Today’s post is a little bit different, I’m taking part in a writing project that was commissioned by the peer to peer lending company Zopa. To celebrate their Innovative Finance ISA, which they say “sits in the middle between low risk, low yielding cash ISAs and volatile, high return stocks and shares ISAs”, they asked a number of people to think about “the middle” and what it means to them. Of course for me, the middle immediately makes me think of midlife; this exciting, confusing, challenging and sometimes disturbing stage that we find ourselves in and so that’s what I decided to write about.
I don’t often have the the headspace to sit down and think about an abstract concept like this so I’ve really enjoyed being part of it. It’s been good for me on several levels because as always, there’s a lot going on: I have another birthday approaching; there are only two more years until my nest empties; I’ve just launched a new company and, with my shoulder operation looming, I’m being forced to acknowledge the physical aspect of ageing… now that’s where ‘disturbing’ comes in!
So, although this has been commissioned by Zopa, it isn’t about finance, it’s about my view of being in the middle of my life and why I think it’s a great place to be.
Finding yourself in the middle of your life
Whenever I need to write something thoughtful, I start by walking. I find it’s the best way to let my mind flow freely on a subject and of course there’s no better walking country than we have here. As I was out thinking about this piece, it struck me quite quickly that midlife is a bit like our Lake District hills. Just as you think you’re approaching the summit, you discover that it’s actually just a plateau and there’s another sharp slope ahead that you need to climb if you want to reach the top.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll remember that my 50th birthday celebrations were remarkably quiet and it’s because this is what 50 felt like when I arrived there. It just didn’t seem as monumental as I expected it to be and now I realise that it was because I’d hit that midlife plateau. A lot of people I know have said that they felt the same. Instead of reaching fifty and shouting “I’m here,” they found themselves whispering quietly “what now?”
Personally, I was able to look back at the journey I’d taken so far and appreciate that it was significant. I could appraise the big things that had happened with absolute clarity and acknowledge the influence they’d had on the route that I’d taken… but when I looked ahead, nothing was clear. It seemed as though there was still a long way to go with lots of new opportunities but I had no idea of how I wanted to spend the next part of my life.
Of course for a long time, my direction has been determined by my sons’ paths and the role I’ve had in supporting them. You often hear people describing the decades of bringing up children as being filled with long days and short years. Although I’ve loved it there’s no doubt that being an active parent is gruelling. Your free time is never your own and even if you manage to carve some out, it’s always delineated by the needs of the little lives that depend on you – so sometimes the days drag and yet the years fly by.
And suddenly that chapter is almost behind me. Looking ahead, I can see that if we’re lucky, the next phase could be a time of short days and long years. According to the wisdom of my retired siblings, the days feel short because you’re so busy doing things you want to do and yet the years are long because you fill them with new adventures. It doesn’t have to be a time when we wind down; if we like the look of the new peak ahead, we can choose to scale it.
So right now I find myself resolutely in midlife, between the two stages. My children haven’t quite left and don’t require a lot of hands on parenting however they’re still my focus and I need to be here for them. I’ve decided to take this time in the middle as an opportunity to think carefully and make plans. When my sons step tentatively into the first scene of their adult lives, I want to be ready to leap confidently into the second act of mine.
Do it your way
But that’s just me of course – what you decide to do next is a matter of personal choice. Going back to the analogy of the plateau, you may decide that you’ve come far enough, that you’re ready to sit down and take it easy. When I talk to midlife friends about the future they all have different ideas. Some are looking forward to leaving jobs that they don’t enjoy and not having to get up in the mornings. Others are gearing up in a big way, planning triathlons in a series of gruelling locations. One couple I know are preparing to sell everything they have to fulfil a lifelong dream of working with children in Africa. Others are thinking about personal reinvention on a different scale, saving for facelifts and age-defying surgical measures.
As for me, I’m planning to take the middle way. I have no intention of stopping but neither do I feel the need to push myself to the extreme. Over the next two years while the boys are still at home, I’m going to be readjusting and deciding exactly what I need for the next part of my journey. I’m reviewing anything that will have an impact on how I feel when I set out: diet, exercise, relationships, finances (and wardrobe… of course!). I see this as a time for preparation, getting my metaphorical map out and planning which route I’m going to take, who I want to take with me and, just as importantly, who I’m going to leave behind. Because it’s important this next bit. I had time in the past to waste by making mistakes. Now though there are fewer years ahead than there are behind me and so I want to be as sure as I can of what I’m doing.
There are bound to be obstacles that I haven’t foreseen and events that knock me down along the way so I know I need to be flexible and of course Mr MC has dreams of his own that I need to weave in along with mine. But even so, I want to define what my own personal summit is going to be. And having said that I suppose I should acknowledge that by the ‘summit’ I mean the end – so I hope I’ll have a few moments when I get there to look back… with happiness and no sense of regret.
The old sayings always hold true and happiness to me has never seemed like a faraway destination, I’ve always done my best to look out for it along the way. And yet the reason that I love being here, right now, in the middle of my life is because I believe that with a bit of thought, what could well be the best times lie ahead. As I say so often, we’re lucky to be members of this particular generation of midlifers and we have more choices than ever before. Experience has taught me that if there’s something you really, really want to do, you’ll find a way, whatever it is. The only limit is your imagination and self-belief.
Personally I feel as though I still have a lot to do careerwise so I have no intention of stopping for a long time. One of the reasons I’ve been so busy recently is because I’ve been launching a new company, Age Agnostic Ltd. I’ve done it so that I can continue to build on the work I’m doing with retailers, brands and other organisations, helping them to understand our generation as users and consumers. I’m determined that ageing should no longer be an invisibility cloak. I want to do my bit towards ensuring that our needs are better anticipated so that our senior years will be good ones – outlooks are changing and we’re forging a path towards age agnosticism where the only thing that defines people is their attitude. However it won’t be all work and I’m hoping for some adventures too.
But what about you? Have you thought about taking some time now, at this midpoint, to decide where you’re heading in this next important stage of your life? I think we’re all aware that the second half of anything goes by much faster than the first so, can you, as Mary Oliver put it so lyrically…
“… tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Thank you to Zopa
The Zopa writing challenge very kindly enabled me to spend time thinking about this post and writing it, so it’s only fair that I dedicate a small part to them. I am not a financial adviser but their model of ‘honesty, transparency and trust’ feels like a good fit for Midlifechic. As you probably know, for fourteen years they have been giving people access to simple, better-value loans and investments. Now they have an ISA product too, or rather an Innovative Finance ISA (IFISA), which is an ISA where your money is invested into Zopa peer-to-peer loans. Like an ISA, it enables you to save up to £20,000 per year tax free*.
Returns at Zopa are significantly higher than a bank savings account because you lend directly to borrowers, cutting out the costs of running a bank and the typical bank margin between savings and personal loan rates. It’s an investment solution that sits neatly in the middle, between low risk, low return cash ISAs and volatile higher risk, higher return stocks and shares ISAs. If you have existing ISAs that are not performing, you can move them to Zopa and start earning their current target returns straightaway.
Please note you only have one £20k allowance per year regardless of ISA type although you can split it across different ISA types. When you invest your money, your capital is at risk and is not protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). Tax treatment depends on the individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future. Zopa’s risk statement has all the details.
Disclosure: ‘Midlife – making the middle years count’ is a writing project in collaboration with Zopa but as always, words and thoughts are my own.
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