While out on a recent morning walk, a good friend and I were discussing some of the challenges we and other women are dealing with now. Overall, our own lives are good today—our grown kids are thriving, everyone in our immediate families is healthy, we feel financially secure and blessed to have good, solid marriages. Even so, we have our own fears about what this second half of life holds–fears most all midlife women have.
- Health–our own health and the health of those we love–will it change and when?
- Financial— will we have enough money to last us our lifetime?
- Friends—our relationships and communities are changing, who are my friends?
- Purpose and Identity—if I’m not what I do, then who am I and what’s really important?
- Time–How will I fill my days knowing I have only a finite number of years remaining?
This second half of life can be the most rewarding and personally satisfying times for women–yet it’s undeniably challenging. You are not alone. These fears are very real and we each need to address them to find our own unique answers honestly and successfully.
Fear #1….How will I manage the health issues of aging—my own health and the health of those I love?
Our health is changing. A surprise serious diagnosis can easily derail our life. This week alone, I’ve talked with several friends—one just received a new serious diagnosis; another friend’s husband is dealing with chronic pain; and yet another is struggling with the unexpected death of her husband. I hurt for them all.
Many of us are caring for aging parents and the demands vary greatly. Generally, the heaviest care-giving burden falls on the child living nearest to the parent. This is physically and emotionally exhausting, in addition to the financial implications. The long distant siblings (I fall in this category) may want to help, but the distance makes any ongoing, meaningful support challenging. Finding the right resources and figuring out how to share the care-giving are essential, yet difficult. Everyone involved struggles to find their way in these situations and each is unique.
Often I hear from women living and caring for a spouses/partner with serious chronic health problems such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, cancer, and cardiac issues. We become a primary care-giver long before we ever thought we would. As conditions worsen, women simultaneously lose their life partner for travel, decision-making, and sharing life’s more intimate moments. Most of us just aren’t psychologically or emotionally prepared—we erroneously assumed these issues were still years away.
Fear #2….Do I have enough money to last my lifetime?
Women become very stressed about our financial security at this time of life and rightly so. We’re concerned about living long after our career ends, often alone, with high potential medical and long-term care costs, and sensing our savings may not be enough to last our lifetime. We feel inadequately prepared about our money, expenses, investments, and other critical legal and financial issues. We don’t even know “how much is enough”.
Although the financial picture in the US is better than it was a decade ago, the impact of the 2008 meltdown lingers. Many of us lost our homes and saw our property and investment values decline, pensions are rare for those of us who worked in the private sector, and retirement and 401(k) savings may be underfunded. If we’re still working, we worry about lay-offs, ageism, and under-employment as our retirement looms closer. Our generation, the majority of baby-boomers, did not save nearly enough. PWC, a leading research/accounting firm, reported in 2016 that 50% of us have less than $100,000 in savings. Social Security was never meant to be a livable income, yet for many, this will be the only income. It’s imperative we women must take action sooner than later to understand our situation and to ensure our financial future.
Help for our financial fears: Getting started….
- Know where you are financially and what you really have? Get an honest professional financial review to understand where you are today, what’s realistic in your circumstances and how to proceed. (Caution: It is important you find the right person for this important step.) Learn how much do you have and how much you really need.
- As women, many of us gave control of our investment portfolio to our husbands and now we need to get up to speed quickly and thoroughly to understand our total financial picture.
- Consider your options now: save more; work longer if possible; know what can you really afford; move from expensive areas to more affordable communities; and really understand the basics of finances. It also may require you dramatically reduce expenses and cut your living expenses significantly.
Fear #3—I feel I don’t have the right friends and a community I need at this time of my life.
I’m very aware my friends and community have changed. Many of my longtime close friends have left Silicon Valley to more affordable areas or to be nearer to children and grandchildren. I plan to stay so I’m feeling a loss of local friendships. After I left my career, several communities were no longer part of my life and I had a big hole in my calendar and my life. Many of us are experiencing a similar void of supportive, like-minded friends. Our friendships seem to evolve as our lives change, so it’s necessary we reach out.
Many women find themselves adrift from those who have shared our lives for decades. Our children are busy in their own lives, careers are ending, and friends move out of the area and marriages end. (And no, Facebook isn’t a viable substitute!) Our personal interests have shifted into new and different areas so we need to reach out to meet and engage with new people at all ages to share our interests and our life If not, we’ll find ourselves alone and unsupported over time.
A lack of meaningful relationships in our lives lead to loneliness, depression, alcohol and substance abuse in midlife. So get out, meet make new friends and have some fun!
Fear #4—Who am I and what I should do with the rest of my life?
I’ve been asking myself those questions since I was an angst-ridden adolescent. I’ve noticed I’m asking them once again since I still haven’t found that one grand all-encompassing answer!
All the years raising my sons, pursuing a career, busy with my friends, and interests, I didn’t have the luxury of pondering life’s big questions.
Getting to know ourselves requires that we identify our purpose and a new meaning to our life. Tapping into our deep passions and a desire to leave our mark on the world seem to loom large in the midnight hour for many of us.
Next Step: Take time to reflect on what you may have loved to do years ago, learn and try new experiences.
Fear #5–Time—How do I fill my days and do I have enough time left in my life?
The days are long, yet the years are short. Once my career and child-raising ended, the days felt longer and sometimes challenging to fill. And yet, I recognized the years remaining are undeniably short!
I became vitally aware I optimistically have about 25 really good years remaining. I define “good years” as being able to move comfortably, do what I want, travel and have all my mental and physical faculties in tact. In the not so distant future, I anticipate things will slow down, perhaps even sooner.
How do I mindfully want to spend the time I have remaining? This is the real challenge. I feel a strange sense of time as the open days contrast with the feeling that life’s end isn’t that far off. How do I make the best of the time I have?
These fears are real, but you’re not alone in feeling them. In my blogs, I bring my research, findings and the shared insights from so many brave, thoughtful women I’ve met on this journey with the hope to help us all. Won’t you please feel free to share your stories and second half of life challenges with our online tribe? Let’s all travel this time together.