Pulling the Trigger on Inner Kill

by Chloe Jeffreys · 13 comments

in Women in Midlife

Road Less TraveledIn my 20s, I believed that by the time I was in my 50s I’d have my life all figured out.

So color me surprised to find myself 52, and not only haven’t I arrived at a destination, I still don’t exactly know where I’m going!

Who Hid the Road Signs?

I’m not alone in my confusion. Many others in my midlife cohort are experiencing this same unexpected uncertainty.

With the economy the way it is, our kids aren’t launching with the greatest of ease. Our own careers are being blindsided by personal dissatisfaction or downsizing due to obsolescence and foreign outsourcing. Many of us are weighed down with concerns about our parents’ health problems, not to mention our own health problems we never planned on having. And some of our marriages aren’t as satisfying–or as permanent–as we thought they’d be when we said our I dos.

Most frightening of all, the blissful, carefree retirement we’ve been promised if only we work hard and play by the rules may not ever happen, especially for those of us on the tail end of the Boomer generation and after.

Turns out that middle-age–a time where many of us thought we’d be done struggling with confusion and uncertainty–is far more complicated than we expected.

Where can we turn for help?


AARP-Real-PossibilitiesBut, Chloe, isn’t AARP for old people?

Nope. Myth busted!

Today’s AARP is for people like you and me looking for help as we navigate these turbulent waters of modern middle-age. In fact, AARP has a project created just for people like you and me. It’s called Life Reimagined®.

What is Life Reimagined®?

Life-Reimagined-CycleLife Reimagined® is a website, a book, and an active community on Facebook. But most of all, Life Reimagined® is a practical process developed to help users map out midlife’s real possibilities.

In April, I wrote a post about being selected as a participant in a social media project to get the word out to my audience about AARP’s Life Reimagined®.

That post was written during a time of great personal sadness and loss. I hope my post ended on a hopeful note–because I was hopeful at the time–but it’s naïve at best, and dishonest at worst, to make it seem like creating a life worth living is cake.

It’s not cake.

Creating a life worth living demands courage and a willingness to take risks. It isn’t easy. If it were easy then everybody would be doing it. And you and I both know everybody isn’t doing it. Lots of folks out there are living lives of quiet desperation just biding their time until they take the long dirt nap.

Make Sure You Live Before You Die

In their book, Life Reimagined, authors Richard Leider and Alan Webber call this quiet desperation “Inner Kill”.

Leider and Webber describe inner kill this way:

You have inner kill when you’ve stopped growing, when you’ve given up on yourself, or when you find yourself always taking the easy, safe way. …Ultimately, inner kill is the death of self-respect.

I’m sure you know people who live their entire lives in a perpetual state of inner kill. I sure do! These are the miserable folks who give aging a bad name.

We didn’t know it, but after our kids left home, both my husband and I were experiencing inner kill. Living the “American Dream,” we weren’t exactly sure why we were miserable. We had it all. Weren’t we supposed to be happy? But we weren’t.

We didn’t even have the vocabulary to talk about it. So we didn’t. We just kept on carrying on, not dealing with mounting anxiety and frustration; living lives that weren’t bringing either of us the joy and contentment we longed for.

Pulling the Trigger

Leider and Webber also write about triggers. Triggers are those potentially life-altering moments of truth in our lives when we become conscious of our inner kill.

My trigger was pulled twice in 2012. First, in January, with a marriage crisis that turned our lives inside out, and then, in September, during an Advanced Cardiac Life Support class I have to take every two years as a requirement for my job as an RN.

For lunch, I went out with one of the other nurses from the hospital where I worked. As we were chomping on our salads and talking about our jobs, she remarked, offhandedly, “You are such a good nurse.”

A normal person would have smiled and thanked her or modestly brushed off the compliment. Me? I burst into tears.

See, for five years I’d worked under a manager who doesn’t believe in positive feedback. With her, it’s all stick, and no carrot.

No matter what I did, no matter how how hard I worked, according to her, I was always failing.

I remember one morning having two emergency cesarean sections within two hours (this was a tiny facility, and I was the ONLY RN in our department on duty that day). It was a crazy day, and I’d really given my patients 1000%.

My manager’s feedback the next day? A terse, handwritten note taped to the outside of a cupboard in the nurse’s station that I’d forgotten to check some box in my charting.

Nothing about the two babies who’d come out alive and healthy. No mention about the mothers and fathers who had expressed such gratitude over my excellent care under difficult circumstances. No thank you for skipping all of my meal breaks for 12+ hours(!) in order to care for these patients. Nothing positive whatsoever.

And I’d been living this way for FIVE YEARS! No wonder I was miserable and demoralized.

Living a Life that Defeats Inner Kill

That day at lunch I knew that I was done with that soul-sucking, inner-killing job. But it wasn’t just a matter of quitting.

Despite my awareness that I couldn’t go on like that, all the reasons I’d stayed in a state of inner kill for five years weren’t just going to magically disappear. I had to face my fears about my financial future, and the very real problem of the lack of other job opportunities for RNs in my rural community.

What it did mean though is that I was done letting my fears limit the solutions I was willing to consider.

Now I’m going to ask you:

Are you done letting your fears limit the solutions you are willing to consider? #LifeReimagined Tweet This!

There’s a great book discussion happening on Facebook where other readers and leaders in the Life Reimagined community discuss inner kill, triggers, and other topics Leider and Webber address in their book, Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities. I encourage you to buy the book, and invite you to join in the discussion happening on Facebook.

You are worthy of a life worth living.

Disclaimer: This post is supported by Life Reimagined (www.lifereimagined.org): your guide to rethinking what’s possible and seizing your “what’s next” in work, relationships, health, personal finance and more. All opinions are my own.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlotte July 30, 2014 at 10:47 am

Wow. I really needed to read this. The “inner kill” phase is exactly what I’m going through right now, professionally, personally, and physically. It’s amazing what being over 35 and becoming invisible will do to your self-respect–you’ll start to settle for jobs, friendships, and other things that, in your 20s, you would have scoffed at.

Just wanted you to know, too, that the picture of you in those amazing heels is singularly responsible for my putting on my red lipstick today.


Chloe Jeffreys July 30, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Hey Charlotte! Glad to find you. Inner kill sucks. But acknowledgement is the first step to pulling the trigger on that bad boy. And lipstick is a great place to start. I remember when I started walking out of the quagmire of unhappiness in my own life. I started with just getting enough water to drink. Nobody can be happy when they are dehydrated. It’s really the little things. So glad to meet you, and I hope you’ll come back.


Jessica July 27, 2014 at 8:31 am

I believe this is likely the second sponsored post I have ever read at all, never mind to the end, and never mind, that was so well written, it didn’t seem like a aponsored post. Being at the top end of the post baby boomer generation, I am have taken a lot of this advice already and will take a look at this site and trust me, putting the letters AARP in my google search is. It something I would have done.


Suzanne July 22, 2014 at 5:10 am

Chloe – dumb question, but whatever happened to your former boss? Have you heard any scuttlebutt since you left? Did you have an exit interview where you explained that you left because of this officious individual? If she was this awful to you, surely she was the same with everyone. Gah! Why do employers put up with these type of people? She sounds awful by the way, and NOT the type of person I would want delivering my baby.


Chloe Jeffreys July 22, 2014 at 7:01 am

Suzanne, it’s funny you should mention that. Within the year of my leaving, my former manager’s boss left suddenly, and she didn’t last six months once a competent supervisor took the helm.

I have no regrets about leaving, though. I am much happier being a traveling RN. But, yeah, she’s not the manager anymore.


jana miller July 21, 2014 at 5:05 pm

I need that book-feeling a little lost right now. 49 and empty nesting 🙂
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Chloe Jeffreys July 24, 2014 at 10:26 am

Jana, I do recommend reading it. I was able to attend a workshop of Leider’s and I think he has a lot to say about people in our cohort and how we can recreate ourselves in midlife. Let me know what you think if you read it.


Liv July 21, 2014 at 9:51 am

I’ve stopped looking at life and the “American Dream” as a destination. I’m on a path. It will lead me where I need to go. I got off the path a while back – but I made my way back. It’s so true that you have to avoid inwardly killing yourself and stopping growth. It’s all about living with integrity – and that’s what should make you feel fulfilled. Thanks Chloe – I think I’ve found a new book to read.
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Chloe Jeffreys July 21, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Liv, you are so right. Life is a path, not a destination. If it is a destination then it’s one with a gravestone there. And nobody wants to live for that!

This book isn’t just for people in middle-age. It’s for anyone who has reached the crossroads. It’s for anyone who is experiencing their trigger getting pulled. It’s for anyone who is done living with inner kill and wants to start living life to the fullest. I know you are that girl!
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Liv July 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I am indeed Chloe.
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Pam@over50feeling40 July 21, 2014 at 9:42 am

Oh Chloe, I so understand! Yet, I am hopeful. My husband was laid off for three years and all retirement money is GONE. We both know we will work for a very long time…I am fine with that. I just want to do things that fuel me and use my gifting. LIFE REIMAGINED has been such a blessing to read. I am currently in limbo, so everything they wrote about limbo resonated with me. I love the fact of changing the dialogue…here I am today at 61 (BTW, thanks for the birthday message) and I feel inside as though I am much, much younger …ready to use all my experience and gifting for someone…I just need the door opened…hopefully AARP’s efforts will convince more businesses to keep us around!!
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Chloe Jeffreys July 21, 2014 at 9:47 am

Pam, it’s not at all surprising that our generation is refusing to go quietly into that good night. We’re the ones who invented youth, and we’re the ones who will reinvent middle-age and beyond.

There are many of us not experiencing the financial security that we imagined we would if only we played the game by its rules. Then they changed not only the rules, but everything else about the game, too.

While part of me still imagines that a quiet retirement on the golf course would be nice, the realistic part of me knows that people like you and me would be way too bored for that! And boredom is a killer, inner and outer. It’s challenge and adventure that keeps us alive and vital. I truly believe that.
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