Monday, February 22, 2016

Mid-Life is Not a Crisis

"And then my doctor told me that this is just one of those things that happens to you when you are middle-aged," my friend said, staring wide-eyed at me and our other friend,  "Middle aged!"   

We all took a big drink of the wine we were holding.  I don't think the fact that we were out celebrating our 37th birthdays was lost on any of us.  And while I certainly don't think or feel that 37 is old, it's also fair to describe it as nearing middle-aged.  It's nearing half of the US life expectancy.  Mid-life.  

And boy, does our culture have some things to say about mid-life.  Mainly, that mid-life results in crisis.

"Did you hear that Jerry just sold all of his belongings to go travel the country in an RV for year?  He's clearly having a mid-life crisis." 

"Nancy quit her job and became a teacher.  A teacher!  She just walked away from a fifteen year career for a fifty percent pay cut to hang out with five-year olds.  Total mid-life crisis."

"All Greg does when he gets home from work is paint things.  These like, giant paintings of, I don't even know what they are.  He probably needs a therapist, not a paint brush."

"Mike joined an a cappella men's chorus.  Seriously.  He wears suspenders and goes to concerts on the weekend to sing for other people.  For free.  I mean, if he were really talented and getting paid, that would be totally different.  He's obviously having some sort of mid-life crisis."

You've probably heard the whispers.  Or maybe in your family or circle of friends, they aren't even whispers, but loud and shameless proclamations.  Either way, it seems that some of us stand ready to label the less than conventional choices of any human being between the ages of 30 and 60 a crisis. 

I think it's time for a little rebranding.

The problem with the word crisis is that we've long misused it in our culture.  Crisis means "a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point."  However, we tend to only focus on the negative aspects of a crisis, and use it more along the lines of this Merriam Webster definition: "a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention." 

When we gossip about someone's so-called mid-life crisis we are usually considering the new choice to be the situation that needs serious attention.  

The truth is, most of these choices do in fact stem from a situation that needs serious attention, namely the state of the person's life or heart or soul before they make the decision that is being labeled the crisis.

The situation that needs serious attention is that so many of us are buried under the daily requirements of adult life - the job, the bills, the parenting and the planning.  It happens slowly, like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, until one day we wake up and realize that we may have just reached the halfway point, and there are still some things we'd like to to do. To make.  To see. Or that we'd simply like to live the rest of our lives more awake.

There's this beautiful line in Joe Versus the Volcano (Wait... keep reading!  Don't leave just because I love Joe Versus the Volcano!) in which one of the characters says, "My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement."


Seriously, give Joe Versus the Volcano another chance.  It's Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and there's a volcano and a ukulele.  What's not to love?

I think that's true.  I think few of us manage to hold onto wonder throughout our lives.  I think we wake to glimpses of it, and some can grab onto those glimpses and stretch them into seasons.  Some even turn seasons into years.  But to live awake is a laudable goal, one we should applaud, not condemn.  When our friends and family members make choices that allow them to shed some parts of their former selves, or societal expectations, or even self-imposed ones, in order to live a life that is more fully aligned with their gifts, their joy, their wonder, that is something to celebrate.

Now, I realize that some mid-life crises are in fact true crises, particularly when they result in the emotional ruin of another human.  I'm not talking about celebrating someone's mid-life affair or mid-life gambling addiction.  But I am suggesting that we pipe down a bit about choices that look different than our own, choices that result in someone living a little differently than we live, or choosing to make less money than we make, or spending free time differently than we'd spend it.  Before labeling these things a crisis, maybe we should take a moment to reflect on what that person might be waking up to, and what we're sleeping through in our own lives.

To the couple who sold their belongings and spent the last year working from the road in an RV - you are not in crisis.  You are awakening to your sense of adventure. 

To the man who left his job to work for a start-up non-profit bringing water to those in need - you are not in crisis.  You are awakening to the need of the world, and your own capacity to meet it. 

To the mama who joined the roller derby team - you are not in crisis.  You are awakening to a need for novelty and friendship, empowerment and strength.  Also you're a badass.

I think we need new name here.  I'm not much of a marketing strategist, but crisis just doesn't do it for me.  Mid-life awakening?  Mid-life adventure?  Mid-life reboot?  Help me out here readers. What have you got?  

In the meantime, I'm eagerly awaiting my mid-life "crisis."

I welcome it with big, wide, open arms.  

As long as it doesn't involve running marathons.  Or jumping in volcanoes.  And I wouldn't complain if it involved living at the beach.







10 comments:

  1. Oh, I love this! My husband had his first mid-life reboot at 26, when he decided he didn't WANT to be an engineer and quit a great job to go to grad school. I had mine at 36, when I realized I didn't have to wait til I was retired to write children's books (whose crazy plan was that?) and quit being a PT to be an author. We're already planning the next reboot - what start-up hubby will start up when he hits 50 and quits consulting? What it really comes down to is that we seem to think the teen years are the only time people can discover new interests and possibilities. And then we as a society seem to think we should stick with those - for the next 65 years. What lunacy! Maybe that made sense when you lived to the ripe old age of 40 and had to work hard every day just to put food on the table. But if anyone suggests my kids should stick with the life choices they make as teens until they are 80...I'll laugh them out of the house. Although my oldest has blue hair now...and might still look good with it at 80.

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    1. Thanks Katey! My husband and I have both seen our fair share of career changes (him- photographer, police officer, now runs a sand-blasting and industrial painting family business and creates art on the side. me- non-profit/public school fundraising/program services/grant-writing, doula/lactation counselor, stay at home mama/home-educator, writer) so yes. I'm with you. But I will say that the one thing that has stuck with me since my childhood/teen years is storytelling, it has just manifested in different ways than I expected? And your daughter's hair looks awesome, and would absolutely compliment a full head of grey. I'm so glad you didn't wait until retirement to get started on your books,and can't wait until your debut book is on my shelf next year. :)

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  2. Even before I got to the end... the early "crisis" examples sounded to me like people who were finding themselves and deciding what was truly important instead of going on like drones. I totally agree with all of this. I loved turning 30 - I felt more sure of myself... now I'm looking forward to 37! (Well, I'd be lying if I didn't say it worries me a bit what with the aging going along with it, but I love knowing myself better.) :)

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    1. Yes! The 30s have been my favorite decade (so far) but I'm already looking forward to 40. ;)

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  3. Thanks for spelling badass properly! :) I hope to see you soon!

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    1. Ha! Where would I be without my 11 year old editor?

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  4. When I turned 50 this year there was no denying my mid-life status...but I think that as we get older, we just become more willing to put ourselves first - it's not a crisis, it's a calling!

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    1. Mid-life calling. That has a nice ring to it.

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  5. Haha, I am 52 in a couple of weeks, and I didn't feel I was anywhere near middle age until I hit 50, and then only because culture says it is so. In 2012 I sold up everything to try and move to the US for my writing and personal life and it may have looked like a crisis, but I love your take on this! Jennifer's rephrasing is great.

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    1. Wow! What a story Joanna! I love her rephrasing too. I hope that's what it has felt like to you.

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