“Midlife is the old age of youth and the youth of old age.” – proverb
By Susan Kavanaugh
In 2004, I published a men’s health magazine article about discovering your passions in midlife. Keep in mind it was written for men fourteen years ago and it smacks of sexism and stereotypes, but the core message is what matters most. It is as real for women, as for men.
Life was pretty good for a while. You were content with the missus; you loved spending time with the kids; climbing the ladder at work was an exciting challenge; and, you felt like you had your whole life ahead of you to tackle the many dreams you kept putting off for lack of time.
But, one day you felt a little lackluster. Soon, that developed into true discomfort.
And then you were sitting there with the lyrics from the Burt Bacharach song, “What’s It All About Alfie?” stuck in your head.
If you are generally between the ages of 40 and 60, you may be going through a midlife crisis. You may be dangerously close to shucking the job, the wife and the SUV for a little more excitement. Maybe you’ve even already tested the waters of variety.
It’s a bear to lose your abs, to get those gray hairs, to start pricing vision surgery and in the bedroom…well, let’s not talk about that, but you understand what I mean.
It’s also unbearable to feel stuck in a job because you have a mortgage payment the size of Mount Rushmore. Yet, practical planning and exploration will make this your time to shine and to really stand face to face with yourself in the mirror.
Before you crash and burn (and you will, if you don’t accept what this is truly all about), take time to explore the possibility that midlife can be a positive impetus for personal growth instead of a major overhaul of the world you’ve created up until now.
There’s no doubt it’s a time to change your life, but calculate your risks, listen to your heart as well as your head and consider talking to a few friends about your restlessness.
In life, it’s been said we experience two major identity crises. One is adolescence, when we try to find out who we are. The second is midlife, when we try to find out who we were meant to be.
Take stock. What have you always wanted to do, but never found the time to “make time”? Make a list. Review your finances. Can you downsize your house? Move to a more affordable area or even cash out a bit on some retirement funds? Perhaps, your wife be willing to go back to work or to take a better paying job so she could carry the financial load and give you a break for a while.
If you can safely do any of these things, you may be able to walk away from the job that has jailed you. You may be able to change professions, go back to school, travel abroad or spend time with the kids or your folks.
Whatever you have dreamed of doing, now may be the time to make it happen. This may be the first time in your life that your own mortality feels real and if you don’t clearly identify those dreams and create a plan to achieve them, the closer you will come to truly having the meltdown that makes midlife the tornado it is more commonly known as.
When you pinpoint those unfulfilled dreams, you will be one up on discovering the person you were meant to be. Professional and personal dreams express your essence. Have you spent the last twenty years selling insurance when you’ve yearned to spend more time on carpentry projects?
Have you bounced willy-nilly from one job to the next because you could earn more money but, in truth, money wasn’t what you wanted — your heart was telling you to sail around the world? Maybe you are a carpenter. Maybe you are a sailor.
Maybe the bottom line is you are not your work. You are a human being who has only “worked” in a certain industry, and you are made up of a myriad of skills and interests. Midlife is a time when this message comes home to us in a hard and fast way.
Wake up and hear it. You’re bigger than your job (so it may be okay to keep it); you’re more than just the breadwinner, husband and father; and you are most likely loved deeply and accepted for all that you are. Even the unfulfilled parts of you.
Don’t be afraid to share those dreams with your wife, or your buddies. Even a professional life coach or counselor can be an effective listener at this time. Just articulate your thoughts.
Get them out of your head and come one step closer to making them real. Okay, so you might feel vulnerable. But how much more vulnerable will you feel when you hit the wall and find that you are 75, and not only out of steam, but out of time?
Midlife is not always about crisis — more often it’s about opportunity. It’s like a time out from the big game. Huddle. Strategize. Then get out there and kick some butt.