Embracing the In-Between: The Liminality of Midlife
In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.
Midlife is a time when we find ourselves standing on the threshold of change, suspended in the liminal space between what was and what will be. I’ve been exploring the concept of liminality lately and how it mirrors the experience of arriving at life’s proverbial midpoint. I've been so taken with the word, the idea, and its poetic representation of this season of life, that I even renamed my blog The Liminality Blog!
So, what is "liminality"? Read on....
Liminality refers to the state of being in-between, on the threshold of change. It is a limbo-like space where the old patterns, roles, and identities start to lose their grip, while the new ones have yet to fully take hold. Liminality is a transformative threshold—a sacred space that holds immense potential for growth and self-discovery.
The Midlife Parallels
Midlife, much like liminality, embodies a state of transition and transformation. It is a time often marked by introspection, questioning, and reevaluation. The familiar structures and certainties of youth may start to feel fragile and unsatisfying, while a yearning for something more authentic and fulfilling begins to emerge. Midlife brings forth the awareness of mortality, prompting us to reflect on the paths we have walked and those we wish to pursue in the time we have left on the planet.
The Liminality of Midlife Motherhood
Having become a mom at age 46, and then founded an online community for other midlife moms, it has been my own experience and one I've heard from literally hundreds of other moms that—no matter which road might have taken us to motherhood—becoming parents later in life leaves us straddling two very different chapters and trying our best to remain in balance. We often find ourselves grieving the person we spent half our lives becoming, while simultaneously rejoicing in the new role of motherhood that we'll spend the rest of our lives inhabiting.
Embracing the Discomfort
Both liminality and midlife can be uncomfortable: Going back isn't an option but the road forward hasn't fully presented itself yet. This ambiguous state of being in-between two distinct realities is, by its very nature, unsettling. But it is also during these periods that we must confront our fears, uncertainties, and existential questions in order to pave a path for ourselves to more stable ground. We may grapple with feelings of restlessness, longing, or a sense of being stuck. However, by embracing the discomfort and leaning into the liminal space, we open ourselves up to profound personal growth and transformation.
A Journey of Self Discovery
Just as liminality marks a transition into a new phase, midlife is a gateway to reinvention. We have the power, and a new sense of motivation, to redefine ourselves, forge new paths, and pursue dreams that may have been put on hold. Midlife invites us to embark on a journey of self-discovery, to peel back the layers, uncover our authentic selves, and reassess our values, passions, and purpose. We may explore new interests, hobbies, or even career pivots to do work that aligns more closely with our inner truths. Midlife becomes an opportunity to shed societal expectations and rediscover the essence of who we truly are.
Cultivating Resilience and Wisdom
Midlife has, in popular culture at least, gotten a bad wrap. It is often perceived as a time of crisis, of flailing, of giving up and retreating. But the liminal space of midlife is actually one of beauty and new possibilities. It offers a profound opportunity for self-reflection, growth, and reinvention. It is a transformative threshold that invites us to question, explore, and embrace change. By navigating the discomfort, leaning into self-exploration, and cultivating resilience, we can harness the power of liminality to shape a more authentic and fulfilling next chapter. This is the time and the space in which we can truly come alive and discover the fullness of who we are meant to be.
If you are yearning for a midlife transition to a more authentic and actualized version of yourself, get on the launch list for my soon-to-be-released new program Plan Your Pivot: Your Path to a Purposeful Second Act.