I’m Jen and I’m 47. I live in Toronto with my husband, our 2 beautiful children and our beloved dog, Tundra. I grew up north of the city in Caledon and spent summers at the cottage and winters skiing every weekend. It was an idyllic childhood, and my parents gave my younger brother and I every opportunity to explore our interests through the arts, sports, travel, and community involvement.
My university years were the most challenging of my life when an undiagnosed anxiety disorder pushed everything aside and pretty much derailed things for a few years. Somehow, I managed to complete my degree and graduate with a B.Sc. The best thing that came out of those years was meeting my husband. We’ve been together for 25 years solid, married for nearly 19. He stuck with me through some tough early years and kept things together when I went through a difficult postpartum period following the birth of our first child. I’ve been treated for anxiety for over 16 years and am now able to speak openly about it, in the hopes of helping others struggling with mental health issues.
Never having established a satisfying career before having our first baby, it was an easy decision when I chose to leave my full-time job in Marketing & Communications and stay home to raise our children. I had struggled for so many years, rudderless in terms of my career direction. The work I had been doing felt meaningless to me, like I was just a cog in a wheel and having no real impact. I couldn’t sacrifice being there for my kids for this. Looming on the horizon was that I would need to find something to do, eventually. What would I do when the kids left home?
And, so began my volunteer and side-hustle career which spanned the kids’ early years — I did everything from manage 7 fundraisers over 3 years for various non-profits to running my own dog-walking business for 3 years to a 2-year stint as a travel agent. I sat on a non-profit Board, sold MLM products, was a Girl Guides leader for 6 years, and was a tour guide and educator at an animal rescue zoo.
Then, in 2018, it was like I was Alice and I had fallen down the rabbit hole. I landed on two opportunities that would change my life, light my soul on fire, and give me the elusive purpose for which I had been searching all my life — painting and supporting youth mental health. I work part-time for Friendship In Action — a local non-profit that developed the “Kids Helping Kids Manage Stress” program being run in TDSB inner-city middle schools. At the beginning of the pandemic, I completed the Crisis Help Line training program and now volunteer as a Crisis Responder for the Kids Help Phone text line. I find this work incredibly rewarding and can’t imagine my life without it. If not for my own personal struggles with my mental health, I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing now that requires deep empathy and compassion for others.
When I took my first acrylic painting class, I had no idea where it would lead. I now identify as an artist and I’m an active member of both the North Toronto Group of Artists and the Lawrence Park Art Collective, through which I exhibit and sell my work. To me, art is a fascinating way to express myself and an endless opportunity for learning and becoming my true self.
What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40?
While I’m now closer to 50 than 40, leaving my 30s behind and entering my 40s was a refreshing time for me. I started to have a better understanding of myself and of others. It took me many years to come to a place of acceptance of myself, and with that, came a new confidence in being true to myself and leaving behind the pressure I had been putting on myself to feel the need to “prove” myself to others. There is a relief that comes with this realization and a weight is lifted when we step away from our ego and are able to acknowledge that nobody was really paying all that much attention to us in the first place because most people are too busy worrying about themselves. The self-consciousness that I carried with me from childhood into my 30s finally took a back seat in my 40s and its voice quieted to a whisper and ultimately disappeared like a wisp of smoke.
When do you feel you are most powerful?
Self-love gives me the greatest sense of power. When we are at peace with our true self, we realize we have everything we need. I rely on myself for my own happiness and knowing that nobody can take that away from me is incredibly empowering. When we’re young, we think we need to find happiness through others – having others love us and wanting to be with us seems to be the path to happiness. I think this is because the ego gets in the way and wants to have external praise in order to feel whole. True self-esteem comes from within. As an introvert, I am content to be with myself and I relish my alone time. Knowing that I am not lonely when I’m alone has a power to it, as well.
What are the top 3 most important things to you right now?
- Family has always been the most important part of my life. My marriage and our children come before everything else. I’m very close with my parents, so they’re a huge part of my life.
- The work that I do is all about making a positive difference in the lives of others. This mindset drives my values and is the lens through which I interact with the world. So, I would say that continuing to find ways to contribute to the wellbeing of the next generation is top of mind right now.
- Over the past 2 years, I found a path to expressing my creativity through art. I paint nearly every day now. I’ve had creative interests all my life. Through painting, I’ve found a way to access this part of myself and it’s now a major focus for me.
How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?
About 7 years ago, Marie Kondo released her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” There began my journey to mindful consumption and simplification. Simplifying my life frees up space to stay focused on what matters to me and where I want to spend my energy. This lifestyle extends to all areas of my life and I’ve learned how to discern between what I say yes to and when to say no. This enables me to ensure my actions are aligned with my values and goals.
What seeds are you planting today for the future?
The seeds for my future are planted in my small daily habits and actions. We are our habits. Some of these habits are quality one-on-one time with my kids, keeping the lines of communication open with my husband, reading every day, a consistent exercise regimen, time outdoors every day walking our dog, time for creativity, staying in touch with friends near and far through technology (since we’re still weathering the Covid storm), eating as a family, these kinds of things. We never know what the future will hold, so the best we can do is build good habits to set ourselves up for future health, resilience and success.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?
I think if someone realizes they want to redesign their midlife, they really need to take the time to reflect on where they are, where they want to go, and what needs to change in order to get there. From there, make small, sustainable changes to move things forward. Instead of making huge, sweeping changes and trying to move the needle quickly, by taking on small, realistic steps, long-term success is far more likely. Remember that asking for help along the way isn’t a weakness – it shows that you have strength and courage, so don’t hesitate to reach out for support – whether from your partner, a friend, or a professional.
How can people connect with you and your work?
You can follow my art journey online on Instagram @jrtse and Facebook at Jennifer Tse Original Art.