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MIDLIFE MANIFESTO J A N E M AT H EW S

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IMPRINT AND DISCLAIMER Midlife Manifesto aims to provide readers with information, but it is not intended to be, and is not, a substitute for health, legal or medical advice from a qualified professional. Jane Curry Publishing does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy, currency, suitability or reliability of any information contained within the book. In reading this book you accept all risk and responsibility for losses, damages, costs or any other consequences resulting directly or indirectly from relying on information or material contained within it. To the maximum permitted by law, Jane Curry Publishing excludes all liability to any persons arising directly or indirectly from using this book and any information or material in it. All reasonable efforts have been made to contact copyright holders.

Midlife Manifesto by Jane Mathews Published in 2014 by Jane Curry Publishing [Wentworth Concepts Pty Ltd] PO Box 780 Edgecliff NSW 2027 Australia www.janecurrypublishing.com.au Copyright © Jane Mathews, 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any other information storage retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry: Author: Jane Mathews Title: Midlife Manifesto ISBN 978-1-922190-95-6 (Print edition) ISBN 978-1-922190-44-4 (Epub Edition) ISBN 978-1-925183-02-3 (Epdf/Mobi Edition) Cover and internal images: Shutterstock and Fotolia Cover and internal design: Deborah Parry Editorial: Amanda Hemmings Production: Jasmine Standfield Printed in China by Jade Productions

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For Alex and Kate, who light up my life… …and for all midlife women. I stand in awe of our potential. ~

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This is a record of your time. This is your movie. Live out your dreams and fantasies. Whisper questions to the Sphinx at night. Sit for hours at sidewalk cafĂŠs and drink with your heroes. Make pilgrimages to Mougins and Abiquiu. Look up and down, believe in the unknown for it is there. Live in many places. Live with flowers and music and books and paintings and sculpture. Keep a record of your time. Learn to read well. Learn to listen and speak well. Know your country, know your world, know your history, know yourself. Take care of yourself mentally and physically. You owe it to yourself. Be good to those around you. And do all of these things with passion. Give all that you can. Remember, life is short and death is long. Fritz Scholder

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WHY THE BEE

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HE bee is a perfect symbol for midlife women. At its most simple, it represents feminine energy; after all, the queens rule the roost. As if that’s not enough, throughout history, across many cultures, the bee represents a wealth of relevant virtues including love, wisdom, productivity, prosperity, diligence, spirituality and community. For many years people believed that aerodynamically, bees shouldn’t be able to fly at all, but they do. Whether technically it is true or not, I like to believe that the bee symbolises the accomplishment of anything you put your mind to. And what could be more perfect than that?

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Contents How to get the most out of Midlife Manifesto and Preface

10

1. Re-writing Your Midlife Story

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Shared experiences of midlife – the turning point – shifting from automatic to manual – outline of the Midlife Manifesto Plan – warm up exercises: synchronicity, happiness, observing, trusting your instincts.

2. Your Vision

41

What’s your “Visceral Vision?” – why having a clear vision matters – ten different approaches to help articulate your vision.

3. Relationships

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Explore relationships with friends, parents, siblings and rellies – putting marriage under the microscope – being a happy midlife divorcee – cementing your bond with children – your relationship with yourself.

4. Your Body

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Reframe your thoughts – reconnect with your body – awaken the senses – exercise and foods that punch above their weight for midlifers – losing weight – the four numbers you should know – how to tackle menopause and increase your chances of dodging major illnesses – plus more sex! L

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5. Your Spiritual Self

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Develop your own spiritual “necklace” – what we can adopt from major religions of the world – a simple guide to meditation – reconnecting with nature – writing a journal – solitude – gratitude – memories.

6. Your Interests/ Work

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The importance of hobbies – merging interests and work – learn something new – six great investments of your time – learn by osmosis.

7. Your Home

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Make it a space you love – be inspired – clear the decks – smudging – streamlining – cleaning – curating – telling your story – colours – flowers – surprises – souvenirs – luxuries – finding a sanctuary in your home.

8. Personal Style

223

How you portray yourself to the world – finding your personal style – cull and organise your wardrobe and accessories – essential hair and skin – the five minute face.

9. Financial Independence

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Articulate your financial goals – a ten-step financial blueprint –how much is enough for retirement? – organise key documents – feel confident and in control.

10. Your Midlife Manifesto

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Write your own Midlife Manifesto – prepare – inspire – plan and do – monthly/ weekly/ daily action plan templates – living it and breathing it! L

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How to get the most out of Midlife Manifesto

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HEN books start with a “How to use this book” section, my hackles rise. What on earth do they think I am going to do with it? Put my shopping in it? Wash the car with it? Feed it to the dog? So, my apologies. You picked up this book for a reason, and I want to make sure you get the most out of its pages. I wrote this book because I needed a midlife plan, and I couldn’t find a book to show me how to write one. The order of the book is very simple. In the first couple of chapters I look at where we are and where we want to be. The following seven chapters look at different aspects of our lives – relationships, your body, spirituality, interests/work, home, personal style and financial independence. Each of these chapters is designed to give you inspiration and food for thought to add to your plan – your Manifesto – which you write in the final chapter. You may want to tackle one chapter a week, or even gobble it all down over a weekend. Along the way there are lots of relevant quotations which I have chosen with great care, and also comments from fellow midlife women. (Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.) You decide which of these quotations and ideas resonate

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most with you. At the end of each chapter there is space for you to write them down – or just highlight as you go. Even if you just get one idea from this book that helps you change and plan for your future life, I would be happy (but I do hope there will be many more than one!). “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once,” said Calvin Coolidge. It’s not just about visualising and planning the future, but also about taking action straight away to start manifesting your Manifesto, so to speak. There’s space at the end of each chapter to capture these actions too. Think of it as choosing ideas to peg on your own “washing line” that will form the basis of your Manifesto in Chapter 10. Here, you will marshal your thoughts in a simple and creative way to provide you with a personalised life plan that will be usable and relevant straight away.

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did do. So throw off your bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Preface

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O, does The Midlife Manifesto actually work? Yes. Just the process of thinking about and writing my Manifesto gave me precisely the impetus I needed at a confronting time, when many of us feel the urge to get rid of what is not working in our lives. I now have a purpose and energy about me, and feel a steely peace and confidence that the rest of my life will not just be played out, but will be truly lived. This book was born out of my own search for meaning and direction, and a concrete, no bullshit plan to get me there. I am just like you. I make no claim to have all the answers, or any of them come to that, but I do hope that I will be company for you in your journey and that my book – now your book – will provide you with inspiration along the way. It’s like a snowplough, clearing and sanding the road ahead. Writing my own Manifesto has shown me that the answers to many of our questions already lie within us. It’s just a matter of sloughing off the outer layers of the onion to reveal them. It’s also about being galvanised, curating your life and jettisoning excess baggage. We’re allowed to Etch A Sketch out parts of our past if we want to. It’s about the future, not the past. We’ll look at how you want to feel, how you want your future to be, and how to incorporate this vision into the warp and weft of your daily life to make it happen. L

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B O T T O M L INE

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T HE SE AR E T HE KE Y T HINGS I L EA R N ED F ROM W R IT I NG T H IS B OOK : 1. It is never, ever too late to change the course of your life. 2. Act the way you want to feel. 3. The importance of self-reliance and accepting total responsibility. Your life and happiness is in your hands, no one else’s. Blaming other people is giving it away. 4. You can decide to be happy or not. 5. Meditation works, but you’ve got to stick at it. 6. You teach people how to treat you. 7. It’s all about choices. Every choice leads you towards your vision, or away from it. 8. What you put out comes back. 9. Prioritise relationships, health and finances. 10. “It’s about creating a life based on how you want to feel every day.” (Nancy Sherr)

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You know you’ve reached midlife when…you can cough, fart, sneeze, pee and blow your nose at the same time…remembering the name of an acquaintance is better than having an orgasm… you know all the answers, but nobody asks you the questions… you can remember thinking your parents were really, really old when they were younger than you are now…you favour comfort over style…you’re scared you’ll hurt your back on fairground rides…you play pot luck in a restaurant if you’ve forgotten your glasses…you can’t read your own handwriting…you make a little grunt when you get up out of a chair…you get cross when people ring after 8pm at night…you go to bed before your children… all restaurants are too noisy…you feel stiff…you have a pedicure because you can’t reach your toes…you feel like the morning after and you haven't been anywhere…you’re hot all of the time… your back goes out more than you do…you sing along with the lift music…you know who Jonathan Livingston Seagull is…you stand in front of a mirror naked and can see your bottom without turning round…you’ve got a mind like a...you know, that thing you sift flour in…you love the idea of a nap…you consider going on a cruise…you lose your car keys then lose them again, minutes later…you can't remember the last time you lay on the floor to watch TV…you bend over and look for something else to do while you're down there…you consider taking up golf or bridge…your idea of a holiday is for everyone to go away for a couple of days… belts have been phased out of your wardrobe…when the candles cost more than the cake…“getting lucky” means you find your car in the car park...you know the three signs of ageing; the first one is loss of memory and…I forget the other two… L

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How about re-writing the script? You know you’ve reached midlife when you are…strong, passionate, confident, independent, sexy, alive, courageous, patient, kind, loving, fearless, open-minded, proactive, adventurous, content, trusting, faithful, zestful, radiant, balanced, creative, spiritual, authentic, full of joy, loved, on fire, serene, accomplished, electrified, free, empowered, expressive, gentle, stylish, wise, powerful, well-read, generous, fulfilled, open, expansive, reliable, organised, humble, unconventional, active, exhilarated, inspired, proficient, unselfish, in control, excited, talented, purposeful, daring, funny, unpredictable, helpful, level-headed, intuitive, articulate, sensitive, efficient, diplomatic, charismatic, loyal, persistent, focused, revitalised, assured, healthy, successful, grounded, caring, bold, thankful, influential, connected, vital, accepted, validated, adored, innovative, inspirational, safe, unruffled, unflappable, selfpossessed, honest, full of energy, gracious, dignified, special, peaceful, calm, relaxed, captivating, inventive, composed, sensual, beguiling, beautiful, spirited, formidable, informed, philanthropic, happy, unburdened, guided, enraptured, skilful, dynamic, enthusiastic, valuable, gutsy, in flow, true to yourself, exceptional, intrepid, fascinating, spellbinding, empathetic, magnificent, appreciative, brilliant, motivated, capable, original, vivacious, centred, self reliant, optimistic, positive, a role model, thoughtful, poised, genuine, sparkling, grateful, unique, dazzling, unencumbered, determined, energised, appreciated, present, playful, sophisticated, educated, valued, fortunate, worthy, expert, gifted, intelligent, not intimidated, instinctive, knowledgeable, unstoppable. L

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-

zz

zz

An invitation to make your mark on this book, and commit to a new life plan.

This is

---------------------------------------------------’s

“MIDLIFE MAN IF ESTO”

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She decided to start living the life she imagined. Kobi Yamada

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{___} ( ) RE-WRITING YOUR MIDLIFE STORY

______

______

“If we would only give the same amount of reflection to what we want out of life that we give to the question of what to do with two weeks’ vacation, we would be startled at our false standards and the aimless procession of our busy days.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” Carl Jung

“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot “A good life is not lived by chance but by choice.” Kobi Yamada

“Instead of a crisis, middle age should be thought of as a time for a new form of selfinvestment.” Patricia Reuter-Lorenz “Don’t settle for what life gives you. Make life better and build something.” Ashton Kutcher

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

[___] 18

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}

]

CHAPTER 1

Re-Writing Your Midlife Story

In this chapter you’ll: • Realise that you are not alone in feeling how you do • Shift from automatic to manual • See how the Midlife Manifesto works • Do some open-your-mind-up exercises That was then… “Crumpets face inwards” …was stamped on my toaster. How come the most mundane domestic appliance comes with instructions but midlife doesn’t? Midlife. A small but loaded word. Look in the mirror right now. For a whole minute. Really look into your eyes. Are you the person you thought you would be? Are you the person you want to be? Am I the only one looking at my midlife reflection thinking, “Is this it?” It can hit you with a smack or it can sneak up behind you. The catalyst that makes you realise things have irrevocably changed. You have reached midlife and there’s no going back. The boom L

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gate is lowering! For me it was a perfect storm. The hurricane of finding myself lost in an increasingly toxic marriage followed by divorce and the death of my mother (my father and sister were already gone), while juggling two teenage children, getting back into the workforce and dealing with spiralling blood pressure – along with the gentle poke from the god of small things. Like letting the aeroplane seat belt out longer than I ever thought possible (there must have been a very, very small child sitting in the seat before me). And seeing a multi-chinned Shar Pei photo of myself. And having the words “dementia” light up, the size of the Hollywood sign, every time I forgot something. And being reduced to tears by the Christian the lion YouTube video. And becoming a foul-mouthed harridan in traffic. And then there’s the hair thing. Chewbacca on a good day. Grey hair doubling as fuse wire. And not just on my head. In my eyebrows, on my chin. Marvellous. I have become The Bearded Lady. But this is irrelevant as I am officially invisible. A whole generation of midlife women wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. (My personal best is being ignored by five, [five!], shop assistants at one counter in a Sydney department store.) Who’d have thought? Midlife has crept up on me like a body snatcher. Midlife at the oasis. I watch the top of my arms taking on a life of their own as I wave goodbye. A fruit bat in drag. Bits keep moving after I’ve stopped. I hear the siren call of elastic waists, of Birkenstocks, bifocals, naps and Crocs. But I still feel thirty inside. I need to find a way out and back to myself. “I feel the best is behind me. I feel like I’m on the top of a roller coaster, going down and screaming ‘Aaaaarrrrgggghh!’ ” Kitty, 51 “I see my forties as a decade of disappointment – things aren’t quite what I had expected or hoped for – in my marriage, with my children, in my life.” Susan, 47 L

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So now… Re-write your midlife story I did! I am writing this paragraph shortly after I completed the book – having written and lived my Manifesto for a few months, and the transformation is startling. I won’t say it has always been easy, but truly, if I have managed to wrest the steering “The most creative wheel away from the twin forces of Habit and Inertia, act you will ever anyone can. You can. Is every single part of my life undertake is the act sweetness, roses and fluffy little kittens? No. Do I feel of creating yourself.” stronger, mentally and physically, more engaged with Deepak Chopra my body and with life, more productive and confident and optimistic about the future? Absolutely. Stick with this. It works. Read on. You will see how the world has underestimated what we midlife women are capable of. They will continue to do so at their peril! The Midlife Dip The theoretical notion of a dip in midlife is well documented. Seven hundred years ago Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life/ I came to myself within a dark wood/ where the way was lost.” I know exactly how he felt. However, I don’t subscribe to the whole notion of being “middle aged” nor “midlife crises”. Both are lazy, simplistic phrases, bleached of their sense with over-use. Forget middle aged and midlife crisis, think midlife opportunity. Many midlife women, myself included, feel the need to rid their lives of the things that are no longer working and replace them with things that more accurately reflect the person we have become, or are growing into. Time for a bit of personal alchemy. In modern paganism, the triple goddess of Maiden, Mother and Crone is honoured. I am a mother, but I guess by now I’ve slipped into the Crone category. I don’t know about you, but the L

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word “Crone” conjures up the warty old hag, poisoned apple in hand, from Disney’s Snow White. It’s a shame, as historically midlife women – Crones – (who were considered old then, as most would die in their forties) were wise women, and highly regarded. Current society does not share this enlightened perspective, and I sometimes feel barely tolerated. Meh. Replete with battle scars and life lessons, I embrace my inner croniness. And it appears I am not alone. “Croning ceremonies” are now available to mark your midlife Coming-of-Wisdom. (Now there’s a great fiftieth birthday present for a friend. At least you can be pretty sure she won’t get two.) Research shows that happiness over the span of our lives is a gentle smile shape, starting with a happy childhood and early adulthood, followed by a midlife dip and a climb out the other side towards old age. And that’s not just true for humans. Studies have shown that even apes have the midlife blues. On your behalf I went to the zoo to see with my own eyes if this was true. I tracked down the orangutan enclosure, and looked into Willow’s eyes. Oh, the ennui. “Is this it?” her eyes were saying. It was like looking in a mirror. Trust me, we are not alone! My Turning Point I blame the fridge magnet. I am sure the lady on some distant production line in China didn’t realise what magma she held in her hands. In my forties I bought a fridge magnet that said “Destined to be an Old Woman with No Regrets”. Rather than live on the fridge, it sat on my desk and stared reproachfully at me as I stared back at it, unsettled. The more I looked at the wretched thing the more I began to admit to myself that on my existing trajectory there would be regrets. Those unsettling three words kept whirling round my L

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head like the tigers who turn into butter in Little Black Sambo. Is this it? The flick of a wet towel. Is. Flick. This. Flick. It? Flick. Palms bruised from hitting the bottom of a ketchup bottle, I reviewed the detritus of another family meal with that question whirling, whirling. With a successful career, a nice husband, 2.4 children, good social life and a house in Sydney’s answer to Wisteria Lane (not forgetting the banana-eating, farting dog) why did I feel so savagely unfulfilled? The unravelling was approaching faster than I thought. Unbeknownst to me, like a considerate executioner, the blade was already being sharpened. The moment I realised my marriage was over, thoughts turned to an exquisite Assyrian frieze of a fatally wounded lioness in the British Museum. She has been struck by several arrows, but she roars and refuses to give up. Just looking at the “Your life is speaking image still affects me profoundly. I remember feeling to you every day, all the intensely, keenly wounded, but fought to keep my time – and your job is to head above water, even as I drowned. Smouldering listen and find the clues.” embers burned in my belly. One day they would be Oprah Winfrey fanned back into life. A wingbeat of future happiness. As an aside, the stress of divorce can make you very, very thin. It can also make you very, very fat. Disappointingly, I galloped headfirst down the latter path, and ended up like a sumo Tweedledum. Because life is unfair, as I got fatter my ex-husband got fitter and slimmer, living on steamed dust and air, acquiring the requisite fast car (not quite menoporsche, but almost) and charming fishing-rod-thin girlfriend. Ex-husband and I continued to attend teacher-parent meetings together, with me feeling like I’d just stepped out of an old saucy seaside postcard as the huge wife with skinny husband. Embarrassing. Not I-need-tomove-to-Qatar-now-embarrassing, but avoidable, humiliating. And totally my responsibility. L

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Post-divorce, wounds licked but not quite healed, I went back to a big job in advertising, travelling overseas all the time, piling on air miles, stress and kilos in equal measure. I certainly gave the infamous Holmes and Rahe stress test a nudge. That’s the scale that rates 43 stressful life events that can lead to illness. It starts off with “death of a spouse”, then happily winds its way through “divorce” and “death of a family member”, past the corridors of “illness” and “change in financial state” through to “Christmas”. I don’t recall being actually incarcerated, but I think I ticked all of the other boxes, because we know that bad things don’t happen in ones, do they? They happen in twos, and threes, and sevens, and fifteens, and that’s what happened to me. My mother, who had been suffering from dementia (so very cruel to witness but bizarrely benign to the sufferer), died alone in New Zealand after a pretty traumatic series of events (a stroke on the plane from London, hospitalisation in Auckland, having to find a nursing home), culminating in her wedding ring being stolen from her corpse. The cremation and burial were a piece of cake after that. But I have never felt so alone. At the same time I moved house, renovated, juggled major work projects in several countries, a less-than-easy ex, two teenagers and a dog. Woof. Oh yes, and sorting out my mother’s house and will in England, battling incompetent and expensive lawyers, warding off previously unheard-of relatives with a cattle prod, and shipping stuff back to Australia. When my job relocated overseas, I jumped off the carousel for a bit and decided to get my life on track. It was the best decision that I have ever made. Shifting from automatic to manual We live the first part of our lives on automatic. Childhood, university, job, marriage and children all march in line like L

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soldiers. This was vividly illustrated at my daughter’s school’s open day when she was seven. The children had to write the story of their lives. One of them caught my eye. It went along the lines of “I‘ll go to school, then to university, get married, have children, then die.” Super. So I guess we’re in that sliver of time between having children and dying! Better make the most of it then, and I’m not sure if doing it on “automatic” will cut it. If the first half of our lives is dictated to us, the beauty of the second half is that it is in our hands. To use a plane analogy, we finally get to have first dibs at the oxygen mask, putting ourselves first. We are in control of our destiny, not the other way round. We are the conductors, the ringmasters, the captains of our ship. The past is irrelevant and I just don’t see the point of pulling at the threads of it. Throw the bad stuff in the river, like Winnie the Pooh and his friends did with their Pooh sticks and watch them float away. The world has finished with your past – if you have. I know the past influences us, and we can’t change it, but we can influence the future. Time to shift to manual, ladies. Do more than just fill in the dash We all will have a dash – the dash between when we’re born and when we die – for me, say, 1961-2043, assuming I live to be 82 (the average life expectancy for a woman in Australia). So it’s all about how you fill that dash, another 30-odd summers. Here’s a graphic way to demonstrate it. Get a piece of paper. Draw a line across the middle. The bottom half represents how much of our lives we have already lived, so shade it out. Then draw a line in the remaining section one third across. That represents how much time we will spend asleep, so shade that bit out too. Then draw another line a third across. That space represents how much L

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time we will spend doing chores (driving, supermarket shopping, cleaning, having a shower, waiting in the queue on the phone to Telstra, etc). Now shade that bit out as well. That small empty rectangle is all that we have left. On the one hand it’s sobering. On the other hand carpebloody-diem. I know that technically I’ve crested the arc, but I refuse to let the days slip by, pleating into one another, blotting up time. We still have a lot of living to do! (If you are one of the few people who haven’t heard of it, have a look at the internet phenomenon that is The Dash poem by Linda Ellis at www.lindaellis.com.) Nan Shepherd, a Scottish novelist, wrote a book called The Living Mountain about the almost mystical experiences she had walking in her beloved Cairngorm Mountains. She talked about “living all the way through (life).” I want to live all the way through my life too. I felt I was sleepwalking, stuck in a story that was no longer mine. Now it is time for a new story, and it is mine to write. I don’t want to lead a little life. In my own way, I want to leave a footprint on the world, a comet tail across the sky. I roar. Why no Life Plan already? Like most women I know, I am a virtuoso list maker and planner. I’m pretty good at shopping lists, a dab hand with unfeasibly long To Do lists and not too shabby at planning client conferences, dinners with friends, house renovations or holidays. Every few years I travel somewhere with the same three girlfriends where we snort and leak our way through a week or two of non-stop laughter. I pathetically get as much pleasure from organising the trip as going on it. Not a website, blog or review goes unread or cross-referenced with nerdy precision before The Kickass Itinerary emerges from its cocoon. Not for nothing have I earned L

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the moniker “Power Frau” among the girls. So it’s odd, really, that for someone who spends so much time planning and writing lists, and doing stuff, largely for other people, I hadn’t spent any time writing a plan for my life. And what could be more important than that? I needed a plan. Preferably a “cunning plan” to quote Blackadder (“A plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.”) So I looked for a book to guide me. I went to bookstores, both real and virtual, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. I wonder if I am the only person who feels very self-conscious in the self-help section of the bookshop? I am sure there is a large flashing neon arrow hovering above me shouting, “Jane is self-absorbed, has issues and low self-esteem!” I spent about one bottle of Jo Malone (or three pairs of Crocs or a dozen bottles of Sauvignon Blanc’s) worth on books that I thought would help, but I should have saved my money. They fell into two types – the annoying autobiographical ones of women travelling “on a journey” to find themselves, and the bullshit ones. Both infuriated me. Am I alone in wanting to slap smuggins living in Tuscany or on a Greek island, waist-deep in productive olive “We either make groves, uncovering medieval frescoes (not rising ourselves miserable, damp) in their kitchens and not being ripped off by the local builders? Really? Down, Green-Eyed or we make ourselves Monster, down boy. A friend of mine actually strong. The amount admitted she went to Italy to see if one well-known of work is the same.” lady author lived up to her hyperbole, and she Carlos Castaneda (rather stalkishly) tracked down her house. I am not sure if I was disappointed or happy to hear that, yes, as she cast a gimlet eye over the happy throng, the doyenne was having a picture-perfect al fresco lunch in the dapply shade of an apple tree with red-and-white-checked table cloths, eating effortlessly L

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beautiful food washed down by carafes of local wine, having a fine old time with her chums. Good for her – but of no help or relevance to me. And then there’s the other sort. With some notable exceptions (see bibliography), so much bullshit, so little “meat”, and so painfully badly written. My local op shop did well that day. If you Google “Life plan for midlife women” you get about five million results, mostly about losing weight. Five million sounds like a lot until you Google “how to make a cup of tea” and get one hundred million results. I kid you not. So no luck on the internet either. Better write it myself then. Midlife Manifesto – A summary of how it works A manifesto is a declaration of what you believe in. The Midlife Manifesto is more than that. It is a comprehensive life plan designed to lay out a clear path to take you from where you are now, to living the life you imagine. Often we are steered off the course that we were meant to be on. The plan helps you identify what that course is, so that what you want becomes what you have. Along the way you’ll consider all aspects of your life, and incorporate elements into your plan. The word “manifesto” is derived from the Latin word “manifestum” which means “clear”. By the end of this book, that is how you should feel. Clear about where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. The answers are in you already – there’s just a cloud covering them at the moment. The process is straightforward and simple. After some starting exercises to open your mind, you’ll go on to define your vision. The following seven chapters cover different aspects of your life: L

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Relationships Your Body Your Spiritual Self Your Interests/Work Your Home Personal Style Financial Independence Each chapter will take you through some thought-provoking ideas to help attain your vision. I’ll tell you what helped me. There are no rules and nothing is mandatory! Some ideas will resonate more than others. I have tried to make it honest, practical and inspiring, which is what I’d be looking for in a plan like this. Our lives have many different compartments, like a bento box, and all of them are covered. At the end of each chapter, there’s space to write down what strikes a chord with you. There’s also a space to write what action you’ll take immediately (in the next 48 hours), as a catalyst for change. As Martin Luther King put it, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just the first step.” In the final chapter your thoughts are gathered to form the basis of your own life plan – your Midlife Manifesto. Your plan is designed to be revisited, changed and updated whenever you want. It is not meant to be set in stone. As your life changes, so your plan will change too, but it should still remain a bedrock and companion to your midlife transformation. L

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Four “Warm Up” Exercises Before we consider our future vision, it’s helpful to be in the right frame of mind. Take a few deep breaths, pull your shoulders back, and open up your chest. Doesn’t that feel better? Now you have opened up your body a bit, let’s open up your mind.

Exercise 1. Be open to synchronicity Once your mind is positive, open and receptive, you’ll be amazed how often meaningful coincidences – synchronicity – happens. Since I’ve been writing this book, I’ve met all sorts of people by chance, just as I was writing on a topic they were expert in. Doors flew open. I met my publisher by chance. Or maybe it wasn’t by chance. Immediately after my husband left, I found an old novel called Jane The Determined sitting right on the top of a pile of books in a junk shop I’d never even seen before. I suddenly crossed paths with people who became new friends. I met someone on a plane who ended up offering me a job. There are far too many instances to be coincidences. Synchronicity can be a little bit shy to begin with, only revealing itself when we are being true to ourselves. It has a bloodhound’s nose for the authentic. Then you can’t stop it from happening. So pay attention, because when, and it will be a “when”, not an “if”, synchronicity happens to you, it is confirmation that you are on track. (I can’t resist adding that I have found myself inexplicably drawn to seeing words within other words, and they are quite meaningful. For example, “quest” in “question”, “rage” in “outrageous”, “sit” in “obesity” and “die” in “diet”, not to mention “urge” in “splurge” “ha” in “Buddha”, “om” in “oomph”, “love” in “slovenly”, “can” in “candour” and “one” in “money”. Of course there are also inexplicable ones like “bra” in “vibrate”, “laughter” in “slaughter”, “fun” in “fundamentalist”, (offset, I L

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guess, by “mental”), “tuna” in “fortunate”, “gas” in “orgasm”, “ham” in “shampoo” and “lie” in “believe”. You get the drift. Oh, maybe the children are right. I am bonkers after all.)

Exercise 2. Choose to be happy “If you want to be happy, be.” Tolstoy “Happiness depends on ourselves.” Aristotle “Happiness is the centre and success revolves around it.” Shawn Achor “You may feel stuck – trapped in a bad relationship, grieving over a divorce, miserably and interminably single – but it is in your power, and your best health interest, to choose joy. Okay, so you can’t find romance. Or your soul mate doesn’t feel the same way about you. But you can put yourself in the path of happiness. You can fall in love with life.” Lesley Dormen Positive psychology has come as a bit of a revelation to me. It seems we already have everything inside us we need to be happy. We make a conscious choice to be happy or not, and it frames the way we approach life. How you feel inside determines if you are happy or not, not what happens to you on the outside. So nothing that happens to you is inherently good or bad – it’s just the way that you react to it. Positive psychology has become the most popular undergraduate course at Harvard and I can see why. It is fascinating and rewarding. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor says “… we now know that happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement. Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative and productive.” L

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Martin Seligman, the acknowledged father of positive psychology, uses the acronym PERMA to represent the five areas that have been shown to contribute to happiness: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and purpose, and achievement. So far so good, but how do you grasp it for yourself? Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, wondered the same thing, and embarked on a 12-month journey to find out exactly that, taking advice from everyone from Dr Seligman to Oprah via the Dalai Lama, finally finding out the balance that worked for her. So, choose to be happy…There will be many ideas to inspire you in the following chapters. In the meantime, just put it on as a mindset. Although as Tim Minchin said in his wonderful address to the University of Western Australia: “Happiness is like an orgasm. If you think about it too much it goes away.” (See it on YouTube.) (As an aside, on average, toddlers laugh 400 times a day, adults 15 times…)

Exercise 3. Look UP and write DOWN We spend so much time looking down at our screens, some people have predicted that human bodies will evolve to have curved backs, so we won’t even have the capacity to look up! (Cue Charles Darwin spinning in his grave – we’re evolving backwards.) Look up, look up, look up – look at the top of buildings, which often have amazing decoration and lettering. Look up and see the birds and the sky and the stars. Look up to the future. Look around you, and be open to the world. I guarantee that once you start looking, every single day something will catch your attention, and make you think differently or at least smile inside. Buy yourself a journal. Don’t feel like you have to write in it every L

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day. Just jot down things that strike you. Here are three great examples of people who looked up and saw things differently: The Moment Catcher Isolate and appreciate small moments in your day and see if a bigger pattern emerges. Douglas Coupland in Life After God puts it beautifully: “My mind then wandered. I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments – we hear a word that sticks in our mind – or maybe we have a small experience that pulls us out of ourselves, if only briefly – we share a hotel elevator with a bride in her veils, say, or a stranger gives us a piece of bread to feed to the mallard ducks in the lagoon; a small child starts a conversation with us in a Dairy Queen – or we have an episode like the one I had with the M&M cars back at the Husky station. And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection – certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realise that we have been having another life altogether; one we didn’t even know was going on inside us. And maybe this other life is more important than the one we think of as being real – this clunky day-to-day world of furniture and noise and metal. So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives.” Try it… The 365 Grateful Photographer A few years ago, Hayley Bartholomew was feeling low. She sought help from a nun (as you do!), who suggested that the secret to L

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happiness lay in reflection and gratitude. This led Hayley to take one Polaroid photo a day of something she was grateful for. She put them on her blog, www.365grateful.com. Over the course of a year it changed her life and gave her a new perspective, especially on her relationships and with nature. They are beautiful photographs that highlight the lyricism of the daily minutiae of our lives. Have a look at her inspiring website, where you also can download a free ebook, 10 Grateful Projects. Take a photo every day of something you are grateful for and see if a pattern emerges. The new version of a Polaroid camera is the Fuji Instax Mini, which is great fun. The Observant Walker Open your eyes. As Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.” It is truly amazing what unfolds before you if you look carefully and consciously. Thoreau said, “It’s not about what you look at. It’s about what you see” and he was right. Outside my window are telephone wires that often have birds sitting on them. I’ve often thought they look like notes on a musical stave. Seems I wasn’t the only one. Someone scored the “notes” the birds on a wire made! Have a look at the results on “Birds on the Wires” by “I will not be a Jarbas Agnelli on YouTube. common man because The author and psychologist Alexandra it is my right to be an Horowitz decided that she wanted to see more as she uncommon man. I went on her daily walk round the block in her native will stir the smooth New York. So she invited some experts to accompany sands of monotony." her. Among her companions were a geologist, a Peter O’Toole typographer, an illustrator, an insect specialist, a blind woman, an animal behaviourist, a sound engineer and a dog (not all at once!). She started to see things with completely new L

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eyes. Suddenly shop signs, abandoned furniture, the underside of leaves, even the way people walked, all took on new meaning. She learned that sounds can reveal shadows and that we share cities with more animals than we thought possible. Her book is called On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. Look at your own corner of the world with open eyes and ears and see what happens.

Exercise 4. Trust your instincts If you only take one thing out of this book, make it that you trust your instincts, your intuition, your integrity. Listen to the persistent whispers. They are key. That’s why I insisted it was printed at the bottom of every page in this book. Intuition doesn’t lie. Ignore the arrows the gods keep firing at your peril! We are all eager to reveal the greatest expression of who we really are; the essence of us emerging stunned and blinking into the sunlight. Me, only more so. As we get older the nectar of ourselves is distilled. We’ve been simmering on the stove and now the broth is concentrated. Our instincts have never been truer. Like beautiful hand-beaten Japanese kitchen knives, forged from the very best steel, the more we are pounded, the sharper we become. Your instincts will often tell you what to move towards. And sometimes it’s through the side door entrance. That’s the easy part. The part we need to listen to is when our instincts tell us to move away from things – to stop doing certain things, to abandon habits, chores, or relationships that no longer serve us or help get on the path towards where we want to be. Sometimes it is hard. How about writing yourself a “not to do” list rather than a “to do” list today?! I think it was Picasso who was asked whether it was difficult to make a sculpture of a horse, and he replied that no, it wasn’t, he just had to chip away the bits that weren’t horse. In the same way, L

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Michelangelo could imagine a final sculpture that was awaiting inside a raw slab of marble, and proved it in the unbelievably beautiful series of four unfinished sculptures of slaves emerging from blocks of marble in the Academia in Florence. Use your instincts to get rid of the stu dragging you down and holding you back. Your inner voice will never let you down. It is your moral compass, your life GPS. Make sure you listen to it, as it is your best and truest guide.

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? THE

B O T T O M L INE

~

YOU R AG E DOES NOT M AT TER. W HAT YOU DO W IT H T H E R E S T OF YOU R L I F E DOES . What resonated from this chapter?

What actions am I going to take in the next 48 hours?

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TA K E A B R E AT H . . .

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{___} ( ) VISION

George Bernard Shaw

______

______

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

“Cherish your vision and your dreams, as they are the children of your soul – the blueprints of your ultimate accomplishments.” Napoleon Hill

“We become what we think about all day long.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” Buddhist proverb

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” Carl Bard

“As you think so shall it be.” Dr Wayne Dyer

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Harold Whitman

[___] 40

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