Archive for Mid-Life

Mid-Life, Together

Reinvention Is Just as Much About Loss as it Is About Gain

From The Huffington Post: January 8, 2015

Kate Hilton, The Huffington Post, Best Selling Author, The Hole in the Middle, Book Club, Book ClubsThis morning I woke up and discovered that my inbox was full of congratulations on my LinkedIn work anniversary.

Exactly one year ago, I apparently made a point of changing my LinkedIn profile and declared to the world that I was a writer (and a consultant, because you never know).

And what a year it turned out to be.

My novel, The Hole in the Middle, spent 11 weeks on the bestseller list in Canada. I made dozens of personal appearances at book clubs, libraries, bookstores, women’s organizations and writers’ festivals, on radio and — astonishingly — on television. I signed a two-book deal with a U.S. publisher. I travelled across the country, met wonderful friends, and discovered in myself an unexpected talent for reinvention.

These successes coincided with my most excruciating failure, as my marriage of 14 years ended. I parented my children through the dark days of separation, uncertainty and grief. My dog died. I lost friendships that I had cherished, and gained an unsettling perspective on the essential impermanence of a life built with care and effort. I learned how to ask for help, and how to receive it with grace. I held tight to my parents, my sisters and my sons, and was grateful for them.

“You’ve changed,” people said to me over the course of the year. “You’re different.” Sometimes it was said with admiration, and sometimes not. It made me uncomfortable, either way. A friend said, “You should thank them. You’ve worked hard at change. It’s what you wanted.” And she’s right.

But reinvention is about loss as well as gain. It involves the shedding of an old life, a life that may not fit any longer, but a life that was known to you. It involves the creation of a ‘you’ that didn’t exist before. And, as with all new ventures, it involves failure.

It is fashionable these days to deny the existence of failure, to suggest that failure is merely a mechanism that pushes you toward your destiny. I like this idea. I find it attractive and comforting. I also think it is absolute nonsense, a rationalization of the most fantastical variety. Failure is the ugly twin of success, and success cannot exist without it.

Failure is a necessary ingredient in reinvention. That is why reinvention is hard and lonely and frightening. But reinvention is also exhilarating, and rewarding, and worth the cost it exacts from those brave enough to embrace it.

And so I gratefully accept all congratulations on my work anniversary. It is a milestone worth celebrating.

Mid-Life, Work-Life Balance

5 Easy Ways to Take the Edge Off Your Midlife Crisis

Kate Hilton, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, Book Club, Mid-Life Crisis, Mid life crisisI love women’s magazines that offer five-step solutions to all of life’s problems.  A Better Sex Life!  A Trendier Spring Wardrobe!  A Hotter Marriage! A More Fulfilling Career!  As a veteran self-improver, I find articles like these almost irresistible.

In that vein, I propose the following five (easy) ways to take the edge off your midlife crisis.  There are undoubtedly harder and more radical ways to fix what ails you, such as therapy, divorce, quitting your job and so on.  These suggestions are more in the nature of short-term triage – like a new spring scarf or a fresh recipe for quinoa salad.  And they work!

1. Take Up A Sport.  I know.  I can’t believe I’m suggesting this either.  Up until recently, I’d never so much as attended a swim meet.  But if you are in your forties, you are probably grappling with some unsettling physical limitations that are cropping up like bad weeds.  Twinges in your back, bad knees, an odd foot problem…it’s mildly embarrassing, isn’t it?  Knowing that your body is on the slippery slope to hip replacements and arthritis?  Taking up a new sport and improving at it is an effective psychological counter-measure.  I, for example, play tennis, which allows me to hit things really hard in a socially-appropriate context.  Arguably I’m only hurrying myself down the slope by courting new injuries, but it feels really good in the moment.

2. Embrace Your Creative Side.  Write.  Paint.  Learn the piano.  Take Irish step dancing.  Exploring your creativity is an incredible outlet for all of the anxiety and confusion that attend a midlife crisis.  And it fends off Alzheimer’s.

3. Hang Out With Other Women.  Find communities of women that nourish you.  I have a bunch of them:  a book club, a tennis group, a professional advisory group (like a career cabinet) and a monthly dinner club (more on that later).  I spend time with younger women who remind me that I’m happy not to have very young children anymore; and I spend time with older women who reassure me that this too shall pass.  And of course, I spend time with women who are in exactly the same boat, which makes me feel normal.

4. Make A Wild and Permanent Gesture of Size.  Do you remember Heartburn, that barely-fictionalized memoir of marriage breakdown by the late, great Nora Ephron?  God, she was fabulous.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Rachel,” said Richard, “it had nothing to do with how much you cooked for him.  It had nothing to do with how much you wanted to be a couple.  It had nothing to do with you.”

“It must have had something to do with me,” I said.

“Why?” said Richard.

“Because if it didn’t, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“That’s my point,” said Richard.

“I know that’s your point,” I said, “but I can’t accept it.”

“Well, if you ever do,” said Richard, “you ought to do what I did.  I feel much, much better.”

“Are you suggesting that I ask someone I’m not in love with to marry me and then jump into the seal pond?” I said.

“I’m suggesting that you make a wild and permanent gesture of size,” said Richard, “and mine was to ask you to marry me and jump into the seal pond.  Yours can be anything you want.”

“The only wild and permanent gesture of size that has ever crossed my mind,” I said, “is to have my hair cut.”

Wild and permanent gestures of size come in varying degrees of wildness, permanence and size.  Some of the most extreme ones are beyond the scope of these 5 Easy Ways (see above).  But there are some interesting possibilities in the middle of the range, between a haircut and a divorce, let’s say, that may be profoundly satisfying.  If you’re into physical improvements, you could straighten your teeth, get or remove a tattoo, or try laser hair removal (No More Shaving For The Rest Of Your Life!).  On the psychic improvement side, you could ditch that old high school friend you haven’t liked for years, or quit that volunteer board with the meetings that you fake illness to avoid every month.  You get the idea – small scale enhancements with long term benefits.

5. Start An Outrage-Of-The-Month Club.  I admit it.  This whole blog has been a thinly-veiled excuse to tell you about my OOTMC.  It’s one of the best things in my life, and I want to share the joy.  Credit for the OOTMC goes to my friend Sara, who used to work at a really dysfunctional institution where all anyone ever did was talk about how terrible it was to work there.  She and her friends banded together and made a solemn agreement to save all of their complaints for one monster bitch session at the end of the week.  The person with the most outrageous tale of anti-social behavior in the workplace got a free drink.  How brilliant is that?

My own OOTMC is a dinner club.  There are four of us, and we only ever meet with a full complement.  If someone is sick, we reschedule.  We eat, we drink, and each of us presents an outrage for consideration – a story that we believe will secure our position as the most downtrodden, maligned or otherwise insulted member of the group.  It’s absolutely hilarious and we almost laugh ourselves sick every time.  And the best part?  No matter what obnoxious thing befalls you over the course of the month, there’s always a silver lining: you just might get a free dinner out of it.

Mid-Life, The Writing Life

My Secret Life as an Indie Writer

Kate Hilton, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, The Scar Project, Book Club, Breast CancerI didn’t set out to become an indie writer.  I’m not a particularly ‘indie’ person.  Although you can probably tell that by the way I just put ‘indie’ in quotation marks.

For the most part, I’ve led a fairly mainstream life.  With the exception of some angst-fuelled years as an English Lit major, this has suited me.  My CV impresses people.  I have a couple of good degrees, professional qualifications and a title that looks fancy on a business card.  I have the best marriage I know of, and some lovely kids. I am proud of these things.

I was therefore extremely surprised when I had a midlife crisis.

It hit with a vengeance right around my thirty-eighth birthday.  I didn’t see it coming.  I’d noticed that some of my girlfriends – notably the ones edging into their forties – seemed angrier than usual.  They were taking on self-improvement projects, such as straightening their teeth and training for marathons and getting therapists.

None of these projects were on my bucket list.  I suffered through many teenage years of hideous orthodontics.  I almost pass out if I run for the bus.  I have an innate suspicion of any stranger who wants to talk about my feelings.  One day, however, leaving coffee with yet another friend high on the power of midlife transformation, I wondered silently if I harbored any such goals.  You want to write a book, my inner voice screamed.  It screamed.  It stopped me dead.  I could not have been more surprised.

Despite my general pragmatism, I am a big believer in the inner voice.  Undoubtedly, I read Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within at an impressionable age.  Which, if you were not in a Women’s Studies program in the early nineties and somehow missed it, ends on the following note:

We are so many selves.  It’s not just the long-ago child within us who needs tenderness and inclusion, but the person we were last year, wanted to be yesterday, tried to become in one job or in one winter, in one love affair or in one house where even now, we can close our eyes and smell the rooms.  What brings these ever-shifting selves of infinite reactions and returnings is this: There is always one true inner voice.  Trust it.

My own inner voice is very selective.  It rarely makes an appearance.  When it does, I am generally on the precipice of an extremely bad decision (like the time I nearly moved in with someone who didn’t understand the difference between a cathedral ceiling and an attic) or a major life change (like the time I chose law school over grad school, or the moment when a friend became my future husband).  I consider its advice to be infallible.  To say I was shocked to hear it weigh in on the book issue would be an understatement.  I took it seriously.

I started scribbling ideas in a little pink notebook that I carried around in my purse.  I filled it.  I ripped out an old kitchen in my house and turned it into an office.  I asked for a used laptop for Christmas.  My very nice husband gave me a new one.  I got a babysitter to come on Sunday afternoons and I started writing for three hours a week.  I wrote on the subway.  I wrote after the kids went to bed.  I wrote on vacation.

I produced a first draft, and gave it to a few trusted friends to read.  They told me to keep going.  I produced a second draft and gave it to more friends to read.  They told me that they dreamed about my book, that it made them laugh and that they forced their dinner guests to listen to passages from it.  I started working four days a week so that I could write on Fridays instead of Sundays.

And the whole time, I was absolutely terrified.  An alternate version of my self – one that I had abandoned years ago in the long march toward sensible adulthood – was waking up, and it was taking charge.


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