Yin, Yang, and Midlife Crisis

Since graduation I’ve felt a disturbing and persistent sense of disquietude. Bringing my attention to this feeling, I’ve tried to find its origin. It’s tightness in my chest and nervous vibration in my limbs, as if I’m ready at a moment’s notice to spring up and run. My jaw is held tense with the back teeth gritting together. I’ve tried to run the crazy out, but my hips hurt. My body alignment has been disturbed by the force of my feet hitting pavement along the Eastbank Esplanade. I’m antsy at work, not feeling quite like I’ve found my place. I’m neither a green graduate nor an experienced leader. Architecture me hasn’t caught up to interior designer me. Professionally, I don’t know who I am. I live in the in-between of striving and arrival. There is also a sense of panic. Have I missed my chance? Chance at what?

This week a resident of one of our buildings came to the office to present his work and how the building has supported and promoted the work to flourish. He’s a Chinese medicine practitioner who is exploring a different way of delivering transformative health care. He works with people every day for a month. It’s a slow process, because to create true transformation on an energetic level, we must take the time. He described the cycle of yin and yang, and how our culture overvalues the full expression of yang: the south, the ages of 18-34, growth, masculine, and joy. We undervalue the yin: winter, north, feminine, grief, and old age. We create this imbalance in our culture and in ourselves. It was that range of numbers that struck me: 18-34. I turn 34 this year.

My disquietude became clear to me. 34. It’s not an arbitrary number. It’s the end of the early 30s. Where age starts to show no matter how well you took care of yourself. Look at your hands. Hands don’t lie. Women, especially, are undervalued after they’ve crossed the threshold of youth. At 26 you can still pretend to be the ingénue, but at 34 you’re not fooling anyone. And why should you? At some point, we have to grow from girl to woman. The ingénue is not a leader; she is a protégé. The woman is a leader. I am at the precipice of yin’s beginning. I realized I am afraid to be middle aged. I am afraid I wasted my youth striving and working, restarting, and striving again. I didn’t take the time to rest, to replenish, and to experience the fun yang side of youth. I didn’t take the time to grieve my miscarriage. I buried her and my pain. I’ve denied yin for so long that now that my body is approaching that stage of life, I am panicked. I want to run off and travel the world. Is this why we have midlife crises?

As my for my disquietude at work, there is the realization that I should have, at this point, arrived. No more having to prove myself but to just be. However, by restarting my career, I put myself back into the growth phase of yang. My career and my body are at two different points in the cycle. That creates tension. While I am afraid to embrace 34 in life, I desire to be 34 in work. It reminded me of a saying I saw a while back, possibly in some internet meme: Innovators don’t talk about themselves or their ideas, they ask others about their ideas. The healthcare researcher said his idea was born when he stopped looking at the problem from the same viewpoint. Instead of trying to make the healthcare model fit an economic model, he decided to dream up the ideal healthcare model first and forget the economic model for a while. In the end, the economic model came in the form of a non-profit organization and clinical study.

Ok. So I’m worried about having not arrived in my career and having arrived in life but not wanting to have arrived because I’m afraid I missed out on crazy fun yang time. Quit thinking about it in this way. Find a new model.

Dream the ultimate life. A balance of yin and yang in all phases. Don’t accept society’s definitions of youth and age. Accept myself so I stop striving to prove myself. Ask others what they think more often. Be gracious. If you stop thinking about yourself so much, you release yourself to be free. And then the rest comes to you.

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