Messy Middlescence

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Podcast by Tara (Conti) Bansal and Christina (Conti) Donovan

Messy Middlescence

Like adolescence – "Middlescence" is a time of tremendous change touching most aspects of our lives. There are the physical and hormonal changes but also many of the rhythms, relationships and frameworks that have dominated our lives for decades all start to shift in ways that are unbalancing at best – seismic at worst. Our podcast will explore the challenges and opportunities of these unique “middle” years. However – ours will be different because it is one of sharing, exploring and figuring things out together. It is "messy" because we do not have answers but we hope to discover some. We hope to motivate and / or guide listeners to actively change both their perspective and day-to-day reality of this unique time. We also aim to create a supportive connected community of listeners with similar struggles and questions. We truly hope you will join us!

Latest episodes

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20 November 2023

Gotta Have Goals with Alan Harkness

On today's episode of Messy Middlescence, we talk with Alan Harkness, the husband of our oldest sister, Amy. 

Alan shares his inspiring life story, starting with his journey from almost failing out of college to becoming a renowned library director. He discusses his passion for libraries and the joy he finds in his work, as well as the challenges and rewards of leadership. Alan emphasizes the importance of relationships in both personal and professional life, highlighting how building trust and connections with others can lead to success. He shares his strategies for achieving a healthy work-life balance, including the significance of exercise for mental well-being. Looking ahead, Alan discusses his plans for retirement and how he hopes to continue contributing to his community through teaching and other activities. This episode offers valuable insights into finding meaning, navigating change, and prioritizing relationships in middleescence.

This is the first of two episodes with Alan.

This episode focuses more on his professional life and growth. The next episode will talk about recently losing his mother and the journey of having her move in with them for 6.5 years before going into an assisted living home.

Here are some of the highlights from today's episode:

  • Alan struggled his first two years of college and attributes his success ever since to setting goals. 
  • Alan has a strong desire to help in the community.
  • A special memory was celebrating his oldest graduating from high school AND also the christening of their youngest child the same weekend.
  • How having a 1.6 mile commute and maturity has helped him have the best work life balance of his life to date, even working 10 hour days.
  • Alan did not start exercising regularly until his father passed away. His father's death motivated him to take better care of himself.
  • How Alan started exercising for his physcial health and was surprised at how much it has helped him with his mental health too.
  • Alan is making a concious effort to work on friendships outside of his family, both old friends and more recent ones.
  • Alan bought a clarinet and has been playing which is "good for his soul."
  • After Alan retires from being the library director, he is considering adjunct teaching.
  • The key to being a good leader is to hire the right people and help them be their best. 
  • He enjoys his job - the variety and challenge. It keeps him humble.
  • Relationships are a focus both professionally and personally.



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13 November 2023

The Curveball with Amy Harkness

Today on Messy Middlescence, we talk with Amy Harkness who shares her experience as a medical librarian and mother of four children. Amy discusses her health struggles during middlescence and the frustration of not being taken seriously by doctors. She questions how much of her changing body is due to normal aging and how much is a sign of an underlying issue. Amy also reflects on the impact of menopause and the unexpected symptoms she has encountered post menopause. She talks about her journey in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and the challenges she faces in balancing exercise and self-care. Despite the difficulties, Amy remains optimistic and emphasizes the importance of finding joy and fulfillment in this stage of life. 

Some of the highlights from this episode are:

  • The term "happy social work" to describe the work Amy does and wants to do.
  • Amy likes her job because it is not very stressful and therefore leaves her the ability and emotional resources to take care of her family and household.
  • Amy does not think of herself as the age she is. She thinks of herself as younger and that can be hard because her body cannot do what she expects it to do.
  • She hopes to retire in about five years when her youngest child will graduate from high school.
  • Her health issues are affecting her happiness.
  • The hardest time of her life was after her divorce with a 1-year-old and trying to figure out what she wanted to do.
  • In 2019 she started having heart palpitations. She thinks they may have been related to menopause. She had different physical issues that no one could explain. No one mentioned menopause.
  • How no one seems to talk about post menopause.
  • She is exercising less and is not able to do what she used to do. She is trying to figure out if it is normal aging or is there some other issue(s) going on. 
  • She started exercising regularly again around age 50. She loved doing Crossfit with some of her neighbors and then started swimming competitively and running.
  • What is most important to her and her legacy is focusing on her children and making sure they have what they need.
  • How hormone replacement got a bad rap.
  • She knows she wants to be more involved in her next phase. She is looking forward to having the freedom to do what they want and travel where they want.
  • We loved the advice she would give to her younger self - to loosen up, go with the flow, don't sweat the small stuff and live a little more. Great advice for most of us!



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05 November 2023

Maximizing Life with Tom Conti

Today's episode of Messy Middlescence is with our youngest brother, Tom Conti. Tom is a gifted athlete, excellent student (majoring in computer science and math), devoted father, husband and friend, as well as super successful in his business endeavors. He is also thoughtful, down-to-earth and fun to be around.  In a previous episode titled “taking the leap”, we interviewed Tom’s wife, Anne Mielke Conti, who had recently left her job to spend more time with their kids.  We get to hear how Anne’s big leap has affected their lives.  Tom as an unusual combination in today’s world – someone who is extremely successful and ambitious in his career but equally successful and ambitious with his family and work-life balance.  While there is a great deal of “lip service” paid to  work-life balance, Tom is committed to  living these values. He and Anne are excellent examples of living intentionally and crafting a life on their own terms.  

Highlights from this episode include:

  • What is Tom and Anne’s primary focus?
  • Tom’s excellent advice on setting boundaries with work. He tries hard to be a good role model and not do email or calls on the weekend or in the evenings.
  • How much easier it is to make a desired change, like setting a new boundary when you are starting a new role or at a new company.
  • Tom is where he had hoped to be in his mid 40s.
  • How most of his worries about the future are about or for his kids.
  • How things have been since Anne changed her job – meeting or exceeding expectations
  • How intentional and thoughtful Tom is around wanting to maximize his life – what do they value and how and where do they want to spend their time? They are very family focused.
  • Tom wonders if he has overly high expectations from his job. He wants his job to feel fulfilling.
  • The difference between success and fulfillment for Tom.
  • His desire for a “reset” like Anne is taking now.
  • His desire and hopes to set himself up to work differently in 5-10 years with more flexibility and hopefully part time.
  • Although Tom said he doesn’t think about legacy that much, he does think about being a good role model for his kids and how he hopes they will think about life. He wants to spend time with his children so they “feel the love.”
  • Tom thinks youth sports are important to learn discipline, responsibility, and the value of hard work.
  • The highlight of the interview is at the end when Tom answer’s the one question he thought we would ask and we didn’t (although we will start asking this question in the future!) “What would Tom do if he did not have to work?” Tom has a surprising and unique answer that I am glad to now know and would never have guess in a million years.



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29 October 2023

Taking the Leap with Anne Conti

Today’s episode was recorded back in June right after school let out. Due to busy and conflicting schedules it took us until the fall to get our podcast live. 

This episode is with Anne Meilke Conti. She is the wife of our youngest brother, Tom, and at the time of this interview had recently quit her job to spend more time with her family. Anne and Tom have three children. Anne has had a successful career for the past 20 years working for two healthcare information technology companies. We were excited to talk to Anne to learn more about her and this major change in her life. She had many words of wisdom and eye-opening perspectives for us. She is an admired business leader AND is an amazing mother who prioritizes her family and relationships.

There was so much good stuff that we almost made this interview into a two parter. After some debate, we decided to keep it as one longer episode.

Although Anne is on the younger end of “middlescence”, Anne’s courage in making such a significant job and life change will inspire anyone contemplating taking a leap that greatly alters your life.

In this episode we ask Anne:     

  •      Why did she decide to leave her job?
  •       How long was she thinking about doing this?
  •       What does she like to do? (We think many of us can relate to her answer to this question)
  •       What were the obstacles she had to overcome to make this change happen?
  •       What does she want to do during this time when she is not working outside the home?
  •       You must listen to the end to hear her wise response to “How would she rate her happiness on a scale of 1-10?"
  •       What feels most scary to her right now?
  •       What is most important to her during this time of her life?

Highlights from “Taking the Leap” with Anne Conti       

  •       The need for external deadlines to help motivate us to take action or make a decision.
  •       The common fear that if you quit your job, you will not be able to find something else and then be banished from the workforce forever or stuck in a worse job.
  •       It is not retirement but rather a pause or a sabbatical.
  •       It is much easier to make hard decisions when you don't think of them as final.
  •       Anne felt pride and received positive feedback for stepping away and taking a career break. She hopes she is an example and role model, so that other people do it too. She wants those who take a break or consider leaving their job to believe and have faith that there's something better.
  •       Anne eloquently discusses both the opportunities and the issues co-vid caused in our workplaces and careers. There are lasting impacts of co-vid on our jobs and on each of us.
  •       Childcare. It is difficult and frustrating to hear firsthand the stress and problems childcare causes working mothers. How and why is this still such as issue for American working mothers?
  •       Anne worried about how quitting could possibly have negative ramifications for the company. This shows her thoughtfulness and concern for her previous employer and others.
  •       We loved how Anne described herself and Tom as “thoughtful spenders” rather than “good budgeters”. We suspect many people view themselves this way.  Being a thoughtful spender and having a thorough knowledge of their financial situation helped Anne feel comfortable to take this “Big Leap.”.
  •       Anne’s concern about the changes or impact on her relationship now that she is not working and holding as high power a job as Tom. This is new and different and disrupting their old system.
  •       Anne admits that she may need to re-evaluate how she views success, accomplishment, and even herself without having a high-powered job. 
  •       Her number one goal while she is not working is “just to move more in her daily life”. How simple is that! We think everyone can relate to this. We love how she intends to get steps in by “just living, doing and being present with her family."



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22 October 2023

Winding Down with Christina Donovan

This podcast episode delves into the concept of Middlescence, a transitional period between the ages of 40 and 60 characterized by the need for change and a sense of running out of time. Tara interviews her sister Tina to learn more about her story and experiences. Tina reflects on her idyllic childhood, challenging adolescence, fun college years, and hardworking twenties and thirties. She shares how moving to a new school in her junior year of high school had a significant impact on her, and how college provided a fresh start and the opportunity to form deep friendships. Tina discusses her brief stint in a PhD program, career choices, and her decision to become a full-time homemaker. She emphasizes the importance of family, physical activity, and community connections. Tina also expresses her desire for future work that extends beyond her immediate family and the need to embrace new experiences to avoid regrets.



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15 October 2023

All my Life-Tara Bansal

Premier eposide of our podcast, "Messy Middlescence" featuring the introduction of one of our hosts, Tara Bansal. 

In this episode:

  • We discuss why we decided to do this podcast
  • Where the name came from
  • Why we are different
  • Learn about Tara's background and where she is now in her life



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