Hey Middle Age, Goodbye Perfectionism

Photo: Angela Peterman

Mimi Ison was 50 when she unexpectedly took up boxing. In a twist of fate, she showed up one evening to her favorite cardio ‘pound’ class in Santa Monica to learn that the instructor wasn’t going to make it and class was canceled. “Why don’t you try the boxing class downstairs,” suggested the receptionist. Caught off guard, Mimi’s mental alarms went off. There’s no way. I’ve seen that basement! Crammed with people, hot and sweaty. Not for me! Reading her mind, the receptionist told her the first class is free, adding that she’s already here, already dressed, and the class is in 20 minutes. Why not? Hesitantly, Mimi ventured bravely to the scary basement. “Hi, I’m brand new. I have no idea what to do. Can you help me?” she said to the instructor. And so it began.

“It was the hardest thing I had ever physically done,” admits Mimi of her first impromptu boxing class. “I had never done a burpee or a push up. I never carried a sandbag. I never hit anything, never had the desire to punch anything—it wasn’t in my wheelhouse at all,” says the self-acclaimed California-girl. For Mimi, it was seeing all the women in the ring: “[They were] hitting hard, fast combinations and having so much fun—they were so strong. And I just thought to myself, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’”

Mimi reflects now on the split second where she could have said ‘no, thank you’ and walked out of the fitness studio. “But I just said … ‘Okay.’ And once I said it, I knew I had to do it.”  It was one moment of many that taught her of the reward that came from loosening her grip on control and leaving perfectionism behind in middle age.

Mimi’s childhood was filled with movement: always outdoors, making up games around the neighborhood, and playing softball. As a way to integrate into a new middle school, Mimi chose the one activity that she felt would help her fit in: cheerleading. “I thought, okay, which are the kids nobody picks on, that people look up to.” This new hobby, initiated by a need for survival, moved her away from her childhood sports and led her down a road of dance exploration, group classes, and eventually joining a gym in her twenties. “I have to say back then it was mainly for aesthetics. You wanted to look like you were in shape. There was no plan.”

“It was the hardest thing I had ever physically done.”

Photo: Courtesy of Mimi Ison

Mimi found her way back to it in her 40s when her daughter started ballet. “All the parents could sit there and watch their kids through the window,” she recalls, “and on the other side there was another class going on—it was adult ballet.” She resolved to give it a try and admits that the beginning was terrible. “I’m not sure what got me to stick with it. I didn’t know what I was doing. Here were all these women, most of them younger… But something made me come back.”

Mimi’s life would soon go through great change after her mother passed away and her daughter graduated from high school. In her mid-50s, she found herself overcome with stress and dealing with a herniated disc, severe back pain, and a frozen shoulder. The realization that she had spent years putting too much on her plate prompted her to leave her job as a creative director for a renowned jewelry brand, shifting her free time to resetting her life and reassessing her priorities.

She started Hey Middle Age, a blog about the uncharted territory of midlife and aging well. “I was learning all these things; about sarcopenia, osteoporosis, ageism, and menopause, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just share some of this stuff.’” The beginning was slow. “If you Google ‘how to start a blog’, you could get a blog up in an afternoon,” Mimi laughs. “I took two years.”

As a private person and a self-proclaimed perfectionist, Mimi battled with the fear of sharing her life and the judgment she’d open herself up to. The negative self-talk was loud: this is scary. Who am I to do this? This is so dumb! But she pushed through, motivated to find a healthier middle ground between the overly positive and extremely negative culture around aging prevailing online.

Middle age is unique for everyone. Mimi advises being greedy with your time and aware of who you’re giving it to. There will always be something to take care of, but for Mimi, the body should be a top priority on the list. “There might be those pockets of time when you absolutely have to prioritize x, y, and z. You’re taking care of kids, helping your parents out, and going through perimenopause or menopause; all these things are colliding all at once. But if you really want to be there [down the road]—not just for yourself, but for your family, your work, everything—you need you at the forefront.”

Photo: Courtesy of Mimi Ison

“If you really want to be there [down the road]—not just for yourself, but for your family, your work, everything—you need you at the forefront.”

At 60, Mimi is now keenly aware that if there’s anything that’s going to up-end women (half the planet!) and change their lives, it’s perimenopause and menopause. She touches on the reality that most women don’t discuss or prepare for this life-altering transition. “It’s a lot better than 15 years ago when I was in perimenopause. There are lots of doctors sharing information about symptoms, therapies, and how to talk to your health care team. The subject is getting more press, too, which is great.”

Now 8 years post-menopause and managing natural estrogen declines, hormonal shifts, and the natural changes of aging, Mimi’s biggest priorities are muscle retention and bone health. Ever the realist, Mimi says, “Prevention is not glamorous. There’s no immediate satisfaction. You may not see or feel any result for months.” In starting something new, the growing pains are inevitable and exhausting, and she knows personally that though you may be doing all the same things you used to do, they may not lend the same results. “Why [do we] assume that we can keep doing the same thing,” she wonders aloud, adding matter-of-factly, “Of course the body is going to change.”

Though ‘age is just a number’ is a common platitude, to Mimi, age does matter, and how you deal with it shapes your future. “Focus on what you can do now and build from there. You certainly can get stronger.” Mimi recalls trying a trapeze class for the first time in her 50s. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m 50 … can I do that?’ I was thinking: ‘Do I have the arm strength [to do it]? Can I hang on that bar? Am I flexible enough to get up into that hang? Am I gonna be too scared to climb that ladder?’” The questions become more practical.

One maxim that has formed her approach to goals in midlife is based on Dr. Peter Attia’s Centenarian Decathlon theory, stating that the goals you set with specificity will be the ones you actually achieve. A goal for Mimi is to be able to do eight 8-counts of dance choreography when she reaches her 80s. “So what do I need to do now to be able to do that? I need strength and agility, flexibility, and mobility. Those are the things I’ll work on now.”

Photo: Courtesy of Mimi Ison

“Treat yourself like you are your BFF.”

Mimi has learned that the process of working towards a goal is more important than achieving the goal itself. “Will I meet my goal when I’m 80? Maybe, maybe not. I create the goal anyway, and work towards that,” she explains, adding, “I never would have said that years ago … I wish I had just been a little looser with myself years ago. I could have saved myself a lot of stress if I had let more go. But some lessons take time.”

For those who don’t know where to start, Mimi suggests a foundational first step. “Do a deep, honest audit on yourself. What’s really stopping you from doing the thing and sticking to it?” As if speaking to herself, after years of struggling with perfectionism and negative self-talk, Mimi shares the importance of believing that you are worth the work, worth the effort, and worth the time. “Treat yourself like you are your BFF. You would not disparage your BFF; You would not talk down to or criticize them. You would lift that person up; you would help them.”

Saying yes to that boxing class, despite her fear and pesky mental barriers, is a perfect example of Mimi putting her own advice into practice. So are the hundreds of videos she shares on her @heymiddleage Instagram account trying new dance moves and exercises at 60 years old and speaking frankly about menopause. Mimi helps women change how they feel about aging by leading by enthusiastic example.

In her years of trying new things, Mimi has learned that life is all about trial and error and she is the first to admit it’s never going to be easy. “That’s the fun of life. Right? You can think and overthink it. You can read about it. You can learn everything that you can. But action—action is everything.”


Mimi Ison is a pro-age movement motivator, blogger, and anti-ageism advocate. At age 60, she’s a health and fitness enthusiast who crushes age stereotypes on Instagram @heymiddleage, and writes about midlife on her blog heymiddleage.com. Her happy place is the boxing gym where she started training at age 50.

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