Big birthdays are notorious triggers to the infamous ‘mid life crisis’. And I had one of the biggest this month turning 50. I’ve actually kind of looked forward to turning fifty because. It sort of lowered the bar…I was in okay shape for someone in their 40s, but fantastic shape for 50s. I don’t feel any crisis looming, in fact I don’t even feel old though it is hard to think of a context in which I could be called ‘young’. In your forties, ‘executives’ are still referred to as ‘young executives’.
MSNBC recently featured a piece by Robin Nixon on mid-life crises which rather misses the true psycho-emotional dynamics. They are not so much about the ‘mid-life’ than they are about the ‘crisis’. That ‘crisis’ is a death of dreams. Nixon comes closest to capturing the true dynamic when looking at the ‘mortality’ dimension…
“Instead, Lachman said, crises are usually spurred by some event that can happen at most any age, such as a career setback, the death of a friend or relative, or an illness. Epidemiologists have found no spike in negative events — such as career disillusionment — in middle age, Freund explained.”
Absolutely true. A dream can end with a financial hit to a nest egg, an unsuccessful application, or a debilitating injury all of which can happen at any time in life. I do think that these events cluster more in ‘mid-age’ as a sense of ‘time is running out’ becomes harder to ignore. When these crises happen in the twenties and thirties, one can rationalise that there is plenty of time left on the clock. But when it happens later, especially when one now has 20+ years of data, experience and trendline to reflect back on, it becomes harder to believe in the trajectory. It’s okay to fall behind in a game in the first quarter, but when you deficit has done nothing but grow and you are deeper into the second half, one’s basis for optimism is seriously challenged.
“One of the popular misconceptions is that midlife crises are spurred by a sudden realization that the values and goals of youth have been abandoned for more comfortable, and achievable, aspirations; that the person has ‘sold out.’ “
I don’t believe that this is a misconception. When people’s dreams die, they feel let down by the ‘values’ and ‘goals’ that they clung to. Values that entailed sacrifices and disciplines. When the goals are gone, they can ask ‘what’s the point of the values’ such working extra hard for that promotion, and saving for that house. The motivation of the dream abandoned now unleashes greater responsibility abandonment for ‘sex with his secretary, [quitting] his job and buys a red convertible.’