The Queen of My Self

QMD – When you imagined yourself as a woman in her middle years, how did you imagine your life to be? Is it?

I am 62, so I am past my middle years. When I was a girl or even in college everyone thought I would never marry or have children. I agreed with their assessment. When I was a child, I pictured my middle years with me as a nun in Africa discovering new medicines or administering to the poor. (All of my aunts were nuns.) When I was in college I imagined myself as an academic living alone with my work in New York City. Oddly, after a life of having little to do with men, I met a man, married him and had three children who are now in their 30s, and I have been happily married for 40 years. I never pictured myself with a family. When I went to my high school reunion, the boys in my class were surprised I married. They saw me, as one of them said, “as the first raging feminist.”

In terms of a career I am now a writer, alone on the third floor of my house writing novels and memoirs. I am thrilled to have such a great career and lifestyle and I believe I have surpassed my childhood expectations. I feel having a chance to create something in a long-extended project is as good as life gets. In many ways I am doing what my mother wanted to do.

CG – Have your expectations changed? In what way?

Love changes everything. When you have no idea what love is, you feel it is overrated. However, once you have had a chance to love your spouse and children you realize that no matter how much fame or how many books you write, none of it will ever give you the warmth of a family. I never expected to want more than external achievements when I was younger.

QMD – How do you feel about the process of aging?

I am fairly shocked by it and frankly appalled. I don’t have limitless talents. My two meager talents used to be that I had athletic ability and I had a prodigious memory. Both are gone. When I look at the weights I lifted or the boats I rowed and raced, I can’t believe I ever did that much. I could never do it today. In terms of memory, I still remember things from long ago. I cannot believe that I can’t remember the names of characters in a book that I read last week. I don’t know why that should appall me since I now forget my children’s names. I used to have limitless energy and can honestly say I never once in my life was tired until after I was 55. Since I turned 60, I find that I can do much less intellectual or creative work in a day. I also get tired and need to get more sleep.

On the upside, the humbling of aging has FORCED me to learn a lot. I think I finally have my priorities straight. I have learned to be nicer to myself and to others. You can’t have it all. Oscar Wilde was right when he said “Youth is wasted on the young.”

CG – What invaluable lessons has aging taught you?

Don’t expect too much of yourself. Relax and work on relationships. There will always be some “young thing” hot on your heels who is more energetic, prettier, smarter, more ambitious, more athletic, or funnier. You lose your edge and can’t compete anymore. You need to change gears and work on having fun. You don’t want to work forever and then drop dead. You need to not put off what you want to do. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW SHORT LIFE IS. No one is able to tell you that time accelerates with age. What five years was when you were 20 is far longer than it is at 60.

QMD – Do you have wise words for women in their midlife transition?

Do not listen to anyone except yourself.  If you want to do something and those around you discourage you, don’t listen. Just do it. Many people told me that I had to stay in psychology in private practice. I “needed the money.” I “would never get published.” etc, etc.  Fortunately, I didn’t listen and I do make enough money — not a lot, but enough, and I did get published. People often speak from THEIR own fears. Their naysaying has nothing to do with you. If you want something enough you will overcome the obstacles.


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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to




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