A Midlife Anti-Crisis: Transform Upheaval Into Renewal
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Looking at some statistics on the demographic of my readers, I see that many of you are either approaching midlife or smack in the middle of it. Welcome to my world.
I'm not quite sure what midlife is any more.
When I was born, life expectancy was an average of somewhere around 70 years old. Now it's around 80. And new advances in science and technology are suggesting that living to 100 or beyond is not so far-fetched anymore.
So if you are anywhere from 35-55, you could be considered middle aged.
When I was a twenty-something, just the word “midlife” made me cringe. It felt like the peak of a downhill slope — like what could only be characterized as the beginning of the end of real living.
No more tight butt and flat stomach. No more carefree fun. No more energy and spontaneity.
I remember my mom reading the book Passages by Gail Sheehy and silently celebrating that I didn't need a book to help me through my 20's. I just needed a decent car, nice clothes, and a cute guy.
At some point, the cute guy or girl becomes your spouse. You start a family and immerse yourself in the details of building a career, creating a home, and raising kids. There's not a whole lot of time for self-reflection and navel gazing. The meaning of life is scraping kid snot off your shoulder and keeping your boss off your back.
We throw ourselves into these activities, hopefully with joy, but in truth there's a lot of sacrifice and hard work involved. We are building toward something — happy, successful children, financial security, a comfortable lifestyle.
Then one day something happens — a small tremor. Midlife symptoms start to appear with a whimper or possibly a big bang, and not just in the form of love handles and grey hairs.
- Maybe it's just the beginning of some restless feelings.
- Maybe a child leaves home or your job starts to feel dissatisfying.
- Or maybe something more dramatic happens — a parent dies, you lose your job, your spouse has an affair.
Before you have time to know what's hit you, you are caught up in a full-blown crisis. The world as you've known it has turned upside down and inside out.
Sometimes life events can trigger a full-scale midlife crisis, and sometimes midlife malaise creeps up on you slowly like a low-grade fever. Either way, there's a high probability that every one of us will encounter some sort of personal, career, emotional, or existential upheaval during this period of life. For those of us with a big red X painted on our foreheads, we might have all of these pound us at the same time!
For me, the most profound sledgehammer was turning 50 and realizing that my life was half over.
I could not claim to be a young person any more. My parents were dead, and I was not anyone's child any more. My oldest child had left home with two more children not far behind.
My parenting job was winding down. My part-time career in public relations felt stale and unrewarding.
I began to question every aspect of my life. Nothing felt safe or promising. I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. I was searching for something, but I had no idea what I was searching for.
I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of confusion and turmoil that can show up at midlife.
Looking back, I wish I had read my mom's copy of Passages. It might have given me a glimmer of what to expect. I was certainly prepared for hot flashes, night sweats, and hormonal imbalance. I wasn't prepared for the psychic cataclysm that made me feel like someone else was inhabiting my body.
Fortunately, I am inherently curious and driven to survive. I knew that if I could understand what was going on, I could gain some control over the bucking bronco of my psyche.
I started to read everything I could about midlife and midlife upheaval.
What I learned made me realize that this wasn't the beginning of the end. It was the start of a new beginning.
Here are some of the things I learned that helped me determine to have a midlife anti-crisis:
- You aren't alone and you aren't a freak. A midlife crisis or midlife confusion doesn't mean you are coming unhinged. It means you are going through a normal life transition — one that affects just about everyone to one degree or another.
- You aren't your parents' middle age. 50 is the new whatever-you-want-it-to-be. Our generation of mid-lifers is more active, healthier, better-educated, more affluent, and generally happier than our parents were at the same age. We can let go of our childhood perceptions of middle age.
- It will pass. Any angst, confusion, fear, or sadness related to midlife upheaval will fade away. It helps if you have support and information during this time. It also helps if you learn more about yourself and rediscover who you are now at this new stage of life.
- Change is inevitable, so go with the flow. It's far easier on you if you don't resist what's happening, but rather just go with it. See where the restlessness, fear, uncertainty, and questioning lead you. Don't plant your feet in the comfort of the status quo, or you will eventually shrivel up and not bloom into the person you are meant to be.
- Accept there will be some pain and hurt. Midlife transition by definition may involve change that is painful. You may have to let go of your role as a parent. You may have to release your claim on youth. You may end a marriage. But all of the ending points are also beginnings. After you move through grief, you can move into something far more profoundly wonderful than you ever expected.
- Embrace the benefits of maturity. Most of us are far more confident, wise, and emotionally mature than we were in our youth. We don't have the same insecurities holding us back. We don't have as much to prove or the same need to impress. We can just be ourselves. Also, we have more money and possibly more time to enjoy all that life has to offer.
- Creativity can soar. Without the distractions of raising kids and building a career, we have more time and energy to discover untapped wellsprings of creativity. This is a great time to learn a new skill, begin a hobby, or start a new business venture.
- Every day counts. With the heightened awareness of life's brevity, we come to appreciate the beauty and possibility in every single day. Small grievances, frustrations, and worries suddenly take a back seat to squeezing every drop of juice from each moment of the day.
- Fun is rediscovered. Life can become so serious when you are in the middle of raising kids and building a career. Over-scheduled lives and sheer exhaustion can undermine any hope for having carefree fun. But you can and should reclaim fun at midlife.
- You can reinvent yourself. Often we live a certain way, believe certain things, and accept the status quo because that's what we've done for years. It feels so comfortable, we may not even question whether or not it is what we really want. What was right for us 30 years ago may not be who we are now. This is a time when you have the luxury of creating your life rather than reacting to it.
What kind of transformation have you experienced at midlife? Please share your midlife anti-crisis in the comments.
Reminder: October 3rd is the beginning of round two of The Habit Course – a simple and loving gift you can give yourself to help guide you towards your potential. Please join us for a month-long journey focused on meaningful habit creation. Build upon everything you already are by creating mindful, lasting habits in your life. I helped create this course with Leo Babauta and Katie Tallo. All three of us will be there to encourage you along the way.