I’ve thought for a few years now that I’m having a personal renaissance akin to those days in my early 20s when I came into full bloom as an adult and established myself in the life of my choosing. Because I saw myself in context, felt my power and took steps toward my goals. Let’s call that phase self-discovery, or Self-Discovery 1.0. In the intervening 40 years, I didn’t think much about self-discovery. But if you had asked me, I would have said that self-discovery was the realm of youth, part of growing up and becoming. Now, in my 60s, I see it differently.
I think we go through a second phase of self-discovery as we transcend the midlife changes of body and mind. In our maturity, we experience the wisdom and resilience of our longer perspective. As a result, we marshal ourselves toward revised goals. I’m calling that Self-Discovery 2.0. And I’ve seen it play out recently in two films about women who re-invent themselves in their 60s: “Nomadland” and “The Artist’s Wife”.
In both of these films, the story centers on an older woman who is at the end of the life she’s known and at the beginning of something else. One of them is economically challenged, living in her van. The other is super rich, living the high life. But regardless of their economic status, like millions of other women, me included, when their relationship with their husband disintegrates — one dies, one is disappearing — it’s a catastrophe. They are left with a big open space in their lives. Yes, they experience a period of grief, regret and self-pity. They get a lot of advice from family and friends and experiment with their options. And then their survival instinct surges.
In that chasm between the identity they’ve lost, and the woman they will become, they seek adventure, explore their options, and take chances on a new life. In doing so they witness themselves, develop their personal interests, establish new intentions, and pursue previously unimagined possibilities. It’s in that tapestry of new experiences that they re-discover themselves as individuals. Self-Discovery 2.0.
I’ve often complained about the absence of women my age in popular storytelling. So it’s gratifying to see these films feature strong women with real faces taking the spotlight. Storytelling helps us see ourselves. These stories illuminate a pattern we don’t often hear about — the late life blossoming that occurs in the space opened by loss. From creative destruction comes reinvention. You re-discover who you are and change your mind about what you want.
I wouldn’t feel so clear on this if I hadn’t experienced it myself in the years between my husband’s death in 2009 and starting this blog in 2019. And I don’t think I’m unique. When mature women see themselves at the beginning of an exciting new phase in their lives, ageism sheds like last year’s skin. Our age becomes our advantage. We have plans. We’re going somewhere. And we’re glad to be who we are — whole women, reborn into the new life of our choosing. That’s the renaissance I feel in myself right now. Keen with curiosity. Leaning into the unknown. Self-Discovery 2.0.