Frankly, I think the midlife crisis has got itself a really bad reputation. Inevitably images of shiny sports cars and seductive secretaries spring to mind (though that’s another story!), as do moments in which the thwarted desires of youth collide with the not-quite-what-we’d-envisioned reality.
I cannot deny the fact that such confrontation may be dramatic, particularly when it is thrust upon us by external circumstances- for none of us like to relinquish our control. It could be the loss of a job. The end of a relationship. The death of a loved one. Anything that jerks us from the all too comfortable status quo.
Yet we all need a little shaking from time to time. Human beings crave growth. Evolution. Progress. When such growth is thwarted, sickness sets in (so posited the great Humanistic Psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers). This sickness may manifest itself as boredom, anxiety or frustration. But manifest it will. We all know when we’re cheating ourselves. We know when we’re repressing who we’re meant to be. Notice the niggling voice that never quite switches off. The tiny voice that teases, tantalizes and ultimately threatens us to take action. To explore our potential. When you can’t silence that voice any longer, you may experience a moment of existential ‘crisis’.
Why do we fear this moment so? Because nobody likes sitting in the limbo of uncertainty. Nobody likes taking a deep dive into their souls. Nobody likes to feel lonely, afraid and insecure. Yet- it may be in this very abyss of despair that we begin (maybe for the first time ever) to ask ourselves what REALLY matters to us. For what we’re most afraid of may be that which matters MOST to us. So, if we repress the fear, we also repress the desire. Are you willing to repress what matters most?
Don’t do it! This is where things get really exciting. Don’t try and distract yourself. Don’t go for more status. More power. Faster car. Bigger home. Stop the distractions. Listen carefully- this is the moment where authenticity knocks. Aren’t you going to let yourself in? You’ve been waiting outside for approximately the first half of your life…
Why not instead stop looking for external validation and peer inside of yourself? Marvel at the way in which your innate strengths and core values entwine, fusing to create a sense of purpose that is unique to you. Explore them with the help of friends, family or a coach. Don’t hold back.
In disentangling ourselves from the external expectations that once surrounded us, we’ll begin to tap into our authenticity, and this is where the real power lies, as we begin the ongoing process of becoming the best versions of ourselves. Interestingly, the better we feel about ourselves and our own lives, the more likely it is that we’ll transcend our own ego and reach out to others (so everybody wins). Connection makes us really happy.
Maslow famously said,
“What a man can be, he must be.”
Growth is a must.
However uncomfortable the transition may be.
A crisis is a shiny invitation to a party of self-exploration. Only by uncovering what really matters can we reach any lasting sense of well-being, fulfillment and success.