This article describes the blog creator’s personal midlife story and how it relates to the midlife experience.

The life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me. In those moments I sometimes catch a glimpse of my true life, a life hidden like the river beneath the ice. And in the spirit of the poet, I wonder: What am I meant to do? Who am I meant to be?


Have you ever felt this way – yearning for a life hidden beneath the one you’re currently living? I can relate.

As I entered midlife, I experienced a deep sense of confusion and aimlessness. I felt disconnected from my relationships and personal aspirations. Parker Palmer’s quote made me realize that I’ve been hiding my true self behind social masks for over 40 years.

To discover my life’s purpose, I knew I had to start by digging deep and examining the foundation of my identity.

Fractured Identity

I grew up in the seventies in a small community in South Africa. My family, like thousands of other marginalized persons, faced oppressive structures that made it difficult for me to understand myself and my place in the world. I struggled to overcome these early influences. As a result, I spent much of my life feeling inadequate. I lacked the tools to unravel and reframe my early development influences. I moved through half my life thinking I wasn’t good enough.

Conditional Self-Worth

Throughout my teens and early adulthood, every choice I made was shaped to guard me against failure, shame, and rejection. I looked outside myself for validation and approval and blindly adopted ways of being to suit others. While hustling for love and acceptance, there was a persistent niggling that I was overlooking something I couldn’t quite identify.

Shifting Cultures

At age 25, I left the familiar climate of my childhood community to marry and start my nuclear family. For the next two decades, I straddled an in-between existence in a new multicultural landscape still searching for a secure sense of collective belonging. I strived to give my children broader exposure to learn and grow in ways I lacked in childhood. The eagerness to help shape their growth caused me to pause my personal interests, dreams, and aspirations to focus full-time on parenting.

Shifting Motherhood

Later, when my children started gaining independence, I thought I was losing my value as a mother. I lacked the understanding that my role as a parent was simply shifting, not dissolving.

Shifting Relationships

As a spouse, daughter, and sister, I felt disconnected for years. I struggled to understand why relating to the people I loved more than anything was so hard. Much later, I’d come to understand the importance of understanding family systems. Particularly, how to honour the individual within the collective. Also, the purpose of setting personal boundaries, and that healthy conflict are all means of building stronger relationships.

Seeking Life Purpose

At the threshold of midlife, while anxiously peering into the future, feeling fundamentally lost in all my life roles and in my environment, something dawned on me. My self-limiting beliefs and protective social masks were framing my day-to-day existence, but I wasn’t fully living. I had lost my way.

A striking quote by Kierkegaard echoed the void I felt.

The greatest hazard of all, losing oneself, can occur very quietly in the world as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.


I was trapped in unhelpful stories that contributed to the sense of loss Kierkegaard describes. I needed to unravel and challenge the stories that impacted my ability to live a fully expressed life.

Part of the life I felt ‘calling me from beneath the ice’ required a clearer understanding of my essential self because that self-held was holding the key to unlocking my passions and dreams.

Awakening to Midlife

In midlife, something shifts or awakens in you. The things you tolerated until now, no longer feel bearable. You start to question beliefs you’d blindly adopted long ago because they don’t quite fit who you are. The fears that held you back from speaking up or stepping out of your comfort zone, start to lose their grip. The need to please others at your expense no longer feels acceptable, prompting you to start drawing a line in the sand and make your Yeses and No’s clearer.

In midlife, you notice new-found freedom to drop social masks that never really fit and instead, you embrace your imperfect self. Self-doubt and insecurity make way for inner confidence. You stop shapeshifting and draw on your inherent strengths and resources to live a life better attuned to your authentic identity.

The awakening to midlife was liberating and empowering. For the first time, I felt equipped to untangle my distorted stories grounded in a fractured identity.

How do I restore my lost identity and discard the distorted one formed in childhood?

In her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown emphasises the importance of challenging the distorted stories that keep us stuck and prevent us from living, fully. She writes:

You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes, this is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.


My takeaway from this is that reconstructing your earlier experiences, traumas, or remarkable events is not about distorting and reshaping facts about the past. Instead, it’s about considering all the facts within their full context. Particularly if events happened when you were too young and unable to fully process complexity.

Shifting Distorted Stories

We are born with an inherent identity grounded in unconditional worth and value. It’s a blueprint marked with unique personalities, natural abilities, passions, and interests to help us craft a meaningful and purposeful life. We are not blank slates to be shaped and moulded into forms that don’t complement our authenticity.

At first, we’re dependent on family, caregivers, educators, religion, dominant cultures, and society to teach us about ourselves and the world. For some, their life teachers will help them uncover their blueprint by exposing them to learning opportunities and life contexts that help them discover their unique qualities.

More often though, this is not the case, and you may reach adulthood with a deep sense that your life doesn’t fully make sense. Likewise, it may feel like essential parts of you are missing or undeveloped. That’s because you exchanged your blueprint for someone else’s and learned to think, view, and do as you’d been conditioned. At this point, it’s left to you to re-examine and adjust your foundations to shift back into place your essential self.

By midlife, I had long moved on from childhood, but I was still responding to life from an old broken identity and faulty storylines. I had been drifting through life on autopilot for so long, trying to outperform my ‘not good enough‘ identity. I never paused to re-evaluate the labels and distorted self-concept I’d adopted. Or, to question the origin of those self-limiting beliefs. Instead, I lived in the shadows those distortions cast around me.

Whose Voice Will You Believe?

The voices grappling to influence us are like a revolving door with ever-shifting views and trends that nudge you towards conformity. It can leave you grappling to hold on to your intrinsic self while trying to fit in and belong.

In adulthood, you’re no longer a child blindly trusting and internalizing the influences of others. You have the power to choose which voices to trust. You can now determine who can unconditionally support your well-being and growth toward reaching your full potential.

Creating Harmony Between Your Essential and Social Selves

The key to creating a balance between your essential and social self, according to those in the know, is to get the essential and social self to work in harmony to help you reach the life you’re meant to live.  While the essential self can help you access all your inborn qualities and resources, the social self can carry you towards your ideal life using the social skills you’ve learned throughout life.

Midlife nudged me to flip the switch from autopilot to reclaim control of my identity story and re-examine inherited beliefs, views and learned behaviours to ensure they aligned with my essential self. I re-grounded my self-concept in an innate worth and unconditional acceptance, completely separated from external validation or approval. I don’t need to earn love, acceptance or belonging. I am worthy, full-stop. I am valuable, full-stop. Wherever I position myself in the world, I belong.

How do I redefine motherhood?

As your children gain independence and step deeper into adulthood, motherhood doesn’t dissolve. It simply shifts to something new. I spent eighteen years, training and shaping my daughters for independence. When they’re ready, it’s time to celebrate their empowerment and ability to take the reins. I can step back but stay connected as a constant source of love and support. We will always be a family. We’re simply adapting to a new season and a new chapter in our family story.

How do I cultivate healthier relationships?

Will the Real You Please Stand Up!

For decades, in my role as a woman, spouse, mother, daughter, sister, and friend I was steering my life from behind a social mask instead of letting my innate, authentic, self be fully seen. I complied with others’ views, beliefs, and expectations. Like a shapeshifter, I subconsciously became what I thought others needed me to be to maintain the longstanding status quo.

What I missed in that distorted view is that our inherent personalities, quirky traits, and authentic selves are what make us so beautifully unique, and that person is the one the world needs most – not a carbon copy of anyone else. If the very least, I’d gain from disentangling from such relational systems was to reclaim my inner peace and personal freedom then it was worth the unravelling.

Drawing a Line in the Sand

It’s said that we teach people how to treat us. If my boundaries are blurry and it causes me distress, someone else is not to blame. I was a people pleaser for most of my life – achingly uncomfortable with saying No because I’d attached my worth and value to external acceptance and approval.

Now that my self-worth is no longer tied to external validation, establishing clear boundaries flowed naturally. This may take time for the people whose longstanding comforts are suddenly ruffled. There will be some with the capacity to adapt and evolve with you, and some who can’t. In that case, you may need to be brave enough to read the writing on the wall. By midlife, the stakes are simply too high to gamble with your precious time. You want to invest in relationships that can hold space for you to evolve and grow and vice versa.

How do I explore my dreams and aspirations?

What do I do with my life now that my parenting role is shifting, and I can once again pursue my own dreams and goals?

It’s said that we uncover our deepest passions through lived experience. It’s only when we’re willing to brave the unknown and step outside our comfort zone that we can expand and uncover what we’re fully capable of doing and being. There were unspoken yearnings scribbled on the pages of dusty journals I’d set aside years ago. Now, I was questioning if those dreams and aspirations still held true because so much time had passed.

My distorted self and insecurities had me playing hide-and-seek for half my life, playing safe, afraid to try new things or to be fully seen. I was hiding behind doors of fear, failure, ridicule, and shame, miserably unaware of my inherent abilities and strengths.

It Only Takes One Small Brave Step

Now, with my newfound self-concept firmly in place and the bitter taste of a life half lived still fresh in my memory, I was at a crossroads. Place one foot in front of the other and start moving in the direction of my dreams or cower in misery between stifling walls of inadequacy. Cheered on by self-affirmations whispering, ‘you can do this’, I started taking small, manageable steps outside my comfort zone. I moved slowly but steadily.

Learning from Others’ Stories

I explored my interests virtually and vicariously at first, through others’ success stories, before taking bigger leaps. As a non-fiction reader, I was drawn to memoirs, particularly those of like-minded individuals who overcame obstacles still obscuring my pathway. I learned from their stories the pathway to a life of deeper joy and fulfilment. They motivated and helped nudge me out of my comfort zone. I signed up for short courses and workshops and found simple ways to express myself creatively. They say to uncover your deepest passions, it helps to notice your body’s responses in different situations. Whatever sparks joy for you when you are engaging in certain activities, follow that trail. I heeded the suggestions and was pleasantly surprised at the unexpected connections I made between my past interests and present work.

Sometimes, clues to the answers you’re looking for are held in custody by your younger selves. I grabbed a coffee, along with my old journals, photos, school progress reports, awards and achievements accumulated over the years. I searched for clues to what interested me in earlier life seasons. I noticed what hobbies and passions I nurtured and questioned if any of those things still hold true. What elements still held an appeal today?

Life is Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

For the longest time, I was curious to better understand the inner workings of people’s minds. I wanted to know what makes us tick. Because what happens below the surface − our beliefs, values, and views that are formed early in life, drive our thoughts and behaviours.

When the first signs of the empty nest beckoned, I welcomed the opportunity to realize a dusty old dream to pursue studies in psychology. I opted for a degree in Applied Social Science and relished every moment spent on that learning journey. It further helped me explore and untangle all the ways I had shifted out of alignment with my innate self.

After years of trying to figure out where and how I fit in this world, the disjointed, undeveloped pieces of my life started coming together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Thriving on Purpose in Midlife

Growth is a Lifelong Journey: My season of becoming is ongoing because growth is a lifelong journey. I continue to gently push my edges to expand my capacity for growth and step more fully into becoming everything I was shaped to be. I do so from a place of restored wholeness and renewed belief in my unconditional human worth.

The Balancing Act: Today, as I juggle various life roles, I honour my introverted strengths and limitations. I regularly rumble with my stories to make sure I stay self-aware about the influences that impact me and how I impact others.

Self-Care: Practicing deliberate self-care to refresh my body, mind, and soul is a work in progress, with some days easier than others. I approach this along with day-to-day challenges with flexibility and self-compassion.

Healthy Boundaries: I maintain clear personal boundaries that guard my inner peace and help me cultivate and enjoy healthier relationships that honour the needs of others along with my own. The contributions I make to the world and in my relationships stem from my natural self, as genuine expressions of love rather than a price of acceptance.

Taking Risks: Since I stopped playing it safe and hiding out, my dreams and prayers have become bolder. I’m no longer afraid to take risks, and I allow myself to dream bigger. I’ve come to realize that failing is a normal part of growing and learning, and I’m okay with that. I no longer feel the need to hide behind masks of competency or self-sufficiency, fear of failure, or shame. Instead, I’m focused on trying and re-trying, uncovering my strengths, and building resilience, determination, and diligence to move closer to wholehearted living.

Outlook: I approach life now with deeper inner peace and confidence in my ability to face whatever the future holds. My actions are guided by values such as self-compassion, grace, faith, and hope that guide me gently through each day. I have a deeper trust that life holds mysteries and unexpected possibilities that are still unfolding, and that these are not something to dread or fear.

We have places of fear inside us, but we have other places as well. Places with names like trust, hope, and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain nearby, and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.


While no two journeys can be the same because our lives are framed by different life contexts, and distinct factors that make our stories so beautifully unique, I hope that sharing my story will spark your curiosity to explore your midlife season with openness and bravery to see what unexpected possibilities may unfold for you.

Welcome to the midlife journey.

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