You hear about second acts after retirement. But why wait? Some women decide to make drastic changes to their lives midlife. And they're happier for it.
Monica Bhide, a "reformed" engineer, ditched her established career path to pursue her dream of becoming a cookbook author and novelist. She has accomplished both, authoring Modern Spice (a top pick by Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi) and other Indian cuisine cookbooks. She's also been a cooking show judge, and she used that experience to write her first novel, Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken. Sleep Number asked Bhide about her second act.
Following your heart is one of the central themes of "Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken."
When did you realize you needed to follow your heart?
I worked in corporate America for years. Yet, there was a deep longing inside my heart to write. The sudden and frightful death of a dear friend jolted me out of my mundane life and I decided that I had to do what I had to do. So, I quit my full-time job as a management consultant and dove head first into writing.
What does loving midlife mean to you?
For me it means following through on what makes you want to wake up in the morning. Two things drive me: my children and my insane dream to make a positive difference in someone's life through my writing. My publishing imprint is called Bodes Well Publishing for that very reason. It helps me focus on creating things that I hope will bode well for people who experience them.
Loving midlife means making peace with what isn't meant to be, yet focusing on what could still happen. Yet, nothing comes close to living in the moment and loving all that is here NOW. I have learned that things can drastically change in a moment. So now, instead of focusing on what can go wrong during midlife, I am consciously making an effort to focus on what can go right!
When you're stressed, how do you relax?
I read and read and read. I read books that make me laugh, books that make me think, books that transport me to another world. I drool through cookbooks and mark up everything I want my family to taste and enjoy. While I don't end up cooking everything, just the experience of reading it helps lower my stress.
Do you have a bedtime ritual?
Every night before I go to bed, I try to write in my gratitude journal and say a prayer of thanks for everyone with whom I interacted in the day. The journaling helps end the day on a positive note and helps soothe raw nerves. I have recently started meditating at night as well, about 10 minutes before bed, and even that is focused on gratitude.
What's the best advice you've received?
"Be yourself and don't dim your light for others." This is the best advice I have ever received and I try to stay true to it.
When I started writing, I did not realize there were so many rules, made mostly by people who think they know better. And I started following all these rules without questioning them. I felt as though I was being suffocated by a system that did not work for me. So I created my own rules, first by understanding what the rules were and then breaking them at every point. I did what I felt guided to do, and it hasn't let me down.
What's your best advice for someone who wants to make a midlife change?
It's never all or nothing! You can make a change a little at a time. Small things make a big difference in the long run. But you have to take ACTION. That is where most of us get stuck. Make a decision, and then start taking small steps towards your change. Your internal navigation (some call it intuition) will guide you. Learn to trust it.
I also teach writing, and so many people will say to me that they don't know what their passion is, and they're mostly struggling with their midlife situations — young kids, older parents, financial responsibilities. Just doing a few things that we love — like taking up yoga, or a dance class, or a pottery class, anything that opens up our creative side — can help us fall in love with our own midlife and guide us to whatever changes will bring about the most happiness.
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Photo by Chinh Le Duc