We middle-aged women are constantly being told: Do what you always wanted to do. Choose to do what you like and go ahead and do it. Pursue your interests. Develop your skills. Learn new skills. Get in touch with yourself. Get a life.

It’s about living authentically, say all the fixers of middle-age crises and empty-nest syndrome. We are advised to get in touch with our real selves, discover who we are, and go ahead and live the lives we really want. The Red Hat Society encourages us to don purple getups and red hats, and have a good time defying the conventions and breaking the rules of color coordination. What we need to do now that we are older, wiser and freer is to live an authentic life.

What was inauthentic about the choices we made then—the sacrifices and the priorities?Were we inauthentic before? I want to know. Were we inauthentic when we stayed up nights with croupy kids and nauseous teenagers? Were we inauthentic when we packed lunches, arranged play dates and made art projects in between tending loads of laundry, jobs and husbands? What was inauthentic about the choices we made then—the sacrifices and the priorities? They weren’t real? They had less validity than our current choices?

What is authenticity? Making decisions with consciousness and acting on those decisions with mindfulness. Assuring that the values that prompted those resolutions remain paramount is what I call authenticity. It is about ensuring that the objective is not transcended by the particularities of the process. It is about taking charge of what you want and being able to keep sight of it throughout the struggles, the exhaustion and the opinions of the neighbors.

It means authentically dealing with the hand you got. It means doing the best you can with the stuff you didn’t choose. Coping with a special-needs child, supporting the struggles of a husband who is trying to make it in his profession and propping up a friend who is dealing with crisis. It means holding your head up and doing what you have to do when you would much rather not.

It’s true that once the kids are out of the house, we have more choices. Hopefully, we will no longer be responsible for getting kids up and out. Hopefully, we are done with the era of marrying off our children. Hopefully, we have achieved some level of economic security. Hopefully, we can choose how to spend our newfound extra time.

But how many of us really have choices? How many of us are free of obligations to aging parents? How many of us are unworried about retirement and the state of our 401(k)s? How many of us are free to change direction now that we are free of children and wedding obligations?

It would be nice to go away for a weekend to contemplate nature and find ourselves. I am all for a spa vacation with stimulating conversation and challenging exercises for the mind and body.

But what will we discover? If we have lived authentically before through diapers, dishes and deliveries, we already know our minds. We have consciously made choices and considered alternatives. We are aware of our priorities. We have thought about these things already. We have communicated our questions, sought answers, contemplated solutions. We know who we are because of the choices we have made.

The question is whether we can now move forward and meet the challenges we set for ourselvesThe question is whether we can now move forward and meet the challenges we set for ourselves. Now that the decks are clearer and the obstacles fewer, do we have the self-confidence and courage to move forward and concretize those aspirations? Do we have the guts to zero in on the objectives and work towards their achievement? Now that they are our own—wholly our own challenges—can we make them happen the way we tried to make aspirations happen for our children and our husbands? Do we have the energy and resourcefulness to nurture ourselves, to give ourselves that which we gave our families?

By the time we reach our 50s, we know ourselves. Our strengths and our weaknesses, our aspirations and our embarrassments. Will we achieve for ourselves the way we have already achieved for others? That is the challenge, not the authenticity.