Why is it considered a crisis?
What is your immediate interpretation of this term?
Why is it typically applied to men aged somewhere between 35 and 50 who are questioning and challenging their life and achievements so far? Wondering ‘is it enough?’ Perhaps feeling an element of guilt, that they haven’t done enough to fulfil themselves or that they have so much compared to others who are suffering in this world.
What if this period of questioning wasn’t met with such a negative label?
What do people having a ‘mid-life crisis’ do?
Some may quit their job, take a sabbatical, go travelling, buy fast cars, develop a penchant for Lycra and expensive bicycles, have an affair, date someone young and carefree, take up painting, start writing a book, write pop songs, get tattoos, check into a yoga or silent retreat, go on a motorbike tour, get paralytic drunk on multiple nights out with their mates or sit home all day and ponder the meaning of life?
I seem to be finding myself in conversations where we are all in agreement – there is something more, more than the perpetual social hunger for work, status and ultimately materialistic things.
A friend recently left for a six month sabbatical and openly joked and then reassured us well-wishers that it was obviously a mid-life crisis and that he’d be back soon.
I took this opportunity to say I hoped not too soon. That in my mind a mid-life crisis is a brave and smart opportunity. It’s a decision we take to permit us the time to do things we’ve previously kept putting off either due to time restrictions or unconscious social and peer pressure to follow a certain path. Or perhaps we’ve not had the time to explore interests you didn’t even know you had or have developed as you have grown as a person. To take time to be with yourself and find out what you are liking and what you are not liking in your life so much.
Rather than regretting your past it may be that you end up very happy with everything you’ve ever achieved and are happy not to change course or you may decide on a complete change of direction or find a happy medium with a distinct balance of all the things that make you happy.
How can having a reality check on what ultimately makes you happy be considered a crisis? Why is it that questioning how you got to where you are and seeing what you might like to do to make you happy, is considered as a negative. If you were taking a road trip you’d consult the maps somewhere along the way to check you’re still heading in the direction you wanted to go, you may find you have totally gone off course, or you may decide your interests and priorities have changed and need to seek a new route to a new destination.
It possibly becomes a problem if other people you’re sharing that journey with don’t really want to experience the new route and then I suppose it might offer the opportunity for a ‘crisis’.
I have witnessed and been part of the process and there are many different scenarios that bring us to this ‘crisis’ and there appears to be different stages within it, some parts more positive than others. I’m almost out the other side now, there is little regret in my life as I’ve recognised that every decision and path I took before now has helped shaped me to the person I have become and will now help me make decisions for the future. But not everyone takes the time to get to know themselves, to be truly honest with themselves and others. We go through stages in life – every experience we have each day is a life lesson, some much greater than others. I’ve found I’ve started to ask myself what my learnings are from each day and I’m really getting to know who I am and who others are too.
My one true regret in life is that I hadn’t seen or understood so many of these lessons in the past, they seem to have been saved up over the years and things I learnt way back, are now starting to spring to the forefront of my mind with the meaning of the lesson! It’s quite an emotional journey. Maybe being faced with the emotion is part of the crisis?
Time to party
I like to think of this more along the lines of self-destruct mode. We generally perceive time at a party with friends as a good thing and it is – in the right context, and doses. But I have found, as with everything in life, it’s a case of having some balance. When something happens to throw our stability into the air, I’m thinking a long term relationship break up, a marriage breakup, loss of a home or the loss of a long term job, it’s natural that we try to look for the positives in life and turn to have a good time with friends.
But is drinking and having late nights several nights a week really helping matters? Did we party like this prior to our ‘constant’ being removed? Were we already not permitting ourselves to look a challenge head on or are we now just taking advantage of our new found ‘freedom’? We no longer have the ‘ties’ and commitments to a significant other or to the workplace, so it’s time to let go and have fun – implying that we just want to put our past behind us, but feeling guilty because we have relationships and children that mean so much to us and we wouldn’t be who we are and they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the past.
It’s fun, it’s good to let our hair down but we find that over not too much time it’s not just the inability to recall the previous night or the ever lengthening hangovers that are getting us down. But our desire to ‘feel good’ through partying deprives us of nutrition and sleep, both of which we need to establish and retain a level of health and perspective on our new found situation and to help us make decisions and steps towards our future. For we do have a situation, that we now need to find our footing in.
This self-destruct mode can only last so long before either our bodies start to give us signs that it doesn’t like its new treatment and where friends no longer find it a novelty – their lives may still be ‘stable and normal’ and soon they will need and want to return to that, because stable and normal is comforting, arguments with a partner and failings in the workplace, as result of constant partying, is not.
So party, but ask yourself is it to enjoy yourself and the company you are in or is it an act of rebellion, not facing the situation you need to address and ultimately is it self-destruction by not permitting yourself to be who and what you truly want to be, are your actions now ultimately holding you back?
I’ve been there, I look back at the photos and I’m embarrassed by what I looked like and what I was doing with my already delicate body. I partied, I had no conscious regard for my body or my future. I just wanted to party, ignore that any problems needed to be addressed, put them off for a few more days, weekends, months until they are really getting me down. Yes I know now I was in self-destruct mode.
My personal favourite. However is it to travel or run away?
I love to travel, yet I recognise I have different drivers towards my travels. First and foremost is that I love to submerge myself in a new country and culture, to learn so many new things, to envelope myself in the shiny, smiling faces of the people around me. I love the warmth of the sun on my skin and simplicity of life in countries that are not as technology advanced or materialistically driven as my own. I like to jet off when the feeling to explore takes me and planning my travels is not a forte, I much prefer to book last minute and see what happens. Travel when my life is pretty stable is good, it grows my levels of happiness, it grows my levels of understanding of life, compassion and empathy, it grows me, it has become a part of who I am.
However for some and I also recognise it in myself, it is a means of escape, that need to run away from things out of your control. If the situation matters, then it needs to be addressed, no amount of running away is going to resolve that situation unless you stay and meet it head on.
Perhaps a period of time away in which you are clearing your head is necessary to help you return and focus on that situation. But to just depart, with the naive hope that a problem will just vanish into thin air. I’m afraid to say, that doesn’t seem to happen often. It weighs on your mind, it prevents you from truly being ‘free’, free to enjoy your travels, free to enjoy your experiences and free to grow and enjoy your life.
However if you don’t know what is important to you, and I don’t mean what is generally implied as important to you, job, money, belongings etc. I mean what really makes you tick, something that makes you feel whole as a stand alone individual. If you need the headspace to find out what it is that does matter, then I have found that travel most certainly helps! Travel with no ties, no deadlines, no commitments, no other. Spend that time with the one person you need to know, understand and love the most: You.
You may not even enjoy it! Life has a fabulous way of helping us understand ourselves by us consciously recognising what does or does not float our boats. Time alone and in situations that we wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to, helps us define ourselves, recognise our limits and ultimately understand ourselves and what makes us happy.
So travel, but know why you’re travelling, is it to enjoy the world and grow, is it to escape, gain a level of perspective so you can return and meet that challenge head on or is it to run away from the one thing you’d like or need to address the most? Just like with the partying are your choices not permitting yourself to be who and what you truly want to be, are your decisions and actions now ultimately holding you back from what you want and keeping you on the move?
Becoming a hermit
Too ashamed by your own actions, or lack of actions, perhaps your demise in appearance or personality, or a self-perceived failing in something. Maybe you don’t know what it is in life you desire, you’ve done the self-destruct and travel things and still haven’t acknowledged and tackled head on what it is that you need to address. You may just have a desire to shrink away from the eyes of society. To be allowed to wallow in your self-pity in peace and quiet. To believe that if you leave society, it will leave you alone to just exist. To just be, quietly be and no one notice your presence or lack of presence.
We argue with those around us to just leave us alone, we are doing them no physical harm. We retreat further, the retraction from our former self is hurting them and ourself. You believe that by not making any big life decisions then you can’t make the wrong one. That way you can just bumble along and argue back that you’ve ‘done nothing’ and can’t see why people are angry at you or feel sorry for you. You don’t want their sympathy or empathy, you don’t want them to care, because you no longer care yourself so you don’t want the guilt of someone caring when you can’t see why they would. There is no point in having dreams or focuses anymore because they never happen. Just leave you alone.
Direction and knowing
For many of us, knowing what we want in life is difficult to determine, difficult to see as a possibility of ever occurring. That fear of failing. To some of us this direction was clear when we were younger and we went off track – we followed the stronger path of society rather than our own. To some the direction was there, but we haven’t been making decisions to support the direction in which we want to go. Sometimes we have other things that we need to deal with in order to enable us to achieve what we long to achieve.
Sometimes, it is necessary to understand what we don’t want in life to help determine what we do want. Just like going to work – there are days when you need to have an admin day, or address the issue that everyone has been avoiding, it’s the same with life, you won’t achieve your goal if you don’t set aside time to do the niggly admin or tackle the issue. Once addressed, we need to make decisions to support the delivery of the goal – rather than to create new issues preventing the goal from being met.
Recognising that you need to stay home, not travel and not party, but to meet those challenges that are bothering you, head on. To permit the time and energy they require to be conquered so you can continue the rest of your life without the heavy cloak continuously looming over your shoulders. To stay home, not permit distractions into your life because you are focused, you know what you want to achieve and you make decisions to support getting there. This is part of getting through the other side of the ‘crisis’.
We need to rest and nurture our bodies so they are better equipped to deal with the emotions and turmoil that our new situation is presenting. We need a stable environment without daily distractions. You can just be, just be you, plodding or charging through what it is you need to address. Permitting yourself to recognise who you are and what you want from and in your life and making space and time for that to happen. Knowing that every decision you ever make can support the direction in which you would like to go. Those decisions are not always easy to make, in the short term they may upset people, but if they too can see what you are trying to achieve, they will understand, so acknowledge, seeing through a decision can tough, but once made you will start to reap the benefits.
Remember we aren’t all the same, we all have different talents and interests so immerse yourself in what makes you happy: people, environments, situations. Once of my favourite quotes is Einstein’s ‘Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.’ Make decisions that support your genius quality, that help make you happy.
As long as those decisions are towards achieving even the smallest steps, then it may become more clear as to what your lover term desire is, or always has been. Accept it, accept you and continue to make decisions to support that journey. A sense of direction and a sense of achieving what you want, supporting who you are and where you’ve come from and where you are going.
You can be sure that others who truly care for you would like to share the journey and destination with you, they don’t want to see their fish struggle in trying to climb the tree. For they like the you that you have grown and continue to grow to be, while you love who you are and what you have in your life, where is the crisis in that?