Recently, a friend of mine was dealing with a family crisis. She admitted to our group that she wasn't coping and was struggling to do it all - support the child who was struggling, balance her carer responsibilities with her home life, and job hunt in a market that eschews the over-fifties. And when another in our circle pointed out that she shouldn't have to do it all, and that there's nothing wrong with contentment, it got me thinking.
The best therapy comes from friends. And what this friend was trying to explain to my other friend was that it is us who puts this ridiculous amount of pressure on ourselves to do everything and make everything perfect, even ourselves.
However, it is a choice. While she can't change the fact that her child needs support, she can let go of the gym, the expectation to stay slim and look younger than her age, and she can get the rest of the family to do their share of the household chores.
Life is about choices, and you can either stay in the rat race and struggle under the weight of expectation or you can choose a simpler path
Many times, when the proverbial shit has hit the fan and I am struggling to know which way to turn, I have yearned for a simpler life – to jump back into the womb or let go of some of the balls I am trying to keep in the air.
That's why, a while ago, my partner and I made a big decision in relation to this the third and last chapter of our lives. We decided to sacrifice the big house and expensive holidays abroad for earlier retirement and the freedom to enjoy whatever time we have left. I realise that it sounds morose to think about one's own mortality at the age of fifty-five, but let me remind you that many are not given that choice.
We are lucky. Our backs have been against the wall often enough to recognise what we can and can't do, and what we need for our happiness - which is a minimalist life.
Many women face this crossroads in middle age. Burnt out from jobs in which they are undervalued and from picking up the slack at home, they find themselves suddenly exhausted by middle age. Menopause doesn't help either, when hormone imbalances, weight gain and brain fogginess knock our confidence
The thought of an enforced recalibration may be scary for some, but taking the time to sit back and reflect on our trajectory is important. This year, COVID gave us a legitimate excuse to pause and take time to think about where we go from here, and I honestly thought that one of its legacies would be to kickstart a similar transition for more of us.
However, it doesn't appear to have altered most people's view of the world – in spite of the job losses, the devastating effects on our economies, and the appalling number of deaths. For in spite of the benefits of social distancing – and there have been many – I see very little evidence of any longterm change in the habits of people in relation to the frantic pace of their lives.
I know I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but this virus has given me a new appreciation for the simple pleasures in life – a kind of enforced mindfulness. It has changed my outlook has. Whereas in the past, dream holidays were about soaking up the fast-paced culture of foreign cities, these days I am more drawn to experiences of a more spiritual, health-oriented nature. And where once my diary was booked up months ahead, I have noticed recently that I am taking a much more organic approach to my social life.
Of course, some of us are still in survival mode. Here in Australia, Melbourne has only just come out of lockdown, whilst in other parts of the world a second wave of COVID gathers pace. And yet, for those of us for whom normal life has all but resumed, many appear to have turned a blind eye to the life lessons provided by the virus.
I mean, surely, some good has to come from this terrible reminder about the fragility of life?
Like misplaced insects, many people have returned to the false security of the lives we led before. It looks likely that Trump will maintain his presidency; the rights of women will continue to move backwards; racism will continue to thrive in spite of the Black Lives Matter protests (WTF! ABC); and politicians will resume their high school playground antics, and continue to put their personal agendas ahead of ours.
The Australian government is pushing for a gas-lead recovery, FFS!
Change takes time - I understand that - but I can’t help thinking that COVID should have been the wake-up call we needed. I truly believed that we would come out of this with a new agenda that prioritises compassion over power.
I want to believe that the world has fundamentally more good people than bad, so I can't help asking why we continue to elect the same narcissistic leaders who prioritise rich over poor? Or why, if we can find the money to fund abortive space missions, new casinos, and the replacement of perfectly-good sports stadiums, we can't offer social benefits at a more humane level?
COVID highlighted the truly important things in life – friends, family, and our health - and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with contentment.