Midlife Crisis or Midlife Opportunity?

midlife cartoon

I thought I would repost this story after I just attended a very touching event. Very dear friends of mine celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I doubt with such a blessed life that either of them went through a midlife crisis but the event certainly made me think about what it takes to power through a midlife crisis…

In one of my favorite movies, “The Family Man” with Nicolas Cage, Cage’s character is given a glimpse of the life he passed up to pursue success on Wall Street. Watching this film and few others that Hollywood has released lately portraying the same theme made we rethink the whole concept of the Midlife Crisis dilemma.

We generally think of a midlife crisis as a time of irresponsible behavior. You’ve heard all the stories, the 45 year old runs to the South America with a young, hot blooded babe, a senior exec takes off with his secretary and so on. Even the married Governor of South Carolina snuck down to Argentina to be with his “soul mate.” Questioning one’s life can be disturbing, leading to major changes or divorce. But midlife crisis can also be a time for healthy changes that lead to a fulfilling middle and older age.

We all spend the first half of our lives almost on auto-pilot, doing what we were taught to do by parents, teachers, and society. We got a job, we went into the military, went off to college or trade school, we got married and had children (I am just now a grandfather,) We then bought a home and went into debt. We developed our skills, proved to ourselves and to others that we could succeed in a world that was created for us by others before us. We experienced life and and we would like to believe that we gained some modicum of wisdom. But then we begin to question the truth about the old adages like work hard and you will succeed, good guys finish first, people get promoted by merit, rich people deserve what they have, and so on. Then something happens, a death of a friend, divorce, or in today’s economy a job loss smacks us square in the mouth and we realize that life is short and moving much too fast.

As George Carlin once put it we have built up so much speed after we “turned” 50 that we will “hit” 60. We have however gained enough experience to reassess our life and ask ourselves, “What do I want for the rest of my life?” There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Midlife is the old age of youth and the youth of old age.” If this is true then many people are standing on the threshold of a “new youth.” It is what Gail Sheehy in her book, New Passages, calls the “second adulthood.”

We all have a second chance at becoming the person we always thought we were meant to be. This second chance is called midlife. However, midlife is new and often dangerous territory. A more appropriate moniker for Midlife Crisis could be perhaps a Midlife Quest in which there is a challenging adventure of seeking, exploration, and discovery. Or perhaps it is a Midlife Metamorphosis where there is profound change or reformation and transformation. Another could be Midlife Renaissance with a new birth. symbol_pr

Going back to Chinese for a moment, the ideogram for crisis is made up of two separate characters. One character represents “danger” and the other represents “opportunity.” Any crisis in our lives provides the chance for change and growth yet the opportunity also brings with it a certain degree of danger. You may not attain the goal of the Quest, the Metamorphosis may never be completed, and your Renaissance period may be a complete bust. The dangers of midlife are very real and a successful transition to the next life stage is not at all guaranteed. What am I going to do about my midlife crisis? I am going to acknowledge the reality of death and I am going to use that awareness to help me cut through the bull crap of life and make authentic decisions for the rest of my life…and hopefully the “rest” in that statement will be a very, very long time. Midlife should be a door to a life of greater purpose and authenticity. I believe that the only crisis we see at midlife is when the stirrings of the soul are ignored and we refuse to answer the call of change.