10 clarifying questions to ask in midlife

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Midlife is a time that can shake us up.

It makes a lot of demands; physically, emotionally, and mentally. We’re taking care of everyone and everything with varying degrees of success and the threat of the occasional breakdown. Our bodies are changing. It’s a lot. And even though we’re almost too busy to hear it, this is the time when something else starts to bubble up from within.

It might start as a whisper and then get increasingly louder and louder until we can’t ignore it anymore. Sometimes it’s a voice that asks a specific question and sometimes it’s more of a feeling that leaves us wondering: Is this it? Am I done evolving? Am I finished with adventures? What else do I have to contribute? What makes my life meaningful? Am I ungrateful to feel this way when I have so much?

If you know what I’m talking about, I invite you to take some time to reflect on the following questions. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to have the answers but instead let go of any judgments, be curious, and open to whatever comes up.

  1. What makes me feel alive? When do you feel most excited and present in your life? It will be different for everyone so forget what you think it should be and look for the actual sparks of joy (even really small ones).
  2. Am I the main character in my own story? That doesn’t mean you need to be selfish or self-centered. It means that you deserve to have a character arc and a storyline and not just be the supportive best friend who cheers on the heroine as she goes on all the adventures. If you feel like you’re on the sidelines watching other people have all the fun and success, it’s time to start rewriting the script.
  3. What habits, patterns, or beliefs are dragging me down? Midlife is an important time to finally recognize your limiting patterns and habits (we all have them so don’t shame yourself for being human). Just becoming aware of the ways you sabotage yourself is a huge step to creating a happier, healthier, more fulfilled future. When we recognize what triggers our inner critics it means we have a choice about whether or not to let those voices make our decisions.
  4. How can I stand on my own shoulders? All the answers are within you. You have the experience and the wisdom to create incredible things. In order to get to this age I’m betting you’ve had to be resilient, brave, industrious, loving, strong, vulnerable, patient, and on and on. Don’t forget everything you’ve done and who you’ve had to be to get where you are today.
  5. What boundaries do I need to rethink? What are you tolerating? Where do you stay quiet when you really have something to say? When do you give your time and resent it? What behaviour from others do you accept over and over even though it’s costing you something significant? Make a list of what your boundaries are and start speaking up.
  6. How can I look at things with fresh eyes? When you start opening yourself up to new perspectives everything changes. And, I promise if you’re feeling stuck there is another way to look at any situation. What feels like an absolute truth is just one of many points of view. Sometimes it’s not so much what we’re doing that needs to change but how we’re thinking about it.
  7. What gives me energy and how do I energize other people? If you’re uncertain what you want to do next, following these clues is a good way to create a life that you are jumping out of bed in the morning to get to. If you don’t already know your “purpose” following the energy breadcrumbs may lead you right to it.
  8. What is really most important to me? Using your values to make decisions about what you spend time, money, and energy on is a fool-proof route to fulfillment. We go wrong when we spend our precious resources on what’s most important to other people (or what used to be important to us but isn’t anymore). Think about what matters most to you. Make a list of those things and start looking at how those things show up in all the different areas of your life.
  9. Who do I want to be? Who do you want to be at 50? At 70? At 90? Asking yourself these questions should help you make decisions about what you want to do today. For example, if you want to be a 70-year-old who is healthy and active, maybe someone who plays tennis with friends 3 times a week, but you’ve never picked up a racket, think about how you can create that future with your actions now. Maybe it’s time for tennis lessons.
  10. How can I keep on evolving? Hold your absolutes lightly so that there is always room to grow, change, and learn. Defy your stereotypes. Try new things. Change your mind. Have fun. There’s room for all of it in midlife and beyond.

It might feel radical to focus on yourself this way but if you haven’t thought about these things before now, it’s a great time to start. Your future self will thank you.

A version of this article first appeared as a guest post on &Bloom, a wonderful website and project out of Amsterdam, dedicated to “positive, beautiful and (here and there with a little help) natural aging.” I was very happy when Denise Boomkens, the founder of &Bloom, asked me to contribute an article. I look forward to you learning more about her through her Power Profile (publishing in mid-April).

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One Comment

  • These are fabulous, thought provoking questions, Sara! Looking at things with fresh eyes is a big one for me. To remind myself to do this, I use the following mantra: “Open heart, open mind.” I agree with you that the answers are within us. When I think about my life’s journey (I’m a junior senior), it has taken a lot of self awareness, honesty, loving kindness, compassion, resilience, courage, determination, and faith, to get to where I am today. Have I arrived yet? Absolutely not! I hope to be growing, changing, learning every single day of my life.

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Sara Smeaton, photographed in her garden in front of lilac bushes by Amber Ellis.
About the author

Sara Smeaton

I help you discover the joy and power in midlife and navigate the transitions on your own terms. I am passionate about changing the narrative about aging and am trying to fill the world with profiles of real life people who are thriving and more alive after 40 than ever before. The best is yet to come and there are role models all around us. Book your free 30-minute connection call.

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