"I'm getting a tattoo."
When I made this declaration to a friend some months ago, she quickly decided that there could be no other explanation for this insane notion than that I must be going through a mid-life crisis.
Wasn't expecting that reaction. Her hasty verdict baffled me, and mildly offended me, if only for a moment. At that time, I was so sure of who I was and so clear on what I wanted that I was confident it had nothing to do with any "crisis" and everything to do with the clarity I had about my life.
I had wanted to get a version of this tattoo since I was about 20 years old but didn't have the courage to get it back then because I was too preoccupied with what my parents, my future employers, and my future husband would think of it if I did. I also didn't want a decision that I made at such a young age to be one I regretted. Twenty-two years later, those issues and concerns didn't exist anymore.
Still, this question of crisis vs. clarity stayed with me. I wondered if you could be in crisis in some aspects of your life while having clarity in others, or if they are mutually exclusive. I found the definition of clarity to be "the quality of being certain or definite," and crisis defined as "an unstable situation of difficulty or a crucial stage/turning point in the course of something."
So although I was certain of who I was and what I wanted, I had also been dealing with some difficult situations and turning points at the same time. It seemed to me then that crisis and clarity could co-exist and that they'd been doing so rather harmoniously in my life for quite some time.
So where did that leave me?
Smack in the middle of my "mid-life" at the lovely age of forty-two, that's where. At a stage where society has presumably created this designation with a negative undertone, just for me. Yet I don't see myself as suffering this dreaded fate, just as I don't believe in classifying others in the same narrow manner. The complexities of any of our lives cannot be summed up in a label, as we all have our own circumstances and experiences that make us uniquely who we are. However, it could be argued that our thoughts and behaviors, guided by our varying degrees of crisis and clarity, could easily lead us to arrive at this place of instability in our mid-life if we grant them that power.
So why am I, you, and other men and women in their forties expected to be going through this supposed "crisis"?
Is it maybe because you are looking back at your life just as much as, or in some cases more than, you are looking forward? Maybe because so many of the decisions you have already made in your life are now having a direct effect on your present and your future... or maybe because someone reminds you that it has been twenty years since you graduated college - no, not high school - COLLEGE.
Or is it maybe simply because you are now an adult - a parent, a "grown-up", a responsible member of society - and the world no longer feels like the oyster it once did? Your life doesn't have an infinite future anymore, with plenty of time and plenty of room for mistakes, foolishness, immaturity and irresponsibility. Your children see the world as a vast place, full of opportunity and possibility, and are primed and ready to blaze their own paths through it. You see it as not being that easy anymore. You believe the opportunities have narrowed and the possibilities for your life seem to be shrinking with each passing day. The path you have forged has led you to places that you didn't plan to go; and the course has been set for a life less ripe with new experiences, and more cluttered with the same old, same old.
Geez. No wonder being in your "mid-life" feels like a crisis. An air of dissatisfaction and desperation pervades it, with an equal mix of longing for the past and anxiety for the future. It is dominated by what you think you are expected to be and accomplish, thus leaving little to no room for you to work at what you want to be and accomplish.
Now, to anyone who has entertained any or all of this self-defeating internal dialogue, I say... bullshit. Don't go there. Just don't do it. Don't let yourself fall victim to this bleak perspective, as looking at your life in such a hopeless way really does nobody any good, least of all YOU. Cease seeing the potential and possibility in yourself; or more importantly, fail to recognize the good that already exists, and you will be in a perpetual state of crisis, mid-life and beyond.
On the other hand, maybe you have started a "bucket list" - a fantastical list of over the top adventures to dream about doing before you die. Before you DIE? Suddenly now you're hyper-focused on your impending death and how you better hop to it and book your skydiving trip to Alaska before you run out of time and become either too sick, too tired, or too broke to do it.
Why do you need a list to remind you to live? Like this is going to fix things. Like looking forward to experiencing isolated moments of elation will somehow make your life more bearable to you... will shock you into feeling more ALIVE.
What about feeling alive in your everyday life? What about bringing some of that elation and gratification to the ho-hum, daily grind that you complain so much about? The happiest and most fulfilled people are those that can see the beauty in the mundane, that are able to authentically feel they're perfect just as they are in the present, and that don't need to compare and compete or get somewhere else, or be someone else, to feel worthy or to feel their lives are satisfying. Perhaps that is what we all should be focusing on and putting our energy toward achieving instead of fantasizing about zip-lining in Costa Rica or bungie-jumping in New Zealand.
So, I got the tattoo. It's beautiful. Exactly as I imagined and exactly as I wanted. The artist I found to ink it is a wholly decent man with a gentle nature and a fierce talent. I am so grateful to have found him. I could not have asked for a more perfect experience or a more fitting reminder of what is most vital and important to me.
The tattoo doesn't represent something as grandiose as reminding me to grab life by the horns, live life to the fullest, or savor every last minute. No bucket list bravado. Instead it conveys concepts much simpler, yet much more difficult to master: To wake up every day and be the best version of myself. To recognize and use the gifts that are inside of me right now. To always remember my strength. To never lose hope. To see the positive and BE the positive in my life. And to never, EVER, stop persevering.
To me, that is a far more valuable bucket list.