When I was 48, I had a morning that turned my life upside down. It followed an evening when my branding agency lost a cornerstone client that we’d had for five years.
Admittedly, I’d come to a point in life when my coping skills were lacking. And in an effort to dull a realization that cut me like glass — that it was my 25 years of experience that would keep me from replacing that client because a younger agency might be more relevant — I shook up a couple of dirty martinis.
And in the fog of predawn darkness, as rain pounded my home’s clay tile roof — and last night’s vodka pounded inside my head — I stepped off the stairs and into my foyer, landing in a plushly carpeted puddle of water about 2 inches deep.
Any woman who’s raised teens in midlife knows that menopause and puberty go together like beer and ice cream. And when I realized that I’d been tending to the flood for nearly 30 minutes and had forgotten to wake my sleeping teen, I knew I was in for a showdown.
Any woman who’s raised teens in midlife knows that menopause and puberty go together like beer and ice cream.
The fact that I was serving as my son’s alarm clock long after he was qualified to wake himself was another symptom of my current state of affairs, and the unhealthy attachment I’d fostered to fuel my own sense of purpose backfired gloriously as he shouted: “Mom! You were supposed to wake me up early to study algebra! I’m going to fail my test now — and it’s all your fault!”
And then he said the thing that every mother hopes she’ll never hear: “I hate you.”
In a fit of exhaustion and uncontrolled anger that had become alarmingly common since the night sweats, hot flashes, and unanticipated expansion of my waist had begun, I pulled him toward me and spewed angry words that, even to this day, I’m too ashamed to remember.
In a second, he was gone. Out the second-story window. Onto the driveway and out into a rain storm. As I sunk down onto his bed, covered in the stench of flood water and the sickening sweat of my own shame, I thought to myself, How the hell did we get here? But it was after I wrangled him into the car and dropped him — soaked and enraged — at middle school, that the capper to the morning came: I got a call from the school principal, who told me that my son was feeling pressured. Stressed out. He asked if we were OK.
I replied with a steady stream of what had been top of my mind for longer than I’d wanted to admit: “Christian won’t apply himself. He refuses to try. He’s just skating through life. What if he never realizes his potential? What if he ruins his chances at anything great and just signs on for a mediocre life?”
In the principal’s reply came an aha moment that rocked me to my core: “Juju, I don’t think this is about Christian. I think this is about you. Christian doesn’t need you, in that way, anymore. I encourage you to go do something that scares you. Go do something that terrifies you.”
What I discovered that morning is that everything I’d come to believe about middle age was a lie.
Over the next two years, I did that very thing. I shut down my agency, started a blog, wrote my first book, amassed a following of more than 50,000 on social media, and gave my first motivational speech to 1,000 women.
What I discovered that morning is that everything I’d come to believe about middle age was a lie. That my feelings of irrelevance and powerlessness and purposelessness were part of a much bigger story — a story that my usefulness was directly correlated with my youthfulness and that my ship had sailed.
But right there in my car on the side of the road, I saw the true story: That I was more experienced, wiser, more intuitive, more insightful, more ready than I had ever been to do something significant.
That was when I stopped playing reruns and started living in prime time.
Juju Hook is the author of Hot Flashes, Carpools, and Dirty Martinis and a brand strategist and coach for women in midlife. To download her free guide on how self-talk shuts down possibilities and sign up for regular doses of wisdom, click here.