Why You Should Experience A Midlife Crisis… Even If You’re Young
The underestimated tool for personal growth
The term midlife crisis conjures up images of often comical and sometimes pitiful attempts to reclaim a youth long since vanished. I was fifteen when I first encountered someone in the throes of this fall from grace.
He was in his mid-40s. He wore spikey hair, held together by globs of gel, creating the perception of brown ice crystals growing from his head. He sported the same dungaree jacket I wore and a pair of Air Jordan sneakers — an absurd mash-up of 80s styles. His daughter always trailed five feet behind him, an apparent attempt to distance herself from the embarrassment.
I was on vacation with my family. We were staying in the same hotel as this troubled man and his daughter. My parents told me, “don’t stare. He’s having a midlife crisis.”
I may have heard the term before then, but I don’t think I realized what it meant until I connected it with that guy.
For the next thirty years, the term midlife crisis held a derogatory meaning for me, as it does for most folks. It makes sense given my first experience and the cultural connotations of the term.
But my opinion changed.
The midlife crisis silver lining
These uncomfortable experiences allow you to reflect on your life and course-correct while you still have time. Of course, you can subvert the process and end up like the sorry middle-aged guy trying to reclaim his adolescence.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you embrace it, the process can lead to transformative life changes.
Here’s the good news. You can manufacture this crisis at any point in your adult life.
It took me several attempts to get it right, but now I seek to recreate the experience whenever my life drifts off track.
My first midlife crisis
During Christmas week of 2009, I announced to a few friends that a baby was on the way. My friend mentioned to me that I’d better live life to the fullest now because I’d never get another moment of free time later.
My first midlife crisis had been triggered.
I panicked. I tried to exploit every remaining minute to engage in social endeavors until the day my son was born. It was a fun eight months, but it was a missed opportunity.
Rather than use it as a chance to cement my few strong relationships, I spread myself too thin, making many peripheral friends, most of whom disappeared from my life within a year.
My midlife reckoning
Four years later, my next midlife crisis hit. It wasn’t so much a crisis as it was a reckoning. I had spent twenty years in the workforce and had nothing substantial to show for it.
I made decent money, but so what. I had accomplished nothing meaningful. I worked for a paycheck. Most folks in my position find a way to justify it. I could not.
What made me different?
I was lucky. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but I had been actively avoiding it for twenty years. Most of my peers believed they lacked a viable alternative, so they stuck with what they know.
I emerged from this midlife crisis and kicked off my copywriting career. This foray breathed new life into me. I met new people who shared similar interests and life purpose. The excitement was short-lived.
My midlife reconciliation
Two years later, another crisis hit. This one was more of a reconciliation. I had jumped into copywriting because I wanted to write, and because copywriting was the best path to generate income. It was a compromise of sorts — still focusing on the money aspect but doing something more aligned with my desires.
Panic set in when I realized I was still lying to myself. I didn’t need the income from copywriting. I still had my day job to cover most expenses, so I transitioned again.
On September 1, 2016, I started to write for myself. Over one million words later, I’m still blogging, writing short stories, and rewriting a draft of my novel.
We need more midlife crises not less
The forty-five-year-old dressed like a fifteen-year-old might garner a few laughs or words of ridicule. But let’s not mock him for falling prey to a midlife crisis, we should pity him for not taking advantage of a life-changing opportunity.
A crisis, while fraught with angst, can serve as an avenue of change — an opportunity to ditch unproductive values and behaviors in favor of more resourceful practices and beliefs.
In The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he writes, “…reform is usually possible once a sense of crisis takes hold.”
Creating change in your life is difficult, but we become more malleable to change during a crisis.
An unpredictable trigger springs this situation on us involuntarily. But you don’t need to wait for the unpredictable surprise. You can and should initiate it on your own.
A midlife crisis is a subconscious communication
Your subconscious is not telling you to return to adolescence. No, it’s warning you of your dwindling window of opportunity to choose a life of purpose rather than a life of convenience or a path of least resistance.
You can see how many of us, men in particular, interpret that as a return to adolescence, an attempt to reclaim youth. That’s not possible, of course. Rather than try to recover the past, use it as an opportunity to change your future.
Don’t wait for a crisis to happen. Create one
Manufacturing a critical situation is a standard tool in the business world. Duhigg continues on the subject, “Wise executives seek out moments of crisis — or create the perception of crisis — and cultivate the sense that something must change.”
You don’t need to wait for a crisis. You can create the perception of one by forcing yourself to confront your choices. Dedicate some time for reflection and ask yourself these questions.
- Am I contributing to the world in a meaningful way?
- Do I receive fulfillment from my job?
- Have I experienced meaningful relationships?
- Have I sustained my important relationships?
- Can I point to one thing I’ve accomplished that will outlast me?
- What’s missing in your life?
- What would you do with your life if you could? How can you make it happen in some small way?
- What two or three changes would set me on a new path forward?
Do this exercise each Sunday. It’ll take you all of five minutes. It won’t trigger a crisis right away. But if something in your life feels amiss, the epiphany will manifest and spark a moment of mild panic. That’s your opportunity to change.
Don’t be like the pitiful dad who tried to reclaim his adolescence when confronted with a midlife crisis. Create your own and use it to carve a better path forward for yourself.