â€œLike a repertory actor, a fifty-year-old woman has played so many roles and found herself in so many different dramas and comedies of the season of her adult life, that when it is time to move on, she finds herself on the empty stage costumed in the equivalent of a medieval wimple on her head, a Brechtian shawl around her shoulders, a Joan of Arc breastplate, Chorus Line fishnet stocking on one leg, and an assembly line work boot on the other. The accumulated accessories no long enhance the actor underneath. They obscure her.â€
I love this characterization of waking up at 50 by Suzanne Braun Levine* because it raises some interesting questions for each of us: What is underneath our costumes? How many of us feel â€œobscureâ€? If so, how do we rediscover â€“ or even discover for the first time – our sense of self? These are not easy questions, and I would like to offer a starting point.
My past two years have been about shedding the costumes bit by bit; realizing I donâ€™t want to play some of my roles any longer. It has been an intuitive, subtle process — not a deliberate one. I got in touch with a little voice that kept asking â€œwhy?â€ â€œWhy am I doing this when it doesnâ€™t feel right?” “Why doesnâ€™t this make me happy?â€ â€œWhy DO I assume I have to do this or thatâ€¦?â€ Honestly, I had neither posed these questions of myself nor listened for the answers in a very long time.
Posing the â€œwhyâ€ questions gives me the courage to own the answers. I may be on the verge of giving up my unbecoming but starring role as victim of my own life (bye, bye breastplate). Some days, I wear two fishnet stockings because I want to (and make my husband a happy man). Lots of days, I try to wear no costume at all. These days feel the best.
The whole process is helping me explore who I am and who I want to be. I donâ€™t have a neat answer yet. I suspect one never does. What I do believe is that until we stand center stage without costumes and props and stop allowing others to change the sets behind us, we will not become the director of our own production.
*There are tons of books out there on women and midlife transition but this former Ms. Magazine editorâ€™s Inventing the Rest of our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood truly touched me. I will use it often as inspiration for â€œWhatâ€™s Next?â€ I recommend it to you.