“A mid-life crisis is the result of poor planning.”
When I first floated these words by my husband, he frowned. “A little harsh, don't you think?” Probably so – but I'm standing by them, because I speak from experience.
A mid-life crisis doesn't always look like the guy in his 50s who trades in his wife for a toupee, a convertible, and a hottie half his age. (Although, admittedly, this stereotype exists for a reason.)
For some of us, particularly women, the warning signs — and our responses to them — can be a lot more subtle. As an example, it might look like stopping in front of the refrigerator on your way out the door in the morning, eating ice cream straight out of the carton like a sad zombie because you don't want to go to work. (Not that I *ever* did that. Well, except for those few times around 2008.)
My own crisis — which I lovingly refer to as my awakening – began in my late 30s when I was pelted by the impatient questions: “Who am I? “, “How did I get here? “, and “HOW THE HELL DO I GET OUT?” And for the first time in my life, it seemed as though my options, which once felt as vast as the ocean, were about as deep as a puddle in a pothole.
I felt STUCK.
I felt stuck because I'd forgotten the importance of knowing myself on the most intimate of levels. My circumstances had been evolving at warp speed (A promotion! A baby! A death! Another promotion!! Another baby!!), but I hadn't stayed connected to what I wanted out of life — and, probably more importantly, what I didn't. I was sprinting — head down and in high gear — toward a goal line I'd visualized half a dozen years before, without pausing to consider whether I still wanted to win that trophy. (Or, for that matter, whether I still wanted to PLAY the damn game.)
I was on autopilot. And while the getting off nearly wrecked me, I see it now as a tremendous gift — for my awakening is ongoing, and for that I'm enormously grateful. I see the world around me and my ability to shape it with fresh, empowered eyes. And, when we do that, we are able to live the lives we want instead of the lives we feel stuck in.
Of course, there are additional forces at play in life besides our own will, but my experience taught me this: We can stave off this upheaval by building lives of our choosing — consciously and intentionally — instead of simply following the trajectory we established once when things looked quite different. Real life is not “set it and forget it.”
To avoid the emotional cataclysm of mid-life crisis, we must:
- Constantly redefine and redesign what success looks like at each new stage of life. Priorities evolve as we do. Just married? There's now another person to consider. Added a child into the mix? This one really turns things on their head! Lost a parent or a job or your health? Shifting sands demand that we revisit what we consider a win.! spaced
- Cultivate a steady stream of thoughtful mid-course corrections that keep us aligned with those ever-shifting, ever-evolving priorities. We have the power to make a tweak here and an adjustment there. We just need to remember we are authorized to do so, and without permission or guilt or drama.
- Never panic if you decide that a major-magnitude shift is in order (e. g., ending an unfulfilling relationship, making a wholesale career change, moving across the country or around the world). That realization isn't a failure or a setback. It's a giant leap of possibility, one that requires cajones (and quite enviable ones at that).
It all comes back to being our own catalysts for change. Because we all have choices; we just have to be brave enough to make them.