The Seven Biggest Mistakes We Make in Midlife

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Barbara Hannah Grufferman on the most common psychological traps we face in midlife — and how to transcend them

For many, midlife can be a scary time. But it can also be empowering – if you can learn to avoid the common mindsets that often hold us back. Read on for seven principles to live by:

1) DON’T feel invisible. I’m 54, and part of the largest single demographic group in the history of the world. Our buying power is huge, and we are a political powerhouse. Invisible? Hardly. But as I entered my 50s, I sometimes felt as though I was being pushed aside, ignored and not young or interesting enough to have a voice in the world, as I once did. Luckily, I got a grip, and realized that we have to ignore the noise, embrace our age, not be afraid of it, accept that change is happening, and figure out the best way to address those changes, forging ahead with health and vitality.

2) DON’T be afraid of aging. The best advice I can give you is this: be fearless after 50. Fear will stop you from pursuing your dreams, and could cause you to give up and give in, keeping you a prisoner in your comfort zone. This is the simple concept I learned from researching, writing and living the advice in my book, The Best of Everything After 50: If you’re healthy, you feel good. If you feel good, you look good. If you feel good and look good and have a vision for your future, you feel even better. If you’ve got all that plus the knowledge how to stay that way, you feel amazing. And if you feel amazing, who cares about age?

3) DON’T lose control of your life. When I hit 50, I started to feel as though society had already mapped out my future: I would grow older, fade into the background, continue to pack on post-menopausal pounds, and decide that this was probably going to be how it was going to be. That’s where I was headed until I stopped in my tracks, and said no. Instead, I retreated, revised and re-emerged: I took control, and created a new future for myself which includes exercise, healthy eating, smart skincare, easy makeup and hair, simple style, and a whole new attitude. We can’t control getting older, but we can control how we do it.

4) DON’T get overwhelmed by too much information. Knowledge is power, right? So when I turned 50, I went on a quest to find the answers. I searched the Internet, bookstores and magazines, but it soon turned into information overload. Everybody had an opinion — and most of them conflicted with each other: Eat more protein. No, eat less protein. Take supplements. No, get all your nutrition from foods. You can wear jeans after 50. You can absolutely not wear jeans after 50. And everybody, it seems, wants to sell us something to lose weight or get rid of wrinkles. I was ready to throw the proverbial blanket over my head and stay there. Then one day, it hit me. I didn’t want lots of information; I wanted the best information on what I need to know now about getting older. So, I cut through the noise, and figured out what really works, and what doesn’t.

5) DON’T ignore your inner kid. Smile, play, laugh, have fun, engage, connect. These are all essential for healthy aging. Don’t take yourself, or the world, too seriously. There will always be problems, but do we have to constantly dwell on them? Do you remember how much fun it was when you were a kid to just get outside and run around? I do that with my dog. We run (with walk breaks) four to five miles several times a week. Not only am I keeping my weight at a healthy level and exercising my heart, but all studies have shown that physical activity raises your endorphins and makes you feel good. Play games, engage in a hobby, stay in close touch with friends who care about you, and steer clear of those who don’t. Volunteer, and say “Yay!” as often as you can. It’s contagious.

6) DON’T feel sorry for yourself. It’s not always easy getting older, especially if you, or loved ones, are experiencing illness, loss, or difficult financial times. But feeling sorry for yourself is counterproductive, as it only serves to keep you stuck where you are. Instead, take control, figure out what you need to make your situation easier (or at least, more tolerable), get help from others if you need it, and create a vision of your life which includes getting and staying fit, so you can more readily shoulder whatever comes your way in the future.

7) DO have a financial plan. I interviewed Jane Bryant Quinn, the internationally known financial expert and author, for my book. Jane is a conservative thinker when it comes to financial planning, and she gave me some very good advice for people approaching 50: as we’re heading toward retirement — which probably won’t happen until we’re closer to 70 due to many converging factors — we have to ask ourselves how we’re going to afford to live. One of the most stressful things any of us can go through is financial uncertainty. This is where the simple part comes in: save more, and spend less. No magic … just basic common sense. And understand the different kinds of insurance we need as we get older. You may want to consider hiring a fee-only financial planner to get started.

Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the author of The Best of Everything After 50

19 comments so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    There have to be many of us who – in looking back – would say that the 50s were the best years of our lives.  We feel newly confident as we never have been before, moving ahead in the business world to places beyond our dreams.  I think “belief in self” – rather shaky before though we were pretty good on covering that up MOST of the time – became strong.  Like The Little Engine That Could of childhood years, the words became “I know I can, I know I can” became reality on things that mattered most then.  And then it became even better.

    So it really comes down to point #7 — the financial plan which has changed so radically from a decade ago.  I now think that we should live a bit under our means, and yes! a financial planner of some merit (we hope) will map out our financial future and nowadays, will change the plan as “the world turns”.  To me it is the only way — expert guidance through the rough waters ahead. 

    • avatar Barbara Hannah Grufferman says:

      Thank you so much for commenting on this article, Joan. I agree with you . . . having a solid plan to handle your finances is essential. But, don’t ignore all the other points while you’re at it!
      All the best,
      Barbara

      • avatar Joan Larsen says:

        Barbara .   .  I so love reading what you write .   .   . but I find that I have always been such a positive thinker — for lack of another good phrase — that there is too much emphasis and in some cases belief that women are “over the hill”  in their 40s, but definitely in their 50s. 

        IF we are given belief that these really ARE the best years of our life — which they are — rather than even the world “aging” that I still cringe at when I can hold my own with the best of them of any age — can worm the way into your thinking, impeding your growth.  That we have to LOOK like kids – slim and elegant – is fallacy.  The trick is to dress our age but dress well and stand up straight.  Downtrodden doesn’t do it.  Having a job with challenges is confidence raising, but if somehow you are not seen as an up and comer (and there are ways to make that happen by the way), then you still can rise to the top on the side, doing something for pay or no pay that shows off your best talents and make you feel pretty wonderful.  Never fill a slot unless you have ideas that you are going to make it better or make people’s lives better in doing it. 

        Want a perpetual smile on your face that attracts people to you — well, try it.  I will stand by my statement that “AGE IS A STATE OF MIND”.  I would love to talk to you about it sometime.

        Joan

  2. avatar D C says:

    I saw a bumper sticker once that sounded like a great financial plan:  “I drive too fast to worry about retirement savings”.  But seriously… I have one chiild finishing college with $120K in loans we’ll have to help with because she now wants to be a teacher, and teachers are getting laid off left and right.  I have a son starting college in the fall, who also wants to be a teacher… but luckily he chose a state school so the costs won’t be quite so high.  And we have a 15 year old who is autistic, and wants to go to college — we figure community college will be his spot,  but he will always need help.  My husband and I just know that we will work until we die.  There will be no retirement for us.  Unless, of course, the Lottery comes through. 

  3. avatar wendivah1 says:

    Thank you for this article as I am now 57 and feeling what now or what is next, I am now in agreement with myself that this is the second part of my life, better and wiser. Ready to begin again. Wendy

    • avatar Barbara Hannah Grufferman says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Wendy. The next part of your life can be as rich, rewarding and filled with everything you want out of life . . . if that’s what you want. The real key is to recognize that what you wanted when you were 20 or 30, is not the same as when you’re 50 or 60 or so. I do feel so much wiser now . . . and getting wiser every day.
      All the best,
      Barbara

  4. What I like about this article is it is about us taking control of our lives. I will be 50 in a few days. I loved my 40′s but feel even more confident as I now enter the 50′s. I have learned who and what is important in my life. Who/what is worth worrying about and most importantly – that I get to choose how I feel about it all!

    I have spent the last three years working on developing a healthy lifestyle. As you said so eloquently “If you’re healthy, you feel good. If you feel good, you look good. If you feel good and look good and have a vision for your future, you feel even better. If you’ve got all that plus the knowledge how to stay that way, you feel amazing. And if you feel amazing, who cares about age?”

    Cheers!

    • avatar Barbara Hannah Grufferman says:

      The best thing I can say about that is: YAY!!!!!!
      I hope you stay in touch, Flip Side!!
      Best,
      Barbara

  5. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Don’t be invisible should apply to all of us. In the last few years when we go out for lunch or dinner I’ve noticed that if we get a young host or hostess they try to seat many of the older patrons at the bar, a camped table or next to the bathroom or kitchen. We have to wait to be seated even as young couples come in without a reservation to be seated at the better tables. I have called and written letters to the managers of several restaurants we enjoy about this issue. It has made a difference.

    I speak up when I am in line to pay at a store when the clerk will motion a younger person to step ahead of me. The last time this happened I was at Macy’s I put down the items I was about to buy and said “It is obvious that you don’t want my business. I’ll give your manager a call later to tell him why I didn’t shop here today.” Then I walked away. As older people we not only have buying power but we need to speak up when these things happen.

    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Hi Chris .  .  .  Now that is one I have never ever encountered — and hope I never do.  In restaurants I know — and I know most of them — I have my favorite place to be seated (never next to a large group at a table opposite – no way!) and I ask for it right away. If anything, I always think they fall all over me, waitstaff and all, but I am the curious type and usually engage them in conversation.  . and often it opens my own world further. 

      At stores – well, the same.  I have never felt “old” so I normally ride on a “high” so maybe it shows and that makes the difference.  But I loved 50, and love 60 almost better as all sorts of wonderful things are happening — so the “mistakes” I can’t identify with.  Joan 

      • avatar Chris Glass` says:

        Joan, We live in an area where there are few fine dining choices. Most of the restaurants are chains such as Outback, California Dreaming, Ruby Tuesday’s etc. The majority of the staff is made up of college students and young people trying to decide what they want to do with their lives. We have encountered this behavior over and over not just by ourselves but with friends our age and older family members. We have places where we are well known and accepted for ourselves but they are not the trendy for the time chain restaurants. They are establishments run by local people who understand the older generation isn’t afraid to spend money to enjoy a good meal. The servers at these places rarely change and they know us by name. None of us share entrees and we tip decently. I find that when I alert a restaurant manager to the way older patrons are seated the problem gets settled until new staff is hired and trained.

        We have several colleges, a medical school as well as a military base nearby so there is a huge influx of young people. To be fair I think they tend to gravitate to those in their own age group. I am not and never have been a militant shopper and diner but I belong to a caregivers group that has discussed this treatment many times. It is not our imagination or behavior on our part that is less than friendly. We are well treated other places. When I left the items I planned to buy in Macy’s I had been standing in line for over fifteen minutes as various clerks ushered people ahead of me. I don’t mind waiting when a clerk has spent time helping someone else or if another customer has one or two items but this available clerk had ignored me from the time I’d come to check out.

    • avatar Barbara Hannah Grufferman says:

      Invisible? Hardly!! And we have to remember that. We are part of the largest demographic in the history of the world. So there . . . : )
      Thanks for sharing your great spirit with us, Chris!

  6. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    THis is all good advice…and applicable to almost any age.   Especially having a financial plan. Or at least some common sense. 

     I can see 60 from my front door.  My 50′s have not been fun. Maybe I can pull it together for my 60′s.  At the very least, I’m hoping for a swell party.  Which means I have less than two years to regain my footing and all the friends who have drifted away over the past decade.  (I allowed myself to become invisible–saw it happening but couldn’t  stop it.)

    Otherwise I will celebrate 60 quietly.  And be happy (I hope!) to be celebrating a new decade. 

    • avatar Maggie W says:

      Celebrate quietly???? Horse feathers!  Start planning now.  Get out that Christmas tree we all love and birthday that puppy up with some streamers and lots of pictures of you and B and friends . Crank up the margarita machine and go through your old CDs.  

      This will be a Decade Party, Mr Wow!  Go for it!   On my 20th birthday, I was alone at the library at the university….. studying for a big exam.  I was miserable but knew I was in the right place.  Walking  across campus and back to my room that night, I told myself I would never  again spend a decade birthday without major celebration activities.  That has come to pass. On # 30, I was in Cabo San Lucas drinking, dancing, and singing with the band at the Hotel Solmar.  To this day, I thank God pole dancing was not yet an option . 

    • avatar Barbara Hannah Grufferman says:

      Dear Mr. Wow! Sorry for the late reply to your lovely comment . . .
      I’ll be 55 in December, and in November, I’m running in the NYC Marathon to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in memory and honor of a dear friend who succumbed to this terrible disease. But, I’ll also be running to celebrate my 55th Birthday!
      Every birthday should be celebrated, as every day we take a breath should be celebrated as well!
      If you choose to celebrate quietly, that’s totally OKAY. As long as you . . . celebrate.
      All the best!
      Barbara

  7. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Mr. Wow . . . as you can see, this is a topic I have written and written about and one obviously close to my heart.  Think of your life – as this the easiest analogy – as a sidewalk lined off in squares.  The squares are not decades in life.  IN other words, expecting the 60s to be better than the 50s – well, life doesn’t happen that way.  We move forward – sometimes at a snail’s pace, sometimes we burrow deep in the ground and only see light on Groundhog Day that year, and sometimes we may have that surge of joy that makes us leap 10 steps forward.  I promise you it can – and does – happen. 

    You are setting your expectations high — too high — with the party in two years perhaps being the beginning of a new and better chapter for Mr. Wow.  High expectations?  That chasm beyond can be mighty deep with those views.  Instead, try to take it a day at a time from today on.  Think:  I am going to make today the best it can be?  Pause . . . but HOW?  By doing or saying something to make someone else happy.  Forget you for a change.  Look outward for gosh sake and just do nice things or say nice things to others and watch them smile and shine.  It will all reflect back on you and you will find yourself smiling too.  Listen carefully to what other people want to tell you.  They will tell you more if they think you are listening.  Don’t talk about yourself or do any “poor me” or they will move away fast.  All of our lives are ups and downs — and we deal with it.  THINK of others.  No wallowing allowed. 

    You can begin to be a new person today if you try it.  It works.  People gravitate to you and the more the confide in you, the more they continue to come back. 

    OK.  Next thing.  None of us need a roomful of friends.  We need one good loyal friend or perhaps 5 at the most.  Solid friends there for good and bad.  The rest are people that know you — that set — and will be “party-goers” if you need reassurance that you are wonderful.
    But concentrate on no more than 5 for the next year.  I happen to like old friends, but I have found that choice new friends – well chosen – keep me lively and interesting.  But don’t woo the world — home in on those that will bring you out of yourself.  Again — be the good listener, and for heaven sake, smile and laugh.  Suggest specific places to meet and dates.  “How ’bout going to —— for a fun time out Friday, or do you have a better suggestion?  TAKE their suggestion and run with it. 

    I promise you that I am good at this.  Better if I could give you the shove up close.  But today is not too soon to do that one thing I suggested.  It can be complimenting a waitress, someone behind a counter — practice makes perfect but you will see it works.  Three months should do it — but you will find you never want to stop investing in others once you start. 

    If I have to give private lessons, Mr. Wow, you will have to pay my plane fare.  Joni will vouch for me that I am good at human relations I would think. 

    Buy yourself some flowers for Easter — not those stiff lilies that look like you are next to dead – but a bundle of posies that you will compliment the florist on – and the florist will smile — and you have done your deed for today.  . but this will be the first day of the rest of your life and it will be a good one.

    Promise.

    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Chris — You know as I do that the world as we knew it – the world of manners and more often than not – the world of caring and respecting others – is not what we would have wished it to be.  You are right — I do tend to go back to favorite breakfast places and finer dining restaurants over and over . . . and often I am known — and yes, I DO tip well for those people rely on that money to live.  

      I am constantly out.  I hate lines where the hold up is unnecessary.  I asked my husband if he recalls us being treated though as second class or ignored, thinking his memory might be better than mine.  We lucked out I believe — as I know you have seen this happen and so have your friends.  There is no other way than to report the young people or their actions will continue.  Now I dread that it may happen — but I will know what to do — and do it!!!!! 

  8. avatar Rho says:

    Mr. Wow – we will celebrate with you.