Change is also inevitable and good. Repeat twenty times a day until believed.
I have been accepted to both graduate MSW programs. Now I am deciding between them. What’s an MSW, you may ask. It’s a Masters of Social Work. A do-gooding, pay-nothing professional degree. I want to become a psychotherapist. The goal is to help traumatized children and the worried well. Maybe a sub-speciality of bereaved children. Why? Because I was one. I relate to them. My little neighbors down the street are bereaved twins. Their mother died when they were just two. Now they have a step-mom and they seem to be thriving. I hope they do. It’s a permanent loss, death. Therapy is most likely a must to cope, at least at some point.
Anyway, the decision to go to graduate school in middle age is not one I take lightly. But my definition of success contains the professional element. As in, I don’t feel successful without having a profession. Writing has not worked out as well as I would have liked. Meaning that I haven’t attained enough professional success with it to be able to call that my profession. To have that be my professional leg of the success chair. Other legs being health, family, friends. And, Readers, something in me is pushing me outward. My children are leaving home. I am confident the high school senior will get in to one of the nine colleges to which she has applied and she will leave, just as the college senior has left. We have entered a new phase, one of continual leaving and visiting and leaving and it’s never living together again.
This is sad. So very sad. It’s also what parenting success is. The fledglings fledge. They flit, they float, they fleetly, fleetly fly, leaving the momma bird to her middle age spread, hypochondria, and a big choice: how to deal with the next portion of life. The answer for me is to become something else, now that being mom is not a 24/7 physical, mental, and emotional full time job.
I have a friend around my age who keeps saying she is dying. She's actually very fit and healthy, and when she says it, she's not being a hypochondriac, she's being pragmatic. I think she’s preparing herself for the eventuality. I admire her willingness to stare at that old Death right in the punim and prepare herself by saying, yeah, I’m coming, eventually. But the other day, when she said it, I said, You’re no more dying today than you were ten years ago. After all, we’re always dying, if you want to look at it that way; but if you look at it that way, then just because you’re a particular age, say fifty-five, doesn’t mean you’re dying more than you were.
Is that crazy of me to say? I know that the longer I’ve lived, the more years I have eluded death, the more inevitable death becomes. But the whole idea of coasting downhill I reject. We are alive until we are not, and that has been true since the moment I was born, yanked out of my mother’s body by forceps, I believe. This is why my head is so misshapen. I hope I never lose my hair.
The point is, I know myself too well to think I can spend the next quarter of my life at home, being introspective, without developing some serious hypochondria worthy of a Jane Austen character. (The husband and I just reread Persuasion for our book group.) I need to get out in the world, and out of myself. I need to do something that helps others. Something that is definitely a profession, so when people ask me what I do, do being italicized, I can answer with something that makes me proud.
I guess it came down to how much I want to work on myself. I could continue to try to accept myself just as I am and to work at feeling I have done enough. I could continue to meditate on and rationalize that success does not have to mean success as a professional woman, and that the problem and solution lie within my attitude towards myself. If I can just accept myself as being enough, then all will be well.
Or I could say, well, a professional identity is important to me. I’m a Gen X woman, bred to be a multi-tasking superwoman, and I don’t have to struggle to let go of that aspect anymore. I can embrace the desire for a professional identity now. I can accept myself AND I can move into something else for this stage of life.
There's another facet to this gem. The whole hierarchy of needs developed by Maslow*. He theorized that we are all born with a motivation to self-actualization, meaning to develop our full potentials.
This stage is characterized by a desire to take one's accumulated knowledge and share it with others for their benefit. Perhaps Maslow had it right. Maybe I am at that stage.
So now I choose: the more prestigious, more expensive, much more inconvenient program with a more ideal curriculum, or the close to home, less expensive program with the adequate curriculum.
* Here is a good summary, with visual aids, of Maslow's theories: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html