rubics cube on table

Life is hard. It’s supposed to be.

Hi friends, I’ve missed you! I know it’s been a while since last we talked, but I took a big career leap about six months ago, and I’ve had to make some choices about my time. You know, the whole “you can have it all just not at the same time” sort of thing.

This new job came at a time where I’ve got many complex demands on my time, emotions, and attention – important relationships, raising healthy and kind kids, and surviving emotionally in a complicated, often scary, world. This complexity is not something I, alone am dealing with. As I have shared my observations with friends and colleagues about these last few months, their experiences mirror my own, and I hear the same words over and over and over.

Life is hard.

It’s just so much.

Why is it SO HARD?

The concept of “midlife” is not just an excuse to sell us insurance and yoga pants

A few weeks ago, as I was losing my sh*t with my sister after a lovely session of sunrise yoga (as I am wont to do) she pointed out to me that “midlife” is a cliche for a reason. Everyone spends their 20’s gunning hard for what they want out of life at that tender age – a good education, a good job, career advancement, a social life that looks like whatever you believe the ideal to be, and probably some sort of life partnership or love or kids or whatever floats your boat. Then, you hit your 30s, and things START TO HAPPEN! You get a promotion, you get “the job”, you meet someone great, you pee on a stick, you buy a house, etc. etc.

Then WHAM. You turn 40. 41. 42. 43….The kids are getting older. Starting school (Kindergarten. Middle School. HIGH SCHOOL.) They have opinions and interests, which require you signing them up for teams and activities that THEY want to do, your schedule or sanity be damned. And then your job is really heating up too. You have presentations to prepare with 12 hours notice, on the same night you are required to spend 3 hours on soccer fields with no wifi. Your house is a disaster, there’s no food in the fridge and laundry is piling up. Perhaps it’s not kids taking up this space, instead it’s aging parents, aging pets, friends (who are like family), divorces, illnesses….the list of competing demands is seemingly endless.

And you look around and think, IS THIS IT? IS THIS WHAT I WORKED SO HARD FOR?

Midlife is when we start to really FEEL the absence of gravity

In our 20s and 30s, we’re hurtling through space but still firmly within the gravitational pull of our origins, and we figure out the laws of physics more or less work in our favor. Where we exert pressure – working long hours at school and at work, for example – we tend to see equal and opposite reactions, in the form of rewards like achievements, opportunities and advancement, come back to us. But the further we get from that place, the less those laws seem to apply.

We start to experience the randomness of life. A cancer diagnosis for someone who runs 12 miles a day and has eaten nothing but kale and pressed juices for most of her life. Infertility despite the very deepest desire to become parents. Reorganizations at work, where you’re let go and the slacker who works 6 hour days (with 2 hour lunches) gets to keep his job. Relationships that we want to will into being start to fall apart.

And then we look at what’s happening out there in the world: people we know are dying in nightclubs and movie theaters and on the way home from picking up milk at the corner store, for no apparent reason but for the color of their skin, the person they love, or for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Randomness.

Invest more, expect less

The further we get from our birth, the more wild, uncontrolled, and startling that randomness feels. When we begin to understand that the reaction or outcome of our work and effort is not always equal and opposite to what we put into it, we find it to be hugely destabilizing.

We believe that because we work hard, take care of ourselves and our loved ones, committed to the job or the company, that somehow we’re supposed to feel MORE in control, have more locked down and be able to actually ENJOY things for Pete’s Sake. The reality is, there is alchemy at work and it takes a bit of faith in the unseen. The efforts and wishes and will we put into the things we love and the things we want from this world do have an effect. They just aren’t always the ones we expect.

The lesson, then, that I’ve learned this year is to expect less. I am not lowering the bar on what I expect from other humans – kindness, fairness, respect.  I’m focusing less on what I’m getting out of my effort, and more on what I’m putting into it. That’s it – that’s all I have. Yes, this is hard – it’s supposed to be.

Jen S.

Jen Swanson (@jgswanson) a digitally curious designer of experiences, a mom, a wife, a reader, a gardener, a cook, and a little bit of a bad-ass. Professionally speaking, of course.

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