What I Learned During My Monumental Post-Empty-Nesting Midlife Transition

I’m at the tail-end of a monumental life transition. It’s very exciting, but it’s also been scary as hell. A part of this transition involved accepting a new job in a new state, on the other side of the country. It also involved the picking up of my very settled life and hauling it 2000 miles away to create a new one, as a single, empty-nested, middle-aged woman.

Each step of this journey involved about 5 million smaller steps, and now that it’s all over, I honestly cannot believe I actually pulled it off. 

I’m a woman who likes stability. I like solid ground. I like to know what I can count on. Even though I’ve taken some pretty big risks in my life, I am in general a woman with a certain amount of anxiety (the wake-you-up-at-3-am-like-the-house-is-on-fire kind), which tends to anchor me, sometimes a little too much. I tend to overthink, overanalyze, overquestion. I look backward rather than forward, sometimes a little too often. 

My retrospective analysis of how I, as a single, empty-nested, middle-aged woman, with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, pulled off a cross-country move, and the almost complete metamorphosis of my life, resulted in my realization that I learned some pretty grand life lessons in the process. I plan on applying these lessons to other areas of my life, as I continue to evolve into the person I want to become in the second half of my life (I have no real idea of what that is, by the way, just that it involves more authenticity and courage). Anyway, here are four of my grand life lessons:

 

  • I don’t need to do everything alone. I used to pride myself on my self-sufficiency, but now that’s luxury I simply cannot afford. I’m no longer in my 20s. I can no longer load an entire U-Haul by myself. And, I don’t want to. So embracing the philosophy that it takes a village to move a single, empty-nested, middle-aged woman across the country, I reached out and asked for help. One of my biggest helpers was a childhood friend I’d reconnected with on Facebook. It just so happened that Gail had some downtime at the same time I was moving, so I seized the opportunity and convinced her to fly out and drive across the country with me —in a U-Haul. With two dogs. Towing a Fiat. And to my delight, she said yes. We called our adventure “Two (Middle-Aged) Women and a Truck (and Two Dogs, and a Fiat)”. And a grand adventure we had (except in Nebraska; no offense Nebraskonians, but you have one really, really wide state).
My friend Gail and me (and company) in the U-Haul
My friend Gail and me (and company) in the U-Haul
How I pictured Nebraska after driving through it, in a U-Haul, with two dogs, towing a Fiat
How I pictured Nebraska after driving through it, in a U-Haul, with two dogs, towing a Fiat
  • I can have faith that everything will be okay. Now, I haven’t always had faith. In fact, I’ve historically been very sucky at anything to do with faith. I’m a realist; a skeptic; a show-me-the-proof kind of gal. But I knew I couldn’t get through this monumental middle-aged life transition without having faith that in the end, everything would be okay. I’d sell my house in a timely fashion; I’d find another house to rent 2000 miles away that would accept not one, but two dogs; I’d pack up my entire household into easily manageable boxes, alone; I’d somehow figure out how to load said boxes onto a truck, and I’d be able to drive said truck across the country, through the Rockies and the desert with two dogs, towing a Fiat; and I’d have enough money to finance it all. Rather than becoming paralyzed as I mentally ticked off every single thing that could possibly go wrong, I decided to just have faith that in the end, things would be okay. I decided to go with the flow. In fact, I actually visualized myself floating on my back, down a river, bobbing up and down with the current, and (get ready for this) not drowning. I know. That amazed me too. As a recovering I’m-going-down-with-the-ship-I-just-know-it kind of person, I was rather pleasantly surprised that I not only made the decision to have faith that everything would be okay, but that it actually was (okay).
Even this turned out okay!
Even this turned out okay!
  • Living in the empty space is meaningful. My move became imminent about six months before I left, which means I had six whole months in purposeful (or idle) transition. Six months of de-investing in a community where I’d spent much of my adult life. Six months of saying goodbye (I hate goodbyes). I could have become impatient during this time. I’m really good at impatience. I’ve practiced it most of my life. But I decided to embrace this time and the empty space it created, and see where it took me (the floating down the river metaphor worked here as well). I found myself spending time pondering all the “eras” I’d had in Chicago—the ones that arrived with the hope of something new—my marriage, graduate school, career milestones; and the more turbulent times—infertility, my divorce, a few financial deserts. Many of these experiences were encapsulated in distinct eras, what felt like mini-lifetimes to me. So many lifetimes. I thought I’d feel sad with all of the reminiscing, but it wasn’t really sadness I was feeling at all. It was more like I was a ghost, fluidly moving about, looking down on these various eras with a sense of poignancy. My willingness to sit in the empty space allowed me to say goodbye to my loved ones and my experiences with honor and meaning, which allowed me to experience my new beginnings with a fresh slate. 
  • No emotion lasts forever. I felt a myriad of emotions during this monumental life transition—fear, excitement, wonder, fear, joy, anticipation, fear, longing, anxiety, resolve, happiness and fear. You get the point. Fear dotted the landscape throughout the entire process. Fear is an adaptive emotion. Fear is really great because it warns us of danger. Fear keeps us from jumping out a 2nd story window, or out of a plane without a parachute. But if you’re like me and you have a relatively broad definition of what constitutes danger, then fear becomes less adaptive and more of a nuisance. Personally, I prefer the more positive emotions—excitement, wonder, joy, happiness. Unfortunately, those emotions, while plentiful (if we allow it), don’t tend to last forever. They’re punctuated by the more unpleasant emotions, like anxiety, regret, sadness, frustration, and…fear. But guess what? Negative emotions don’t last forever either. So I learned to let go and float down that river too. I stopped trying to control my fear, to rationalize it, to give it life and power. I just let it come and go, and I found comfort in knowing that it never stayed around for very long. My “what-if?” fears bubbled up all the time— “am I making the right choice? Will my son like our new home? Will I/we be happy?”, and they just as quickly ebbed away.
My son and I saying goodbye to our old house, and us in at our new community (he likes it!)
My son and I saying goodbye to our old house, and us in at our new community (he likes it!)

I’ve been in my new home for about a month now, and am about to begin my new job. I’m brimming with excitement, anticipation, happiness, and…fear. What if I don’t do well? What if I can’t pull this off? But then I remember that 1) I don’t have to do this alone, 2) everything is will be okay, 3) living in the empty space of unknowing is meaningful, and 4) no emotion lasts forever.

Learn more about my work and my writing by going to my website and personal blog: Aging Naked

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
7 Celebrity Empty Nesters
CONVERSATIONS