Suzanne Braun Levine’s “Inventing the rest of our lives” was first printed in 2006 and, while is it over a decade old now, I found the material to be fresh, helpful and well beyond the standard list of what ails the average mid-lifer. Most of the literature I have read to date addresses the common issues faced by both men and women. There is no shortage of men out there that are struggling, mightily, with this transition, to be sure. But men and women are approaching this quagmire from decidedly different viewpoints. Men tend to wonder about what is best for them and turn their focus inward while women worry about how their spouse and children will be affected by their new path. We are wives and mothers first, and individuals second. If we are caring for elderly parents or good friends, we may not even rate that high on our own list of priorities.
This work is organized into three sections. The first, Getting to What Matters; Letting Go and Saying No, is an acknowledgment of the changes that have taken place. Whether those changes involve children growing up, a divorce, failing health, menopause or just the recognition that one is unsettled about the future, the point is to embrace that something needs to change. Levine offers the reader the opportunity to identify the change and then offers permission to the reader to navigate the path toward that end. Why do women need permission to seek what they need or want but a man innately believes he is entitled to happiness? No one tells a man he deserves to be happy-he just decides it is so and sets out to acquire it, be it a new job, new car or a new wife!
Levine defines the “fertile void” as the period of time in a woman’s life when she knows something needs to change. The imputes is different for everyone but the end result is the stirring and inner voice that propels her to begin to ask “is this all there is?” This marks the opportunity to begin her second adulthood. In the second section, Finding Out What Works: Recalibrating Your Life, the reader is urged to look at those areas of her life that are enjoyable and affirming and to consider changing those components that are no longer working for her. That may mean reevaluating a career, toxic friendships or an unhappy marriage. Confronting these larger than life topics in your fifties can be riddled with anxiety and fear. Many women still have the “bag lady” syndrome, as described in this and many other writings in similarly themed literature. It may be 2016 but the fear of being alone and unable to take care of oneself is still engrained in most women today.
The author moves into section three, Moving On to What’s Next: Making Peace and Taking Charge and offers the simple, but powerful discussion, about recognizing what you can and cannot change. She ends the book with hope and the acknowledgment that this is an ongoing process. The women whose stories have been shared are not resolved by the end of the text, because they are not who they were before, only older. They are coming into their new selves as stronger, more self-aware individuals. Levine is open and honest about her own path and struggles in each area of the book and I found her candor relatable. I recommend this work to any woman who is searching for a book that will speak to her specific concerns and not just in generalities.