In our youth obsessed culture, the transition into middle age can be bumpy and even dramatic. It conjures up images of shiny red sports cars, faces jacked up on botox and erratic behavior from otherwise stable adults. Indeed, there are many signs that signal the arrival of this phase: Empty nest, affairs, menopause, job burnout, etc. But does this really qualify as a crisis? Many of us will experience some condition of confusion and instability, but perhaps we can refer to it as a fundamental change process versus an outright crisis.
But how does this period of self-reflection really present itself, and how can we recognize its grip on our lives? It may start when you have more questions than answers – not the superficial questions like do these pants make me look fat but the really deep, heavy, challenging to the core type questions such as is this all there is, why am I doing this, am I really getting what I need, who am I anymore? You know, gut wrenching soul searching inward looking inquiries. There are no multiple choice or easy yes/no answers to these thought provoking open ended questions that demand reflection and delving deep into your inner space.
Most of us spent our 20s starting work and building a career. We spend our 30s climbing the corporate ladder and raising a family, and then in our 40s or 50s we may find we no longer believe in the whole process any more (or at least one major component of a significant life event). We may no longer find value in our career – our job seems meaningless, without purpose, and all of those years we spent seem like a tragic waste in an unfulfilling endeavor (and you don’t get those years back, they’re spent!).
Woven into this is often a powerful and terrifying sense of our own mortality. We see the undeniable signs of aging in the mirror. We see our younger selves fading inexorably away. So if we feel we have not optimized our past, are anxious and undecided about where we are today, and have trepidation for our aging future, this compounded realization can destabilize many of us.
There is no easy answer and/or quick fix and individual personality characteristics may play a major role as an agent of change too with regards to risk tolerance – some prefer to mix it all up at once while others tread cautiously with a minor tweak approach. Regardless, the essential lesson is to do it with careful thought consideration and realize this may be an important part of our evolution for true self-discovery. Decisions have consequences, so each dimension of our precious life demands reflection and steadfast purpose with an understanding of the ramifications. The cliche is to refer to it as a crisis when we hit middle age, but if we embrace this phase and thoughtfully engage in each decision, we may discover this often painful chapter can be a turning point to better days ahead. So, make the necessary change(s) in a supportive non-crisis environment and embrace the transformation to better days ahead. Aging can be graceful, onward and upward!