I have been the MAD Goddess for so long now I have to dust off my math skills to figure out that this alter ego, the Middle Aged Mouthpiece in me, has been around for almost half my life.
At early 30-something I was, maybe, inching my toes into the stream of midlife. Never-the-less, the MAD Goddess voice was strong and she had a lot to say about aging while female in our American society. She still does at 60.
I may have been young in years then, but I felt old emotionally, if not physically. I had aging parents, three children and a husband. I worked part-time and honed my writing skills in whatever minutes were left over. I was always in the middle of something and being pulled in more directions than I cared to follow.
I came of age during the first wave of women told we could have it all. I’ve often said women were not having it all, so much as we were doing it all; and most of the time we were doing it all by ourselves, despite spouses and extended family.
For women in two career households, there might have been extra money for living the good life, whatever that might be. But more often than not, it ended up being spent on childcare and hired help to do the domestic chores—formerly housework, still largely women’s work.
Even now we continue struggling to figure out the pros and cons of all this upward mobility, and don’t even get me started on how the prevalent middle class dream paints a pretty picture of white-privilege America, while brushing over the class subjugation of people of color.
But there is something else on my mind today. Prompted by a social media post, it’s something I’ve been noodling over for a while now. I call it the ugly duckling syndrome, the idea that we have to undergo personal transformation to be shiny, happy, better people than we are.
As with much in our society, there is a money trail to follow. The pursuit of perfection is big business in America. We’re told daily that we must have perfect, white smiles, fit bodies, eat super-foods, wear dazzlingly laundered clothes, live in Pinterest-perfect homes and shit in sparking toilet bowls.
If it isn’t bigger, better, new or improved, it isn’t good enough. And that includes us. So, not surprisingly, with the arrival of middle age for the women who’d been doing it all, came a new industry—personal reinvention. Now that he kids were at least old enough to be somewhat self-reliant, possibly even old enough to leave home, middle class women had a sliver of time on their hands and money in their designer bags.
Instead of forking out their hard-earned cash for child care, they could hand it over for courses of self reflection and personal development that encouraged them to re-imagine their life, presumably one that was better than their current situation. There was a lot of misdirected belly button gazing going on, a lot of faux spiritual connection and self-care than translated to spa services. We were all supposed to come out virtually glowing with the outward perfection of inner enlightenment.
As the MAD Goddess, I was on that bandwagon for a while. I became a certified personal coach, a midlife midwife. I developed a four step process for achieving desired, measurable outcomes, whether a client wanted something as straightforward as finding a better job, or as esoteric and finding deeper purpose.
Being the rebel that I am, or that the MAD Goddess in me is, I focused my coaching on finding the right fit, not changing to fit in. I didn’t work with clients to reinvent or reimagine themselves, as if they were somehow inherently flawed or a broken thing that needed to be repaired. Instead, I encouraged them to rediscover who they’d always been, to remember what gave them joy—or at least satisfaction if joy wasn’t in their emotional took kit. I led them in returning to their core values and embracing good enough.
Self improvement is not a bad thing. I think we all secretly desire to be better in some aspects. I’d like to be a better artist, I want to play an instrument, I want to write a best-selling novel, I’d like to eat healthier, be more physically active, and dress better. I think I should be a more patient wife, a less demanding mother and a more involved grandmother.
Some of those desires are to please me, and some are to please others. The motivation behind both is the desire to meet some standard of my own design that is a combination of gut feeling and what I’ve been spoon fed to believe. Bottom line? I believe I should make changes that would presumably make me a more likable and lovable person to others. Pressure!
One thing about moving from middle age into Crone, is that I’ve stopped obsessing over what others think of me, if they like/love me or not. My circle of loved ones is growing smaller all the time, because I no longer have the inclination for wearing many masks or doing the exhausting work of pleasing everybody.
Because I love my husband and kind of want him to stick around and keep loving me, becoming more patient and understanding is worth the effort it takes. Same with going a little softer on my daughters and being a more hands on grandma. And as much as I like being all hermity, writing, painting, gardening, foraging and wildcrafting with plants and herbs (basically being village witch), I nudge myself to make time for my friends, because they are an important part of my life that I don’t want to lose.
And here’s the thing, these people who I love and who love me, they know my house is a mess most times, they know I’m a sort of absent-minded professor too focused on my projects, they know I’m mostly low energy and would much rather sit on the deck and share a bottle of wine these days, than go out to make a show of having fun.
These people don’t care that I’ll never play an instrument, that my art is mediocre or that my novel didn’t make any lists, let alone best seller. I’m good enough for them just the way I am.
More and more, I’m finding I’m good enough for me.