When Jane Mathews hit mid-life she found herself in a perfect storm, flailing in mind, body and spirit. She desperately looked around for some inspiration and a guide on how to reinvent herself and finding none, decided to write her own version of a life plan.
“A Midlife Manifesto” is funny, practical and filled with gems of advice. We liked it so much we asked Jane a little more about it in this interview and in keeping with our theme this week, she answers the crucial question “is retirement a redundant word?” …
How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room of strangers?
I have to do this all the time! Part of the English, self-effacing side of me comes out, complemented by the bolder Aussie side. Having taken a break from the corporate world, first introductions are not as easy as they used to be. In a world where we are all defined by what we do, saying that you are an “author” seems quite pretentious (Note to self. Get over it Jane!), and you can see some people thinking “Yes, well we all have a book in us, don’t we?”. When they hear what “Midlife Manifesto” is about I get a really positive reaction – and people open up in an extraordinary way. Midlife women feel invisible, so the fact that someone has written a book aimed at them is a great conversation starter. Plus I am six foot tall and not teeny, so can’t really be avoided! (Think Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones.)
What made you want to write a “Midlife Manifesto”?
For me it was a perfect storm. The hurricane of finding myself in an increasingly toxic marriage followed by divorce and the death of my mother (my father and sister were already gone), while juggling two teenage children, getting back into the workforce and dealing with spiralling blood pressure, not to mention physical changes. Midlife had crept up on me like a body snatcher. Midlife at the oasis. I watched the top of my arms taking on a life of their own as I waved goodbye. A fruit bat in drag. I wanted to take control, and tried to find a book aimed at midlife women that would inspire me and help me write a life plan. I looked high and low, but I couldn’t find one, so I wrote it myself.
What’s your favourite chapter of the book?
That’s a bit of a Sophie’s Choice question. Possibly the one about relationships, as I am very honest about drawing on my own experiences and using them to try and help other women in a practical way. In midlife there are shifts in the tectonic plates of our relationships – your partner, friends (who tend to divide into “drains’ and “radiators”), relations, parents getting older and dying and so on. A few people have told me they have cried reading this chapter. Not exactly what I set out to do, but it means it is resonating, which I did set out to do.
Tell us about what life was like for you before you created the manifesto?
Ostensibly, I had a full and happy life, but felt that time (and maybe opportunities) were slipping through my fingers. I felt that I had lost the essence of “me” and felt quite uncertain about the future. I was ostrich woman about my finances, and felt a bit disconnected from my body and spirit. Not unhappy, just bumping along – thinking flotsam!
What has happened since you started following your own plan?
Even thinking about each aspect of my life (let alone having a plan) – health, relationships, spirituality, home, finances etc made me feel more in control. I feel stronger, mentally and physically, more engaged with my body and life, and more productive and confident about the future. Is every single part of my life roses and fluffy little kittens? No. I am human, and still struggle in some areas (too much Pinot, not enough Pilates!) but am also proud of what I have achieved so far. I know myself better and like myself more. And liking yourself is actually the key to everything. Everything.
How did you get it published?
I had actually met my publisher, Jane Curry (Ventura Publishing) socially, but in the same way that I would never ask a lawyer or doctor friend for free advice, I felt too shy to approach her. In the end a mutual friend told her that I had an idea for a book about midlife women, and she loved it. If I hadn’t met her I would have researched which publishers are strong in the self help area and approached them directly.
How successful are you hoping it will be?
The feedback has been amazing – the book really seems to have resonated with women. And it makes them laugh. So I would love it to be successful in that I’d love lots of women to be exposed to it, rather than it being about me making my fortune (unlikely in publishing, unless your first two initials are “J.K.”). It has sold really well in Australia and has already been reprinted. It’s on Booktopia and Amazon and the rights have been sold to the USA and Korea, so who knows? One day I’d love to go and run “Midlife Manifesto” workshops in the USA (where there are 30 million women aged 40-60 compared to the 3 million here). I have been asked to run some workshops in Australia too, so watch this space…
Do you think retirement is a redundant word?
“Retirement” in the classic sense of giving up your job and not working any more is redundant as far as I can see, for two simple reasons:
Firstly, given the economy, the cost of housing, and the cost of retirement, we all need to go on working for as long as we can (the average price of a home was 2-3 times our parent’s earnings. Now that multiple is easily 7, 10 or more). The average woman has $112,000 in her super when she “retires” (according to ASIC). This isn’t even close to being enough. $1million is not enough. It’s a little known fact that most people spend much more in retirement than when they were working. You need to have a clear plan for your finances in retirement (the government website moneysmart.gov.au is a good place to start). But getting and keeping a job at midlife is not easy.
Secondly, as we all live longer and, hopefully, in better health, sixty has become the new forty. The world has become smaller and with the rise of the “silver surfers” (technology/web friendly over 50’s) there are so many opportunities to broaden one’s horizons through courses, travel, hobbies and sports. Both physically and mentally we need to stretch ourselves to ensure the best chances of staying active and mentally acute as we get older. “Use it or lose it” has never been more true.
“Midlife Manifesto” is published by Jane Curry Publishing and is available on Booktopia, Amazon, and all good book stores.
Since we spoke to Jane
Jane’s latest book “The Art of Living Alone and Loving It” was published in May 2018. It is described as an inspirational toolkit for solo living.
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