Midlife is the Perfect Time to Finally Tell Yourself the Right Story

Photo by Luigi Estuye, LUCREATIVE® on Unsplash

Use the Natural Inflection Points in Your Life to Redefine and Rebuild Your Self-Talk

A couple of years into our marriage, both in our mid-20s, Chris and I started the discussion about kids. The result was that we decided the time was now.

The logic went something like this:

Someday we’d like to be where we want, when we want (This was the mid-90s, way before remote working and internet/social media self-employment was a mainstream possibility). Travel for fun, yes, but also if our kids had families, we’d like to be able to travel around to be part of their lives. We wanted geographic freedom from jobs, houses, etc.

To realize this goal, we’d need both finances and our health, and we only had one of those at that time.

We also wanted our parents to be an integral part of our children’s lives, and they weren’t getting any younger.

So we decided now was the time. I remember at once feeling excited, nervous, optimistic, and apprehensive.

Our oldest son, Joe, was born in 1996. Then our daughter, Maddie, in 1998. As Joe and Maddie exited toddlerhood and started leaving us during the day for school, we got the itch and decided that two was not enough. Luke was born in 2004.

As I write this, Joe and Maddie are fully self-sufficient adults, and Luke is entering the last throws of high school. He will be off to college in a few short months.

We’re just about to enter the time of life that we envisioned and drove our decision those many years ago.

I feel it again.

Excited. Nervous. Optimistic. Apprehensive.

Stories are About Emotions, Not Facts

I can vividly recall that specific conversation. It was a weekday, and we were eating dinner on the couch, as we regularly did, watching some reruns of Friends. An episodic point about children came up and launched us into our discussion. By the end of our conversation, I was sure, but Chris was not so sure — but we decided now was the time.

Excited. Nervous. Optimistic. Apprehensive.

Chris and I recently replayed that conversation, and apparently, she remembers it totally different — except for dinner. For starters, it wasn’t a single conversation but a series. No, we didn’t start it on the couch on a weekday. It was the weekend, and we were out to dinner in the city. The conversation started there, but then lingered over several days. I was the apprehensive one, and she was sure.

But we agreed on the outcome — Excited. Nervous. Optimistic. Apprehensive.

Obviously, one or both of our memories about this watershed moment in our lives is a bit…fuzzy. But the core message of that conversation (or conversations) is burned into my brain — now’s the time.

Excited. Nervous. Optimistic. Apprehensive.

(Side Note: Friends didn’t start syndication until 1998, which refutes my memory of the infamous dinner and spurring of the conversation. My memory of the conversation would necessitate syndication in late 1995 or early 1996.)

That’s how it is with stories, isn’t it? We remember how the event made us feel.

Many studies have concluded that we’re generally terrible at remembering factual details of events from our past. As we temporally distance from events, even critical, life-molding events, our memory of the facts begins to fade, and hence, the factual reliability decreases. This reliability of memory is one of the significant challenges of the judicial system because witness testimony relies on humans recalling factual details of events in the past.

But we suck at it.

However, our brains are amazing at remembering how that event made us feel. Sometimes we’ll even distort the details to preserve or enhance the remembered emotions. Skilled litigators will help witnesses recall their feelings about the events in question to fill in (augment?) gaps in their recollection.

That’s what a story is — a narrative account (fact, fiction, or some combination) that evokes an emotional response. The emotional response leaves an imprint.

By midlife, we have experienced thousands of stories: some impactful, some trivial. But each left an indelible emotional imprint on our psyche.

Excited. Nervous. Optimistic. Apprehensive.

Tell Yourself the Right Story

Who controls your story?

The most powerful story is the story you tell yourself about yourself: that inner monologue running through your head every minute of every day.

For most of my life, I let The World generate that story for me.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not good enough.

I’m an engineer, not a writer.

I’m an employee, not an entrepreneur.

From my pre-teen years to early midlife, the story I told myself was shaped by how I thought others perceived me. Each little outside perspective sabatoging my view of myself.

Feelings, not facts.

Then along comes this beautiful gift of midlife. This natural inflection point that has allowed me to build a new story about myself — the right story.

Until now, you may have let The World generate your story. Maybe, like me, you believed the wrong version of your story.

You might say to yourself, “But yes, I am that guy. Look at the facts.” But stories aren’t about facts. They’re about feelings, and feelings are both malleable and controllable (and fickle).

“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.”Marcus Aurelius

Feelings, not facts.

If you’ve been given the gift of an inflection point such as midlife, now’s the time to tell yourself the right story. You take control because the only one who has the right and the ability to control that story is you.

What do you want your story to be?

Do you want to be a badass? Tell yourself that story.

Do you want to become the person your younger self admired? Start by running that through your head every day.

Do you want to be the guy who’s just getting started? Say it to yourself about yourself all the time.

Because if you want to be the guy who doesn’t deserve anything good, phones it in, and is on the downside, you can be him also. Just keep telling yourself you are.

How do you want to feel about yourself and your life?

Tell yourself that story.

Go Forth and Become Your New Story

You’ve lived.

Sure, you’ve got regrets. So do I. But the experiences you’ve had are just stories, and you can choose to see those stories however you wish.

How can you reframe these stories to help you tell yourself the right story?

You probably have things you would do differently (I sure hope so). Rather than being ashamed or unhappy with stories from your past, you can redefine the emotions around those events with a new inner monologue.

Mistakes were lessons.

Failures and rejections were roadblocks and left turns.

Regrets were the hills and the valleys that taught you perseverance.

Each of those stories has brought you to this moment and who you are today. And now, who do you want to be?

Like the wrinkles around your eyes and forehead, you can now wear those stories from the past like a badge. Sometimes a badge of honor, but also sometimes a badge that says, “yup, that one was a signpost on a journey of lessons.”

If you can reframe the stories from your past by reframing your emotions around them, you certainly control the story of who you are today and who you want to become.

“I can learn and become an expert.”

“I can start over with a well of wisdom and experience.”

“I still have time. I’m not too old.”

“I have something exciting and useful to share with my family, coworkers, and this world.”

“I am going help her remember why she/he married me.”

“I’ve always wanted to, and now I’m going to.”

If none of these resonate or seem too big, but you’re looking for a new story, start here — “I am enough. I am worthy. I can go become.”

Your subconscious believes what it hears over and over. Make sure it hears the right story a million times a day.

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Obsesrver, Life-Curious, Beginner — Writing to try to figure out the stuff in my head

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John Macdonald

John Macdonald

Obsesrver, Life-Curious, Beginner — Writing to try to figure out the stuff in my head

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