I had always thought that a ‘Midlife Crisis’ was a time around fifty years old. Mine hit me like a sledgehammer when I was thirty-seven. I have always been an outlier, so expecting anything different, well, probably not happening. Psychology today defines Midlife as- “the central period of a person’s life, spanning from approximately age 40 to age 65”. Where “adults may take on new job responsibilities and therefore often feel a need to reassess their professional standing and make changes while they feel they still have time.” [i]
In my case the re-assessment was not due to a work situation, not even close, it was time to get off the 20 year long party bus. Been through a terrible marriage, lived in my own self-pity party and used the “woe is me” excuse for self-medicating and blaming everything and everyone else for my problems. Little did I know that the emptiness that had become my life was my own lack of accountability for my own problems. When accountability arrives, you can start to love yourself a little more. This small step was the beginning of a new life.
In the 1965 article “Death and the Midlife Crisis” psychologist Elliot Jaques coined the term “Midlife Crisis,” referring to a time when adults reckon with their own mortality and their remaining years of productive life. Midlife can be a tense time, and many people feel unhappy and edgy as they fight with the thought of growing older, our mortality, and our sense of purpose in life.[ii]
When I decided to get sober and go into therapy, I had just turned 38 years old. Up until then life was a carousel of routines and habits, which for the most part were mostly bad. Routines that included being a single dad and a person who avoided loving interpersonal romantic relationships. Daily after work self-indulgence, what I called “going into the garage” led to a pattern and habit that needed to end.
The steps to self-improvement would begin through counseling I received; the kindness of a psychologist who actually did not see patients but took me on as a favor to my physician that would begin the journey of accountability and reflection. You see owning your issues; facing the emptiness and loneliness that is problem drinking and drugging can actually be very liberating. Taking buried feelings, some from my childhood, and facing my identity was the key to lifting myself out of a dysfunctional and morally wrong lifestyle.
What I needed to do was grow up. This perpetual 20 something lifestyle that haphazardly fell into my 30’s was a train wreck waiting to happen. I needed to know ‘who I was, and what was my purpose in life’, ‘where was I going and why am I doing all of this?’ At some point, I had to realize that unresolved issues, like dropping out of college in my 20’s, and my failed marriage were my own fault. Sometimes you just gotta grow a pair, you know what I mean?
In my work, I have come to the realization that life is a set of phases, that growth and maturity happen at different times for people, but we all really do live in these four phases. For me it started with youth (birth-18), young adulthood (19-39), MiddleLiving, the sweet spot and biggest of my phases (40-85), and the glorious time of becoming a ‘Superior Senior’ (86+). Yours may be slightly different, everyone matures differently but I think you see the point. If we embrace the phases for what they are, opportunities for experiential growth and learning, we never enter into the ‘crisis’ mode.
Crisis is defined as, “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. A time when a difficult or important decision must be made”.[iii] A Midlife Crisis can start as a small or irritating doubts which may encourage a series of intense irrational events potentially leading to thoughts of doubt which ultimately can lead to great change. A person experiencing challenges with midlife may ask herself “Is this all there is”? Or “am I a failure”? It will be at this time that those who can see past the cloudy doom or getting old and embrace the thought and excitement of ‘growing older’ that the experiential lifestyle takes on new meaning. Searching for happiness is not the answer, because the more we search, the more confounding and unhappy we become. Buying ‘things’ a new car, the latest computer, smart phone won’t work. Abandoning or even betraying relationships, as dreadful as some may seem, potentially could be better served by investing some soul, some energy, and some effort. Statistics point out that those with connections, friends, outlets and hobbies live longer and lead a more fulfilling life.
Quitters never win and winners never quit!
The universe possesses and is made up of energy, so are we. Attracting like souls, building new friendships, exploring new opportunities is at a new place in our human existence. The Internet has completely changed everything. Barriers to entry are shattered, the ‘Creative Destruction’ (new ways of doing things which in essence lead to positive changes) was described by Economist Joseph Schumpeter and called ‘Schumpeter’s Gale’ by some was coined in the 1940’s. Today ‘Creative Destruction’, carries even more weight, responsibility and opportunity. It is how we choose, when we choose, or if we choose to live with love and open hearts attracting the positive energy that is so abundant in the Universe, leveraging the potential of positive change through Schumpeter’s, ‘Creative Destruction’.
I have a new model that I am using for the rest of my life, I call this “The Four Pillars”! I would love to inspire and encourage everyone to think about this as we all mature and stay relevant in our lives. What are your pillars? My pillars are-
Passion –> Purpose –> Optimism –> Faith
By allowing your pillars to support your life you will find meaning. It will be through finding meaning that happiness finds you. The pillars support the catalyst, the catalyst opens the adjacent possibles. My personal journey has been a continual building of the future. The darkness when understood, gives foundational strength and opportunity to embrace personal pillars. Cornerstones give strength to a strong castle that is life.
I love the words ‘Lynchpin’ and ‘Serendipity’; those two words are what have helped me to embrace my growing older with grace and excitement. If we all can remember that life is a gift, which we can only control what happens within our own minds and then lead to fulfillment and success.
Use another acronym that I love, ‘I-Squared-Inspire & Influence’ when you live with joy, with grace, with compassion and with empathy you never get old, you survive all crisis’s, you reach as Abraham Maslow taught us in his hierarchy of needs, the pinnacle of life, ‘self-actualization’.
We all need to become ok in our own skin, sometimes it takes longer to really understand how important it is to love oneself. Believe me, it took me a while, hardships, poor decisions, morally corrupt behavior to grasp what is truly good. When you do finally realize that as the Universal energy is always surrounding us, accepting how important it is to live with grace and purpose begins with love, laughing and sharing, I now love my life so much it is crazy. At some point, together we all can reach this level, I want to help, I owe the Universe because it took care of me when I did not love myself very much, and for that I am very grateful.
Thank you to my young friend Hannah Messing for giving me some advice and editorial feedback on this article. Her input on many of our generational objectives is appreciated. ‘Be Grateful’