Midlife Changes

All my life, I have been surrounded by midlife changers. In her 50s, Tami went from successful marketing copywriter to even more successful children’s book author; my mother went from diamond cutter as a young adult to fashion patternmaker and assistant designer in her 40s; in his 60s one of my uncles went from upscale tourist storeowner/manager to dental technician (crossing the ocean from Israel to the U.S. for two years to learn the new profession); and then there’s a second cousin through marriage who went from housewife to… I’ll leave that for a bit later (believe me, it’s worth the wait!).

In the distant past, a person would train or be educated for one type of work – and after several decades, would retire from that job, with or without a gold watch from the employer. Lots of work security; also, lots of professional boredom. Those days are pretty much over. There’s no sense bewailing the change, as the pace of the contemporary world accelerates with its technological and social-cultural dynamism. On the other hand, it makes eminent, personal sense to think about what we each want to do about it.

It’s not merely our environment that demands adaptation. Luckily, we also live in an age of vastly increasing lifespan. Assuming that we retire at approximately the same age as in the past, that leaves close to two decades (on average) to “fill” with something meaningful. Best not to start that at retirement, but rather actively “prepare” ourselves well beforehand.

Of course, changing one’s profession is not the only thing that we can do. Today’s options are almost infinite: volunteer work; sports and serious recreational activity; high-level amateur arts & crafts; travel & tourism; and on and on. Some hobbies keep the brain fit as we age; other activities, the body trim; and still others, both brain and body together. Most important, though, is to keep one’s “soul” nourished by doing things that we really like and want to do – not simply “pass away the time” before we literally pass away.

I could clearly see how Tami gained a “new life” with her children’s book authoring; every morning, my mother couldn’t wait to get to work in Seventh Avenue; and as funny as it sounds, dental technician work can actually be quite challenging, and even at times fascinating, as my uncle recounted on more than one occasion.

As for that second cousin: Naomi. Her husband (my dad’s cousin) was a Holocaust survivor, came to the U.S. penniless, and managed to establish an oil company and even bought an entire local bank. When he passed away too early in life, Naomi (by then in her late 50s or early 60s) decided to establish her own institution – a total break from her previous, married life. Here’s the background story as she recounted to me – I am not making this up!

Naomi used to enjoy spending Sundays going to bazaars, fairs and garage sales. One day her adult son who enjoyed collecting all sorts of objets d’art for his home asked his mom to try and get for him some classy erotica whenever she came across something along those lines in her weekly perambulations. Naomi had never seen that sort of stuff but decided to keep an eye out. Weekend after weekend she would visit these places – and… nada. No one was selling that type of thing. So, one day Naomi asked a seller where she could find erotica. He looked at her quizzically: why was this grandma-type of “square” lady going around asking about that? She explained. His response: “I understand. Well, no one puts those objects out for just anyone to see; after all, we have families with kids at these events. If you want to buy erotica, just ask the seller and if they carry it, they’ll take you to the “back” where it’s stored.

Sure enough, quite a few Sunday fair merchandisers did carry such art objects “in the back”. So Naomi started buying selected erotica for her son, who seemed impressed by her discerning eye as well as a newly discovered business acumen, and complimented her. Pumped up by her son’s accolades, Naomi began to find some of these artifacts to be quite pleasing to her eye too (after all, it is real art). Soon enough, she was buying erotica for herself as well.

To make a long story short, after her husband died, Naomi decided to move to Miami from New Jersey), and set up… The naomi Wilzig Erotic Art Museum (WEAM)!! The museum carries over 5000 pieces of erotica, ranging from miniature Japanese sculptures to a massive, hand carved oak bed from Germany with many “interesting” carvings on the four bedposts (Naomi told me that it cost more to ship to the U.S. than to buy!). If you’re interested, here’s the website: https://www.weammuseum.com/ Just make sure your kids are not hanging around your computer when you surf the site…

Why tell this story – other than the fact that it’s utterly “fantabulous”? Because there’s a lesson here. One’s midlife change need not be anything “planned” at a younger age. Rather, we should always be open to the unexpected when “tripping” over life (that’s meant in the running sense, not drugs…). Sometimes a BIG change is what’s needed, something completely out of our previous comfort zone. That way, we can feel that life is starting over again and not merely a Second Act event.

In short, midlife changes are crucial in order to avoid a middling life. We only live once, but that doesn’t mean that we have to have only “one life”.

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