The term “midlife crisis” became part of our vocabulary in the mid-1960s as a means of describing a time in life where adults begin to truly realize that we are mortal and that our life may be more than halfway over. On the surface and despite the inclusion of the term “crisis”, it’s a very rational and healthy realization. As I come to grips with the loss of my younger brother last fall, inch up on my 44th birthday, and acknowledge that my career as a Naval Officer is beginning what I hope to be a long sunset, I find myself contemplating life more than ever before. That said, I don’t see this as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” For that reason, I do not believe it to be a crisis.
In my younger days, I had seen men experience what definitely appeared to be a crisis from the outside. It seemed as if they were panicking, turning their life upside down, and telling the world that they had misused a good portion of their days up until that point. Many of us have witnessed the same and the story goes something like this…
- Express remorse for goals never accomplished and dreams never realized
- Get depressed by comparing your perceived lack of accomplishments to others your age or younger
- Do your best through crash diets, plastic surgery, and/or extreme workout regimes to turn back the clock
- Make purchases that give others the impression that you are more accomplished, wealthy, happy, and desirable than even you believe yourself to be
- Put pressure on your kids to be something that you were not and something they likely do not want to become in an effort to live vicariously through them
- Walk away from existing friends, family, and existing responsibility in an attempt to start anew
Clearly, there are countless variations of that general story, but the mindset it captures is fairly constant. And that is why the word “crisis” has come to more accurately describe this point in life when many become especially reflective and self-aware. Though I am clearly in that age window we refer to as midlife, I do not see this as a crisis in the least. This may be in large part due to the fact that I have been a reflective, analytical, deliberate, and intention-oriented person for as long as I can remember. Some may call it boring or overly practical and my wife most certainly wouldn’t describe me as spontaneous. In fact, we have a running joke that when she sees me in deep thought she’ll ask what I am thinking about. To which I respond, “I am planning my next spontaneous action.” It is the regular reflection, the commitment to being self-aware, and the continual exposure to new things that allow us to do regular course correction when warranted. Those who don’t operate in a similar fashion and are comfortable letting current inertia guide their future course are usually the ones who find themselves directing a hard right later in life, turning their midlife into a crisis.
Conversely, those who are committed to living mindfully are able to look back, connect the dots that shaped our journey to this point, and enjoy “Midlife Certainty”. It’s true, nothing in life is certain and there are always “what if” moments. But there is a level of comfort and confidence that accompanies a life without regret. A life that we deliberately enjoyed along the way. A life where we took complete ownership of every decision we made and opportunity we created (or gave others reason to create on our behalf).
I refuse to judge the individual who runs out on his family, leaves her husband in favor of a younger man, buys a sports car, or makes a visit to a plastic surgeon. After all, life is short and it’s on us to make it amazing per our own definition. The point is to make each day amazing so that we do not feel compelled to question and possibly undo our past in an effort to make up for lost time and missed opportunities. We can choose to understand that the decisions we make each day throughout life will lead us toward a midlife full of certainty or crisis. And we ought to remember that because we don’t know how long we have on this planet, no matter our age we may very well be enjoying (or past) our midpoint.
- Are you making time to reflect and course correct as necessary?
- Will you experience a midlife crisis or enjoy midlife certainty?
- Are you doing your part to make life amazing?