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When You’re Meant for More: Course-Correcting in Midlife

Updated: Mar 22

Written By: Kelly Judd, MS, CPLC

“I was meant for more than this.”

It had become a theme in therapy, and I finally mustered the courage to share it with my best friend. She received it with grace and compassion, which was not what I expected. After all, wasn’t it the epitome of selfishness to declare myself worthy of something different and better than what I had? Wasn’t it straight-up child abuse to consider leaving my son’s father after 14 years? And the notion of going back to school in my 40s . . . wasteful and self-indulgent, am I right?

“You deserve to be happy,” my therapist had said, and now my friend echoed the same simple, profound sentiment. I heard the words with my mind, but not my nervous system. I resolved to push forward anyway.

The midlife crisis is often dismissed as a momentary glitch in the matrix—a blip during which hard-earned midlife contentment gives way to Shiny Object Syndrome™. In reality, the phenomenon is a necessary and meaningful part of human development. But as women conditioned to subjugate our own needs, not only does the notion of “more” seem so very subversive, so very dangerous that we can barely allow it in, on the off chance that we do seriously consider a major pivot (or two), we nearly always find guilt and shame waiting for us at the next toll booth.

The key questions become: Is self-fulfillment actually a realistic and worthy pursuit? Should I just ignore these feelings?

My Midwestern Evangelical conditioning was (is) strong, and the answers were crystal clear as soon as those questions presented themselves. No, women are not supposed to want or attempt self-actualization, and yes, feelings of all unacceptable, messy kinds are to be ignored.

My mother’s strategy for parenting me—her gifted and creative firstborn—seems to have revolved around managing my expectations. I got straight As in school, won vocal and piano competitions, and was usually the lead in the school play, but was not celebrated for these accomplishments. I was routinely cautioned against bragging, told never to discuss my advanced placement or gifted status, and often forced into activities in which I did not excel (see my softball career). At one point, my mother refused to share my IQ test score with me. Knowing what I was capable of—it was implied—would make me an insufferable brat.

Her goal, as she explained it to me much later, was to save me from disappointment. She, like me, had been a bright and talented young woman. But her early marriage to a casually misogynistic workaholic and forced subservience as wife and mother in a high-control religious group had broken her spirit. The world, she told me, isn’t kind to women who think too highly of themselves. Believing you have value beyond caregiving is a one-way ticket to resentment.

I remember reading The Bell Jar in high school. It brought into clear focus something I had known since I was old enough to sense subsurface anger in adults: I must never, ever become my mom.

But you know what they say about best-laid plans. By the time I got married at 28, I had re-planted myself in delightfully progressive Seattle. I worked my way into an executive role at a company I loved, and I could finally afford a one-bedroom on coveted Lower Queen Anne. I had an agent, occasionally did print modeling and commercials, and spent several evenings a week in rehearsals for various fringe theatre productions. I was the primary breadwinner in my marriage and had every intention of keeping it that way.

Four years later, a tiny, impossibly perfect human came into my life. Maternity leave with him was nothing short of magical, but as my return to work inched closer, the increasingly loud voices of my mom, my sisters, my husband, and my mother-in-law began to drown out my own. We’d had some trouble finding childcare, and my husband had gotten a substantial raise. I could stay home, he said. I should stay home, my family and conditioning said . . .

I blinked and found myself in a therapist’s office. Somehow I was 40. My 12-year marriage to a workaholic had become not only loveless but abusive. Between school drop-off and pick-up, I’d cobbled together a new career, but I was deeply unhappy, felt profoundly alone, and was drowning in resentment.

In short, I had become my mother. And I wanted desperately to undo it before it was too late.

It’s no secret that girls are conditioned for selfless caretaking. From the toys we are given as children to the expectations imposed on us at school and work, the message is clear: You are meant for less. You’re not the main character. If you’re dissatisfied with your supporting role, here’s a script for Wellbutrin and a therapy referral. (No shade intended here, by the way—Wellbutrin and therapy are my mainstays. They just don’t happen to offer fulfillment as a treatment outcome.)

Around the time you hit 40, however, you enter your seventh stage—according to Erik Erikson’s widely accepted theory—of psychosocial development. The psychological struggle inherent to this stage is one of “generativity vs. stagnation.” In other words, you deeply consider your life’s course to date and your contributions to the world around you. Successfully navigate this stage and develop a sense of greater purpose. Fail to resolve this developmental crisis and experience feelings of regret and despair.

It's at this stage that our conditioning as women clashes with our developmental needs. Generativity demands acceptance that self-actualization is not just a worthy pursuit, but a necessary one. While it may feel selfish in the moment to consider new pursuits and adjustments to long-established circumstances, a successful resolution of your midlife crisis amounts to properly applying your oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.

For me, the past seven years have felt like course-correction. I left my marriage. I built a voiceover studio in my closet and became the voice of countless infomercials and corporate training videos. I came out as queer. I married my soul mate. I discovered my neurodivergence and built my life around my needs for the first time. I got a master’s in psychology, completed two years of masters-level training in clinical mental health counseling, and opened a coaching practice in which I help other women break cycles of dysfunction and self-sacrifice.

Within a year, I’d left my toxic full-time job to focus exclusively on my clients and my business. In May of this year, I moved my family 2000 miles to be near the ocean, among kind and accepting people.

I’ll be turning 50 in a few weeks, and it truly feels like the beginning of a triumphant third act. Clearly, my self-actualization journey has been extreme. It seems that most women don’t come out as gay in their late 40s, leave behind a 20-year career, and move across the country. Regardless of what the answers might be for you, the questions and reflections brought on by midlife are gifts—opportunities to optimize your life for its next chapter.

When your midlife crisis knocks, open the door.


Meet the Author

Kelly Judd, MS, CPLC

Kelly Judd, MS, CPLC is a queer life coach with one mission: to help women and LGBTQIA+ folx permanently break patterns of dysfunction and self-sacrifice to finally claim the lives they need. Kelly’s clients are empowered to create lasting change through deep inquiry and radical self-compassion.


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