In spite of spending many years as a therapist, often the first image that pops into my head when thinking of a mid-life crisis is a red Corvette. A desperate middle-age man trying to recapture the last sliver of youth. This seems a really unfair treatment of something (another part of me) believes is a precious gift.
In reality a mid-life crisis is a real opportunity for people to reflect on their life:
- “Where am I”; “Is this how I imagined my life”
- “I have everything I thought I wanted, but why do I feel empty?”
- “My spouse and I are great at raising kids, but the spark between us just aren’t there.”
- “Over and over again my relationships fail. Perhaps it is something to do with me?”
These questions deserve a lot of care. Our early adulthood is in a ways, much simpler. The goals seem far more obvious. For most people, this busy time is the time to establish a career and family. The tasks may be complicated, but they are known and understood. Did I get a good job? Check. Did I get a spouse? Check. Did I have kids? Check.
Only when people reach the second half of life do they really have time to reflect on whether they LIKE the life they created. It is also possible that they have had the time to try remedy things, but have failed with their initial attempts. They are forced to look at more fundamental issues. They are forced to look inward (as a therapist, this is where I get excited).
When I sit with clients who are struggling with these issues, I am usually interested to find out how things came to be how they are. What is at the root of this dissatisfaction? We are often set up to see the world and our role in the world early on in our childhood. “This is who I am meant to be.”; “This is what my parents want of me.”; “This is what society expects from me.”
All of us, to some extent, operate on the principle, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it.” For this reason it takes time for us to be able to take a cold-hard look at our lives and really reflect on some of the hidden costs of the ways we behave. “What is the price I am paying by not exercising?”; “What is the price I am paying by choosing my work over my family?”; “What is the price I am paying for not pursuing my dreams?”
Equipped with a deeper understanding of how we came to be the way we are, the next obvious step is to start making changes. This is never easy. Change takes time. Change required risk. Most importantly, change requires CHANGE. Whenever we change, we step into the unknown. We become someone we have never been. This is always scary, but necessary. The consequence of remaining the same is stagnation. Life is short and limited. It impels you to make use of it or face the consequences of regret.
What are your dreams? Is this the life you imagined living? The mid-life crisis is something special. It says that we are ready to ask the big questions. It implores us to think at a deeper level about who we are. “Who are you?”, “Is what you see as important, important?” It places us at a cross-road and says, “Which way now?”