How To Transition Into Midlife With Confidence
Life is a series of transitions. Like it or not, the world is constantly challenging us to face and embrace change at every turn. Leaving home, attending school, getting married, and building a family or career – these are just some of the stages of life that invite us to meet new parts of ourselves with courage and curiosity.
Midlife is my current transition and it’s a stage that can be both exciting and unsettling. As the reality of mortality takes hold, we can feel anxious about losing loved ones or dealing with health issues as we head into our later years. The temptation is to meet this anxiety by resisting change in the hopes of remaining in safe and familiar territory.
But a comfort zone can become a prison.
Fortunately, there’s another feeling that also kicks in when we reach midlife – a longing for aliveness. As I entered my mid-fifties, it was this feeling that I chose to pay attention to which is why, in a moment of insanity, I joined a Crossfit gym.
Crossfit is a program designed for superheroes – soldiers, gymnasts, and professional athletes. The workouts combine a variety of functional movements that include lifting weights, gymnastics, and cardiovascular training performed at high intensity. I joined because I wanted to up my fitness level. I wanted to challenge myself to go beyond what I thought I could do at my age. And I wanted to work out with a group of committed fitness folks because I know that doing hard things with others makes change easier.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into though.
After an initial orientation and training period to learn the correct movements, I was ready for group classes and that’s when I started to balk at my decision. The thought of going to my first session was intimidating, to say the least. I felt self-conscious. The workouts were hard. I knew I’d compare myself to others. And I was convinced that I’d be the oldest, most out-of-shape member in the class.
But I went anyway.
During the first group workout, I started sweating before I ever lifted a weight. There were muscles. Lots of muscles. And men and women lifting barbells with big-ass weights to rock music that blasted motivation from speakers throughout the gym.
What am I doing here, I thought to myself as I walked over to the stretching mats. This is a mistake. I need to find a way to back out gracefully and get a refund.
I knew this would happen, that I’d be tempted to quit. So I had a backup plan already in place. When I arrived at the gym I sat in the parking lot and gave myself a pep talk. We’re going to play a game, I told myself. When you’re tempted to suffer in silence and hide out in a corner, you’re going to smile at a stranger, introduce yourself, and keep exercising.
The object of the game was simple: Do the opposite of what I’d normally do.
The smiling helped, people were welcoming and friendly, and they encouraged me to stick with it. By the end of the first month, I had a shift in perspective that changed everything.
On this particular morning, once the stretching sequence was finished, we walked over to “the rig”– a structure that resembled a giant jungle gym for adults. After completing the warm-up part of the workout, we were instructed to start the strength training by doing pull-ups either on metal bars above our heads (not a chance) or by using the gymnastic rings hanging from the center of the rig.
I chose the rings.
The starting buzzer went off and we began the workout. I grabbed hold of the wooden rings, planted my feet out in front of me, leaned back to a forty-five-degree angle, and then raised and lowered myself, using the rings to guide my movements. Each time I pulled up, I told myself: You can do this. You belong here. You’re getting healthy and strong.
That’s when something awesome happened.
The next song blaring from the speakers was one of my favorites: “Everlong” by Foo Fighters. As the music started, two men approached the rig. They jumped up and grabbed a high metal bar on either side of me and started doing pull-ups in unison.
As I continued to lift and lower my body to the rhythm of the beat, I noticed the men’s movements were now synchronized with mine and a crazy fantasy popped into my head: I imagined myself in my own music video flanked by two backup dancers swinging to the beat.
The image made me laugh out loud. The guys looked at me and smiled. And in that moment I felt like I belonged.
I left the gym that day standing a little taller, feeling a little stronger and convinced that I, too, could hang in there.
Just not on the pull-up bars. Yet.
Now, three and a half years later, I’m one of the gang. I’ve met great friends who are committed to their health, I’m stronger than I was in my thirties, lift more weight than I ever thought possible, and actually look forward to going to the gym because I know how good I’ll feel when I’m done.
All because of my decision to do the opposite of what I normally do.
While I don’t expect to become a champion athlete or a Crossfit Queen anytime soon, I do intend to keep challenging myself. That’s the gift of transition, a chance to brave change and discover the super hero who lives inside of you.
Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including her latest, Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife. She was the first president of the International Coach Federation.
This essay was featured in the June 9th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper is the paper of record for individuals who want to be Architects of Change, lead meaningful lives and Move Humanity Forward. To get inspiring and informative content like this essay delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.