Margaritas were made for patios: sunshine is a critical component to enjoying them. I like mine mixed simply: tequila (preferably reposado), lime juice and agave, with a salt rim. Luckily, Denver has some of the best margaritas in the west, and a plethora of sunny patios to sip them on. Margaritas also seem like a fitting beverage to consume while writing about the less than sunny topic of my ongoing midlife crisis. Readers take note: that will be the last time I ever use the word “crisis” to describe what I’m going through. It’s not a crisis; it’s more of an awakening. I haven’t come across a description that better summarizes what it’s like to go through a midlife awakening and why the female experience of it is uniquely different, than in this post by Vicky Cook, a personal coach and blogger of Heart & Moxie.
Once the awakening happens, you can’t just go back to sleep, no matter how much you sometimes wish you could. Hence my Matrix analogy in this post. It’s unpleasant to suddenly question the meaning and purpose of everything I’ve done for the majority of my adult life; yet, it’s also energizing and exciting. I can’t help looking at the world and my life in a fundamentally different way than I did before. This is a period of learning as part of a major transition, and it’s involved rethinking my values, what motivates me and where and how I’ve chosen to spend my time based on what I thought mattered, but doesn’t anymore. It also scares the shit out of me because the consequences of making major life changes at 41 are very different than when you’re 17. At that age, change is all that’s expected of you.
It’s profoundly unsettling to recognize that the goals of stability, success and security, which have been driving me for the past 16 years, are no longer good enough. Even more disconcerting is that I don’t know why. Why are words like harmony, balance, meaning and purpose suddenly resonating in a way they never have before? Where is the need to put myself and my personal growth before anything else coming from? How long is this going to last? Why can’t I just go back to doing what I was doing before I woke up?
One of the most frustrating, yet necessary, parts of experiencing a midlife awakening is the need to sit with and absorb all of these awkward questions; to uncomfortably squirm as they wriggle their way through every aspect of your life, exposing even more questions and—occasionally—answers that you’ve been too distracted or afraid to accept until now. It’s a painstakingly slow process; I may be awake, but that doesn’t mean I know what the fuck I’m doing. The poet Rilke (see my reading list below) describes this process better than I ever could:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Speaking of Rilke, throughout the past year I’ve relied on a number of amazing resources that have helped me walk this new path, albeit while stumbling along hesitantly, like an infant taking her first steps. For anyone experiencing a midlife awakening, I highly recommend the following:
- Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke: I have my high school English teacher, Mr. Kachtick, to thank for this one. Rilke’s short collection of letters to a student at the school he attended when he was younger, was assigned reading my junior year. I had never before (or since) read anything that comes close to so elegantly capturing the angst of maturing into adulthood. I also hold fondly to Rilke’s belief that solitude is necessary for getting to better know and understand yourself. I read this book about every 5-7 years, and each time I get something new from it.
- How to Design the Life You Love by Ayse Birsel: This is an activity workbook for reframing your life. It’s written by an award-winning product designer who’s mapped out a step-by-step process for applying her methodology of “Deconstruction:Reconstruction” to achieve a life that’s aligned with what you really want to get out of it.
- A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: My mom gave me this book when I was in my early 20s, but I never finished it until I reread it again in its entirety a few weeks ago. Although she wrote the book in 1955, Lindbergh has an incredibly modern and feminist take on what it’s like to experience the cycles of romantic relationships, aging, the different roles a woman plays throughout her life, and the need for self-fulfillment amongst the disproportionate responsibilities and societal pressures that often have women caring for others before themselves.
- Tim Ferriss’s TED Talk on Fear-Setting: My boyfriend is a big fan of Tim Ferriss’s blog and books, and he sent this link to this TED Talk to me, titled “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals.” I put Ferriss’s fear-setting exercise to work before making the decision to turn down the job I had quit my job for.
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson: This is another recommendation by my boyfriend (although I’d like to point out that I finished it before he did). I love Manson’s style of writing and his exceedingly creative uses of the word “fuck.” He makes a ton of eye-opening points, and I often laughed out loud while reading this.
- The Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday: This book is really about getting out of your own way and how you can achieve so much more by not listening to your own bullshit and putting yourself at the center of everything. Holiday uses amazing examples of famous and historical figures who both excelled at putting their egos aside and others who were consumed by them.
- My Life Coach: I think it’s extremely difficult to go through a period of intense self-examination without a guide. It’s important to have someone pushing you to get to the really hard stuff and calling bullshit when what you say you want is the exact opposite of what you’re doing. I couldn’t imagine making as much progress as I have without working with a professional. Regardless of my supportive friends and family, a neutral third-party has often been the only person I’ve wanted to share my half-formed thoughts and raw emotions with during this process.
Despite these excellent resources, this shit is still hard. Perhaps the most troubling realization I’ve had in the past year is that a midlife awakening is unquestionably an act of pure rebellion, however the only person I’m rebelling against is myself. This isn’t the same as my teenage rebellion when I was acting out to piss off my parents, teachers and any other authority figure that reeked of the sacrifices, conformity and responsibility of pending adulthood.
This is an internal rebellion against everything I thought I knew, wanted and worked hard for, and I alone started it. I simply chose to hold the mirror up and ask myself unpleasant questions while knowing that there weren’t going to be any guaranteed answers. This rebellion is about overcoming my fear of stepping off the train I’ve been on for many years, and instead, daring to become the conductor of a train that’s on a track heading in a very different direction. It’s about having the strength to be 41 and still say “fuck it,” while also actually fucking up for the first time in a long time. It’s about trusting the path I’m on, even if I have no idea where it leads.
Damn, I could use a margarita right about now. Here are the epic patios that I sipped sunshine on while wrestling with uncomfortable questions:
- El Jefe: a relatively new addition to Cobbler’s Corner in Sunnyside, they have a killer margarita selection, delicious farm-to-table Mexican food (especially if you like heat) and a fantastic patio.
- El Five: Possibly the best rooftop patio in Denver – the views are just killer. They could serve dog food and people would still flock here for the view, but El Five is owned by the same restaurant group that owns Linger, so they’ve got everything expertly dialed in. I ordered an off-menu margarita and it came with a lime salt egg white foam that was awesome. Their tapas are delicious: I recommend the patatas bravas, the green gazpacho and the matza ball soup dumplings (yup, you heard that right).
- Old Major: the only non-Mexican restaurant on this short list, which is irrelevant because they have one of the prettiest patios in Denver, and the bar seating is both inside and outside. Their take on a margarita is appropriately titled “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and it’s made with el portico tequila, chipotle, pineapple, fresh limeade and house-made strawberry jam.