How to Make a Better Use of a Midlife Crisis
Midlife crises happen, you know.
One day you go to work as usual but when you enter the office you understand that your colleague who sits on the desk next to you has suffered a heart attack and died the previous night.
He was exactly your age (a couple of months younger) and you enjoyed discussing with him the weekend football scores. Now he’s dead and you are left with a bunch of troubling questions without neat answers. What am I doing with my life? Is this what I want? If this is my last year on Earth how do I want to spend it? Etc. Even without tragic events, we are all prone to re-evaluate our choices at a certain point in life. As stressful as it may feel, it’s not necessarily a bad sign. Just the opposite, it may be the exact road leading to a more fulfilled and meaningful life.
Here are some of the positive directions you can take during a midlife crisis:
Expand your life / Become someone new
During a midlife crisis, your perspective may expand quite uncomfortably. Things that seemed impossible, unthinkable and out of your reach suddenly become attractive destinations to go and to be. You now realize with painful clarity that it was you who have stripped life from some of its juiciest aspects. This unexpected freedom may be both exhilarating and frightening. But with a little courage, you may find a whole new world of opportunities that are worth exploring.
Get to the core of the experience / Pause and reflect
Midlife crises are often accompanied by a lot of regrets. We may ruminate upon the dreams we abandoned the unrequited loves and the missed opportunities. Or we may try to frantically justify the rightness of our choices in order to escape facing these regrets. While drowning in self-pity may not be the most dignified of options, running away from your personal truth may be even worse. For then you’re actually postponing the painful realizations, only to be haunted by them a couple of years later with the onset of another crisis. Face them now, get to the core of your pain and let it transform you for the better. The midlife crisis is a chance for us to finally get comfortable with who we are, who we really want to be and what we actually want to do with our lives.
Re-evaluate your stories (and release the unhelpful ones)
At a certain stage of the crisis, you may find yourself facing your past and doubting all interpretations of what once seemed to be a happy childhood.
It seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt, and the second half trying to open everything back up to heal the hurt, says Brene Brown and I think it’s painfully true.
Re-evaluating your stories is a crucial part of every midlife crisis. It helps to make (new) sense of old beliefs as you watch your memories through the lens of someone who is building one’s own manifesto now. It is worth going through this re-evaluation process because many of our values and assumptions were kind of inherited from some authority figures in the past. This knowledge needs to pass through our own empirical filters. Is this something I really believe in or is it something I was pushed to believe in? Did I invent my goals for myself or am I following someone else’s script for me? If I could erase other people’s expectations for a while, what kind of life would I want for myself?
Make a mess / It is ok to be confused
It’s difficult to go through a midlife crisis without seriously pissing off some of the (important) people in your life. Maybe blowing all your close relationships off is not such a great idea but putting some tension on them is almost inevitable. Our loved ones hate it when we change, even if it’s for the better. Better the devil you know and bulshit like that. But there comes a moment when other people’s comfort is not all that matters. What we want and how we feel is (for the first time) on the menu. And if we don’t have the answers to those questions, there’s no way of knowing without experimenting a bit. And experiments rarely happen without a mess of one kind or another. So, go ahead and hope for the best. People around us can make a fuss for a while but will then get over it. They may even start to like the new You better.
Drop your weapons down
At midlife, you may become aware of a fatigue that obstinately sticks around and is difficult to get rid of. It may originate from too many years spent pretending that everything is ok. Brene Brown describes it pretty well:
We go to work and unload the dishwasher and love our families and get our hair cut. Everything looks pretty normal on the outside. But on the inside, we’re barely holding it together. We want to reach out, but judgment (the currency of the midlife realm) holds us back. It’s a terrible case of cognitive dissonance – the psychologically painful process of trying to hold two competing truths in a mind that was engineered to constantly reduce conflict and minimize dissension (e.g., I’m falling apart and need to slow down and ask for help. Only needy, flaky, unstable people fall apart and ask for help).
You come to realize that constantly wearing a mask comes at a price. A heavy price. But dropping it may seem like one of the most frightening things to do. How do you find the courage to show your real struggles to the world without any guarantees that you will be accepted and not ridiculed? How do you know that your real You is not too disappointing to show? Chances are you’re just too tired to pretend anymore and maybe a bit curious. Bravery comes when midlife loosens up our self-centeredness. You can risk your dignity now. Its function to protect your ego is starting to fade away. You can survive social failure without disintegrating.
Slow (the crisis) down
It’s normal to get impatient with living now that the world has grown bigger and interesting and fun. You’ve waited too long and now you are ready to savour it all and compensate for everything you did (or didn’t do) in college. You feel pressured by time and don’t want to miss a thing now that you know how to live. But the name of this milestone (a midlife crisis) is misleading. It may be more of a slow transformational process that lasts for the rest of your life than a single bursting event that you need to get over. This is both good news and bad news. It’s good news because you have the rest of your life to live in a more fulfilling manner. It’s bad news because being that brave will always go with a certain amount of discomfort.
It’s all about death, after all. Our mortal status becomes painfully obvious around midlife. Our parents grow old (or die), our children leave us, our bodies are changing (and not for the better). We suddenly become aware of this whole world of inevitable decay. How do we make peace with the idea of death?
Midlife seems to be the perfect moment for such a question.
You may search for a spiritual or religious answer or find comfort in nature and its cycles.
What matters is whether you find a path that helps you accept our human destiny and the limitations of our existence. We can’t have it all and do it all in the span of a lifetime. But that’s ok. Life can still have a meaning and we can still find something to enjoy while we are still here.