Sunday, April 23, 2023

Q&A with Jen Berlingo



Jen Berlingo is the author of the new book Midlife Emergence: Free Your Inner Fire. She also is a midlife coach, a counselor, and an art therapist. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. 


Q: What inspired you to write Midlife Emergence, and what do the terms midlife and emergence mean for you?


A: In psychology, midlife is defined as the period between ages 40-65. I noticed a marked difference when I entered my 40s, a decade I believe to be the liminal space between the first and second acts of life. The decade of the 40s feels like a waiting room where we can architect the second half of life the way we want it to be.


Midlife doesn’t need to be a crisis or emergency – it can be an emergence. Emergence is defined as “the process of coming into view or becoming exposed after being previously concealed.” The concept of emergence feels absolutely resonant to my personal experience of unveiling in midlife what in me had previously been unseen.


The stereotypical midlife crisis, which typically centers the male experience, can be reframed as an emergence of our most authentic selves, after we have the courage to challenge and either change or shed some of the social, familial, and cultural conditioning we’ve perhaps lived into in the first act of life.


Q: How did your own experience of midlife emergence occur?


A: In the opening of my book, I write about this first moments I noticed this shift around my 41st birthday. I was craving more: more grit, more depth, more truth, more rawness, more passion. I felt dissatisfied, but I hadn’t admitted to myself what I wanted.


A few months later, there was a morning it all broke loose inside me, driving over to a beach in this little ocean town called Half Moon Bay, basically in my pajamas from the night before and with bare feet. An Ani DiFranco song (“So What?”) came on and it struck me in my gut.


I was able to admit to myself a truth that had been brewing beneath the surface for a very long time, one that would undoubtedly shake the foundation I had built for my life. I had always known I was queer, but having been with my husband for almost 20 years at the time meant the full expression of my sexuality had become invisible. It had gotten so internally loud and painful for me as I entered midlife, and I knew it meant that my sweet, comfy, familiar life would have to somehow shift.

Q: Who do you see as the audience for the book?


A: Midlife Emergence is both an inspiring, tender story and a wise, warmhearted guide for the woman in midlife who feels a gut-flipping longing she may not yet be able to name.


It validates the adult in untangling her personal values from those imposed by family or cultural lineages. It embraces the parent ready to break out of habituated martyrdom to show her children how not to abandon themselves. It emboldens the woman who has come of age under the patriarchy to finally claim her sovereignty.


It speaks to the person who has been conditioned into compulsive heterosexuality in exploring her intrinsic desires later in life. It empowers the recovering “good girl” and the drained people-pleaser in taking courageous steps toward unfurling into her full integrity for the second half of life.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: Much like me, most of my clients have done all the “right” things and met the expectations to create the life we “should” want in the first half of life only to arrive in midlife feeling unsatisfied.


Making changes could be disruptive because the stakes feel high when you’re settled into careers, mortgages, relationships, parenting, taking care of elders, etc. at this stage of life. Most of us have no roadmaps, models, or cheerleaders helping us to unfurl into our most expansive, aligned way of being in the world.


So, we are tempted to stay in our safe, sleepy, stagnant habits because it is too difficult to face the voice inside us that perpetually wonders, “Is this all there is?” 


I decided to reveal the true story of how I traversed my own midlife emergence to validate the messy experience of it for others. And even in though it’s different for everyone and such a non-linear process, I pinpointed some universal themes or signposts along the way that are key to examine, which became the 13 chapters in my book.


A mission I’ve had all along in sharing this book is how important it is for us to tell our stories and bear our truths in the most raw and real way possible. There’s a quote at the beginning of my book by Lizzy Russinko that reads, “The story you’re ashamed to tell is the one that will set you free.”


I really believe that, and I think that when we tell our stories, it invites, inspires others to do the same. It normalizes how heartbreaking-wide-open-beautiful-difficult it is to be human. That type of self-expression is how we foster the deep connections that heal, and I want to be part of that sort of change in the world.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m hosting a Midlife Emergence Book Club beginning on April 26 and lasting for three weeks, where readers can meet with each other for discussion and support with the book’s themes and prompts, as well as having access to me, the author, for Q&A and to hear my firsthand insights and perspectives.


In addition to my ongoing work as a midlife coach offering individual support to my clients, I am creating a few online, self-paced courses for folks who wish to dive more deeply into specific themes from the book. I’m also creating a Midlife Emergence Group Guidance program that begins this fall.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You can stay posted on my offerings by subscribing to my newsletter, which you can do via my web site: Another fun and easy way to connect with me is via Instagram where I post daily inspiration and musings @jenberlingo.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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