementary school still, so I’m glad to be able to spend more time with all of them. BUT, why is it that I am considered a little nuts (maybe even whiny) for not being completely satisfied? Well, how could I not be 100% contented knowing that my mere presence (and now MORE of it!) brings boundless joy and happiness to my children everyday? YEAH, RIGHT! My daughter (I won’t tell you which one) disputes this statement every so often by stomping up the stairs yelling, “I HATE YOU!”. Yep, a therapist might be in her future (I actually think being around more has pretty much guaranteed it)!

I have repeatedly talked to my closest friends about this topic and, of course, we have determined that all women are not the same. Not really an “Aha!” moment, but it’s nice to confirm common sense notions aloud once in a while. I do enjoy working outside the home and contributing in that way – I always have. What I didn’t want to continue doing was working 50-55 hours per week. The part-time job I have now was a real blessing when I first quit my FT job. It is not stressful at all and it was exactly what the doctor ordered. But now, I think maybe I need something more and something different, but what?

Why did it take me this long to get to this realization? Well, I think it was because I have been trying to tell myself that I was fine because apparently there was really no reason to not be fine. Everyone else thought my situation was perfect, so it must be, right? I mean, I have a 30-hr a week job with a fantastic boss, I work during school hours so I can get my kids on and off the bus, I’m home in time to start the taxi service and usually cook a meal, AND I don’t have to work until midnight. Oh, and I can work from home whenever I need to. What’s not to like? (Wow, when I put it in writing, I am asking myself, “What is wrong with me?”)

Do I need a more interesting hobby or something different professionally? If I were to do something different professionally, what the heck would it be? I’ve been surfing small business idea websites just to brainstorm. Starting my own business has never really been a dream of mine – I don’t really think I have the moxy (or the fearlessness) required for that. The websites say to do something that you like (interests, hobbies, etc). When I was working full-time, I didn’t have time to develop any real hobbies that could lead to a career change. Okay, so what do I like to do? Hmmm . . . . .

Reading – I don’t see much of a job in this. A lot of people like to read. I’m not a literature major and I don’t have the qualifications to work in the editing field.

Crossword puzzles – I like solving them, not creating them.

Painting – I just started painting and I really don’t see a career blossoming from this hobby (see painting to the right).

Numbers – I was a math major and love to work with numbers. I’m always within arm’s reach of a calculator – I know, I know. Please don’t say it (Geek!).

Computers – I love computers (you can say it again, “Geek!”). I actually toyed with the idea of majoring in computers instead of math – why the heck didn’t I do that?!! However, I am mostly self-taught and I pay attention any time a computer professional is working on my computer. I’m not afraid to press a button! But, what can I really do with imitation computer skills?

Organization – What is there to say? I’m a fairly organized individual, but I’m not sure I would be very good at helping others get organized. Did you know that there is a National Association of Professional Organizers? Is there a college degree for that? Anyway, there is definitely something for everyone.

Cooking – I love cooking, but I follow other people’s recipes. I don’t create my own. Catering wouldn’t really be something I could do. What else can you do when you like cooking?

Should I go back to school? If I did, what would I study? I haven’t really pursued this option because we don’t have the finances for it – in two years we will be putting our first one through college. But, it does cross my mind once in a while.

If I were to gain a new hobby – what would it be? I’m doing oil painting classes now and that has been fun, but my classmates are intimidating. I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself after 5 lessons, but my paintings look like caveman drawings or maybe kindergarten finger paintings (see pic above) compared to my fellow painters. It will be Y-E-A-R-S before something could actually develop from this hobby. I’ve also tried knitting; however, I haven’t developed beyond the basic dishcloth and winter scarf. I still don’t know how to pearl! I don’t think that selling kitschy knitted items is in my future anytime soon. My current problem with hobby-development is that I really don’t have any more time than I did when I was working full-time. It’s weird, but true (I have some theories on why that is, but I won’t expand on them here).

All I know is that I need to either accept my current status and drop it or create a plan to move forward. I guess this leads back to the “What If?” question. This question is really starting to annoy the crap out of me!

I guess I need to brainstorm a little more. . . . .