Embracing the Complexities of Midlife: Insights from Midlife Women

train crossroads midlife transition

Midlife, a phase marked by transitions and reflections, serves as a pivotal juncture in our lives. Yes, we talk about midlife crises and trading in partners or our cars, but do we really talk about the day to day realities, challenges and opportunities in our 40s and beyond?

Midlife can be a time when we pause to contemplate our past, assess our present circumstances, and ponder the trajectory of our future. Through extensive research and heartfelt conversations with women navigating the terrain of midlife, I’ve unearthed a tapestry of experiences, challenges, and aspirations. In this exploration, we’ll delve deep into the multifaceted journey of women in midlife, shedding light on the themes that resonate with many and offering insights for those navigating similar paths.  Whilst my findings are not shocking, I was pained to discover how many of us feel so alone.  I hope by sharing some of these insights, it will help us realise that we most certainly aren´t alone. And, if we choose to, we can create something different in our lives, which can start with some simple baby steps.

Before I start, I would like to thank the women I have spoken to all over the world who have so kindly shared their innermost experiences and fears to help create this overview and support my work in coaching/mentoring women in midlife.

Many of those I have spoken with (myself included) have felt a sense of feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed, anxious at times, swirling in a lot of emotions and uncertainty, but also having some parts of their life that they were pretty content with.  Some also found themselves asking “Is this it?” in regards to their life and particularly feeling fulfilled and having meaning in their lives. Almost universally the desire shared was to feel alive, free, living in peace and ease, have a sense of community/support, excited and engaged with what is next and have the energy and vitality to move forward. Unfortunately, most did not feel that way right now and really struggled with where to start and what next?

mug of coloured crayons what next

Loss of Identity and the Quest for Purpose

At the heart of many midlife experiences lies a profound sense of loss of identity. As individuals reach significant milestones like turning 40, 50, or 60, they often find themselves grappling with existential questions: “Who am I now, and what do I want for the remainder of my life?” The transition into midlife can feel like stepping into uncharted territory, prompting a deep introspection into one’s values, aspirations, and sense of purpose. Many women express a yearning for clarity – a roadmap that illuminates the way forward in this next chapter of life.

This was highlighted several times by the women I spoke with that felt there was a pretty clear ´plan´ of what to do, or what was expected of us in our 20s and 30s, but our 40s and beyond – then what?

“ I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted.  Then I started to open up as I felt I had no other choice than to do that, as I knew I wanted more.  Previously, I did what was expected of me and then when I was facing 50 this year, I realised maybe all of what I had wasn’t for me anymore and I started questioning things.” 

This also serves as a reflection point for some of us to question whether we get the job, husband/partner, kids, house out of expectation or because it was what we really wanted?  In the thick of this it can feel pretty all-consuming and very lonely. 

Others I spoke with felt that midlife can be a real opportunity to go within and start to make more conscious and intentional choices about our lives.  But still the questions came up – how and where do I start, I have never done this and I don´t have any role models for it either?

unfurling fern midlife

Trauma and Healing

For some women, midlife serves as a crucible for confronting unresolved traumas from their past. Childhood wounds, toxic relationships, and unhealed emotional scars resurface, demanding attention and reconciliation that we maybe had never previously seen or had the courage or strength to face. The journey toward healing can be accompanied by waves of doubt, fear, maybe even depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet, amidst the darkness, there is a glimmer of hope as so many brave women do muster the courage to confront their shadows or demons, seek professional help, and embark on a path of self-discovery, healing and growth.  

From some of those I spoke with and my own personal experience, getting support and facing our own challenges in our lives and mental health is not easy, but it is certainly worth it, rather than sitting in what can feel like a never-ending whirlpool of challenging emotions and fear.  

Grief and Loss

Midlife ushers in a period of profound transition, often marked by the loss of loved ones (including long-term pets), relationships, life stages and lives we didn’t lead. Whether through death, divorce, or the departure/comings and goings of children from the nest. We can often grapple with what can feel like emptiness left in the wake of these losses and changes. Anticipatory grief can weigh heavily on our hearts as we confront the uncertainty of the future, potential future losses and mourn the passing of time. Yet, if we choose to, within the depths of grief, loss and change, there is an opportunity for reflection, growth, and the cultivation of resilience.

¨I liken it to a sandstorm that you know is coming, you can try and prepare yourself, you just don´t know when it is going to hit you.¨

midlife woman or mum looking at a map self discovery


Women, especially mothers, experiencing guilt isn´t a new story, especially when we are caring for younger kids and jugging career and/or other responsibilities. But guilt consistently came up for a lot of the women I spoke with with older kids, even after they´d left home.  Whether in regards to caring for elderly or unwell parents, starting to focus more on themselves and their own priorities, our experiences often feel tinged with questions like are we really doing the right thing? Especially when for so many of us we are so used to putting other people´s needs and wants first.

The need for support

Many of the women I spoke with shared how increasingly important their friendships had been in midlife, whether it be as they have negotiated the end of relationships, facing a crossroads or general uncertainty.  That said, there was also a sense that there was only so much that could be shared with friends and many feared not wanting to be a burden or a broken record.  I sensed for some a real sense of loneliness in some aspects of their internal lives, even if from outside they looked like they were surrounded by friends and loved ones.

It was also notable the number of women who wanted to make changes or try something new, felt held back back by an invisible barrier – caring what others might think if they made changes or the fear of what will others say or judge if it all goes wrong?

So many of us can find it hard to reach out for help and support. Sometimes we don´t know who we really can reach out to and can even struggle to receive or take on board that help and support as we are so unaccustomed to not just getting on with stuff alone. That said, I sense a yearning for so many of us to be our real authentic fullest selves and this requires being open and vulnerable and we can´t do it alone. A scary proposition for so many of us and the doubt of now knowing how we might be received.

“I will only reach out for help if I feel I have no other choice”.

“I have been starting to reflect more on my own needs I have more space to do so with my kids growing up.  I also want to be a good role model for them.  I really desire to be more authentic and vulnerable with friendships and those around me too, but it is not easy.”

midlife women together getting support

Self-Trust and Overcoming Doubt

Self-doubt emerges as a formidable adversary for many women navigating midlife transitions. We can wrestle with indecision, procrastination, and fear, unsure of how to navigate the crossroads before us, even more so if we are doubting our ¨foundations like our marriage and/or career choices. The need for structure and direction is juxtaposed with a yearning for spontaneity and freedom from societal expectations. Learning to know and trust ourselves (especially in a society that teaches us to always look outside of ourselves and/or to escape), embrace uncertainty, and cultivate resilience becomes a cornerstone of navigating the complexities of midlife with grace and authenticity (see this post on Konenki all about this too).

“To be honest, I have not been happy for many years and pretending to myself and the outside world.  I have felt both scared and brave to make the changes I have”.

Embracing Potential and Authenticity

Despite the challenges we may face, many of the women I spoke to yearned for a sense of fulfilment, authenticity, and purpose. They aspired to break free from societal norms and expectations, reclaiming their voice and agency in the process. Many expressed a desire to explore new opportunities, whether in their careers, relationships, or personal pursuits and projects. A willingness to learn and grow new skills and abilities, even if they felt a bit unsure how to go about it. There was also a sense of creating a legacy as an undercurrent in their hopes and dreams, whilst also having half an eye on retirement.   Embracing their potential, honouring their passions, and embracing authenticity is an aspiration for many and if we choose to take this path, it becomes a journey of self-discovery and empowerment.

¨I am now at a stage in my life that I feel I am here for a reason and want to feel I’m making a difference. And I think it’ll come with a lot of healing.¨

hand up to say no with girl reach out support midlife

Self-Care as a Priority

Amidst the tumult of midlife, self-care and self-compassion emerge as a non-negotiable necessity for us midlife women seeking physical and mental strength and well-being. Many of the women I spoke with increasingly prioritised their physical, mental, and emotional health, recognising the importance of setting boundaries (although not always easy) and honouring their needs.  By midlife many of us have faced health issues and diagnoses that came out of nowhere and have caused us to reflect on who we are and our priorities – for example, learning more about ADHD or cancer.   From therapy to meditation, to reevaluating how we nourish and move our minds and bodies, to nurturing friendships and beyond; Self-care rituals serve as anchors in turbulent times, providing solace and strength amidst the storm. We often just need to give ourselves permission to do it and it most likely does not look like a spa day or a glass of wine.

And we haven’t even mentioned peri-menopause or menopause in all this!  Many expressed how they felt they had less energy, brain clarity and had many questions in this phase of their life.  A recommendation of a good friend that I now share freely is the importance of finding a good health professional/s who we feel comfortable with at this stage of life. Someone who is willing to listen and support us and getting blood tests are crucial to help find out what is really going on for us.  The wealth of information out there can add to our overwhelm, starting with some personalised good medical support/advice is invaluable.

“I want to feel like I am making the most of my life and being stretched and fulfilled, rather than everything just ticking along.”

midlife woman relaxing in a pool self care

Navigating Transitions and Finding Peace

Midlife transitions – from caring for ageing parents to grappling with empty/open nest (I prefer open nest, with kids that come and go!) – can leave women feeling adrift in a sea of uncertainty. Yet, amidst what sometimes feels like chaos, there is a yearning for peace, freedom, and a renewed sense of purpose. Embracing change, setting boundaries, creating new habits, seeking support from community, professionals and/or loved ones are vital steps toward finding solace in the midst of transition  By honouring our experiences, embracing authenticity, and cultivating resilience, we can navigate the complexities of midlife with grace and a newfound sense of purpose.  Sadly our western culture is pretty disempowering about midlife and beyond, focusing on ageing and it being downhill from here, in Japan they talk about konenki – a time of renewal and rebirth – how much more amazing is that?!

you matter written in handwriting self care midlife mum

As one wonderful woman I spoke with said ¨We are lucky that we might have 30 or 40 years with no societal plan or expectations, except our basic demise.  But it also depends on our mindset. You can choose to look back or see it as a great opportunity, it is very easy to get sucked into the negative way of looking at it if we aren´t careful¨.

Many said they felt quite alone in feeling some of the things they are feeling and experiencing.  I have had more than one conversation with women in tears that felt this way, I tried to reassure them that they most certainly are not.  

What can we do?

For me the first place to start is to realise we are not alone and give ourselves self-compassion to whatever we are feeling or experiencing. This is a crucial first step.

We also have a lot to learn from cultures like Japan and from each other. In Japan midlife is revered alongside with wisdom and also the importance of having community and support. We can start to create community and share more vulnerably, so we feel less alone, reduce the burden and sometimes the guilt and shame. We can start to see ourselves again and get to know who we are now and rebuild our self-trust.   From there we can move forward towards a vision in one or many aspects of our lives so that we feel energised and excited about what is next – breaking free from indecision, stagnation and overwhelm.  

The journey through midlife is as multifaceted and nuanced as the women who embark upon it. While challenges may sometimes feel overwhelming, so are opportunities for growth, healing, and self-discovery. By sharing our stories, supporting one another, and embracing authenticity, we can navigate the complexities of midlife with grace, resilience, and a renewed sense of purpose. Embracing the journey, with all its twists and turns, is the first step toward realising our fullest potential and finding peace in the midst of change. Reevaluating who we are and what we want, need with personal (and sometimes professional) support and community (to join my free online one click here).

What would you like to get excited about?

Please do share your thoughts, comments, questions below. I always LOVE to hear from you.

empowered you midlife women coaching

Introducing the ´Empowered You´ individual or group programme (for up to 8 midlife women), working with me, Emma Lees. I will support you through the programme to gain:

– Self-knowledge
– Clarity on who you are and what you want
– Re-build and develop more self-trust
– A safe and supportive community 
– An exciting personalised roadmap for what is next.

Explore the next stage of your life with curiosity, compassion and confidence, so by the end of this energising 8 week programme you will feel a sense of aliveness, peace and ease to embrace what is next in your unique and exciting journey. 

To have a free 30 minute chat/vision call about where you are in your life and if Empowered You might be right for you please book in here – https://calendly.com/innercoachingyou/vision-call-empowered-you or email me at:  ejlees@gmail.com

Photos by Centre for Ageing Better, Ivan Aleksic, Arya Meher, William Duggan, Will Swann, Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

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