You may be familiar with the term “mid-life crisis”, used to describe a period of time when people, typically around the age of 50, realize that how they are living their lives no longer suits them nor gives them a sense of meaning. We call this a crisis, since it is often a period of intense questioning and angst.
The symptoms associated with this crisis most often shared by my clients include:
· Feeling discontent with one’s life or lifestyle including people and activities, which may have at one time, provided more fulfillment
· Feeling restless and wanting to do something completely different
· Questioning decisions made years earlier
· Confusion about one’s achievements and questioning why “I failed to manifest the life I thought I would have by now”
· Yearning for the early years, wanting to retreat rather than move forward
· Confusion about “who am I’ beyond the roles assigned by others, both in the workplace and in one’s personal life.
· Anger, expressed or hidden, over trying to fulfill the expectations of others or wanting their approval, in lieu of pursuing one’s own wishes or dreams
· Asking “is that all there is?”
We often fear this time in our lives, afraid to leave behind what we know and move into the unknown. We may justify not moving forward by using various excuses such as lack of time, money, skills, or connections. We may keep our dreams vague or simply say “I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do”. We may say that we’ll find or return to our true passion when the children grow up or when we’ve paid off the mortgage. Even though deep down, we are discontent with our work and personal lives and want something different, something more meaningful, we use these excuses to keep us safe and secure in our own comfort zones. We choose safety over the unknown, even if we might have a chance at a more meaningful life.
Midlife is a time when many adults take on new job responsibilities or struggle with retirement from a long held job. They also may begin caring for their elders, experience more deaths of loved ones, or face relationships challenges as their roles as parents change when their grown children leave home. These events lead many people to feel the need to reassess where they are. In this regard, it was a psychologist, Elliot Jaques, who coined the term “midlife crisis” in a 1965 article in which he referred to a time when adults begin to realize their own mortality and reflect upon how much time they may have left in their lives.
Here are five insights to reflect upon to make the most and even thrive at this pivotal time:
#1 Expect turbulence. Life is not a straight line from birth to death. Life is complex with many ups and downs, twists and turns, some of which are a result of our decisions and some of which, obviously, are out of our control. Setting realistic expectations is a start to building the resilience you will need to endure periods of change.
#2 Don’t hide from conflict and confusion. In most situations, ignoring issues won’t result in them going away. Conflict in mid-life can often be traced to untreated symptoms, swept under the rug so as to avoid the pain of arguments and perhaps even a required change in behavior or circumstances. Marital incompatibility, addictions, lack of natural fit with a chosen job or career, financial issues, etc. can all build up and then start to rear their ugly heads at mid-life. Have the courage to start to face your issues slowly, one step at a time. Stop playing the victim, reclaim your personal authority, and start making some decisions for your own personal growth.
#3 Let go of what you don’t need any more. As we age, we outgrow people, places, and activities. The meaning we attach to these things also changes. Be honest with yourself about what is not working anymore. Be willing to let go in order to clear the way for new possibilities to arise. As the wise fisherman said, “Let the tide take the things we no longer need out to sea and then let the tide bring the new things we do need, in.”
#4 Reframe your life, not with a perspective on now, today or even this month, but as a very long journey. Recognize at the age of 50 you might live another 30, 40, or 50 years. That’s a long time to experience new adventures so don’t panic.
#5 Let the future pull you. Life is like driving a car. You can look in the rear view mirror at things in the past but that won’t help you in the future. You can sit in your car and look around at what is in the present, even without moving, but that won’t help you in the future. You need to craft a future vision, a direction, and then draft a plan to get there. The most powerful way to live a life of meaning is to let the future pull you.
Mid-life represents an important time when you can choose to make meaningful changes. See mid-life not as a time of crisis, but as a time of transition – a time to create a new, more meaningful life for your next 50 years.