3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Midlife Crisis

Go for it!Are you approaching midlife? Perhaps wondering if you’re already there? We all arrive at it in our own way – some with a whimper and some with a bang. Midlife’s a natural time (although it can feel quite unnatural) to pause and take inventory. It’s what you do with the results that makes all the difference.

Gone are the days of the garden variety midlife crisis. You know the ones – men frequenting the gym, getting highlights and fake tans, and buying overpriced cars in fire engine red. When I was growing up, it seemed the midlife crisis was the singular domain of the middle-aged man.

But times have changed. Equality between men and women may not be all the feminists had hoped, but one thing is clear – when it comes to a midlife crisis, we’re all entitled to one. Use these three tips to plan for its success.

1. Don’t Sink the Ship to Improve the View

When you start to hear the rumblings of your crisis approach, don’t let the discontent or questioning have you jettisoning all that’s good in your life. Midlife isn’t a ‘do over’. You don’t get to act like the last 40-ish years of choices didn’t happen. Not without consequences anyway, and the last thing you want is to become one more cautionary tale. That pile is deep and wide.

We often find in midlife that the things we charged so hard at in our 20s and 30s haven’t brought as much fulfillment as promised.  Or maybe they did for a while, but now that’s started to wane. Midlife is a chance to set new intentions, to match long-held desires with decades of experience. Changing course should be a gentle shift. Be kind to yourself, your past, and those around you.

A midlife crisis is like going on walkabout, a sort of vision quest, a rite of passage that leads back home. Make sure the door’s still open when you get there.

2. Channel Your Inner Child

So how do you know what might satisfy your itch? One way is a bit of advice I heard from one of my favorite podcasts hosted by Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft. In the eighth episode of their podcast “Happier”, Rubin and Craft suggest that asking yourself what you did for fun when you were 10 years old is a great way to find what might make you happy now. They don’t discuss it in the context of a midlife crisis, but why not? Your crisis is about change, changes to make you happier, more fulfilled, content.

Perhaps you loved to dance when you were 10, but didn’t keep up with it as the years passed. Or maybe you loved climbing trees, playing tennis, or listening to music. These are things that can be re-imagined as adult activities – especially climbing trees. Take it easy out there. No crisis is worth a broken hip.

Picking up a new hobby is a great way to channel youthful thoughts. When was the last time you took a lesson, tried a new sport, or went back to doing something you loved as a child? At some point, you probably moved from student to teacher, whether in your home, your profession, or both. It’s time to take a step back and play student again. Learning something new in middle age can be energizing and invigorating – challenging too, perhaps, but knowing you aren’t an old dog quite yet will do wonders for your view of the future.

3. Broadcast Your Intentions

Demonstrate respect for yourself and those around you by talking to them about what’s going on with you. I’m not advocating posting it as a Facebook status, by the way. Close friends, significant others, and family, though, definitely need a heads up. Talk to them about the angst you’re feeling and some of the changes you want to make. Engage them as a support system, give them a chance to ask questions, and maybe they’ll even have some ideas for you. Remember when you used to like to…? Or, You always said you wanted to… 

Be brave. Introduce changes slowly. Remember what it’s like to dream again. Did I mention be brave?

Are You a Dreamer or a Doer?

Surround Yourself...

Photo credit: @danalcraig

I’ve long been a fan of this Edmund Lee quote that talks about surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, people who still dream, people who get things done. If you’re lucky, these qualities are collectively embodied in the same people. In other words, if you have five friends who are dreamers who never make anything happen, and then another five friends who are all about getting things done, but haven’t acted on a dream since they were toddlers, then you aren’t quite as far ahead of the curve as you might like to think. But you have ten friends – so that’s cool.

There’s something about human nature that gravitates toward a dichotomous existence. People are this or that. They can’t be both. We yearn to categorize. We frown at fence sitters. Perhaps this is particularly American. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy for work, and nothing challenges one’s cultural norms more than traveling and working across cultural boundaries. In Italian meetings, I would often ask questions like, “So…do you guys do this or that?” I was often met with blank stares, questioning glances as if to say, “Why is she trying to pigeonhole me?” Apparently, in Italy, no one puts Baby in a corner.

It was in my nature to try to move the conversation along an invisible decision tree that ended with a definitive choice. They were about to show me another way.

So, there I was with my this-or-that question, and invariably the answer was “Dipende” – it depends. I followed up my first question with, “Well, sure there can be exceptions, but there’s probably a rule too, right?” More blank stares. Italians live in a world of rules and regulations, but they don’t necessarily want to talk about them. And they certainly don’t want to commit to them. They’re eager to leave room for “dipende”.

When it comes to identifying the dreamers and the doers in your life, people who answer “dipende” are precisely what you’re looking for! They have the ability to see both sides of a coin. They aren’t ruled by a single school of thought. They understand the value of expansive thinking, but balance it with the need to get things done. Find them. Embrace them. Incorporate a bit of that Italian mindset in to your daily routine.

Drinking a bit more wine probably won’t hurt either.

Death to the Single Supplement

SPOILER ALERT: I’m single. I’ve been single for quite some time – happily so, I might add. But there are occasions when being single is a real drag. Case in point is the single supplement, an innocuous term for a rather painful levy for those traveling solo. This has never made sense to me since standard rates for most hotel rooms is for up to two people. Oddly, however, if you join a tour group or attend a conference, and accommodation is at that same hotel, you’ll find a hidden little checkbox somewhere that notifies you’ll need to pay extra if you want a single room.

If the single supplement is minimal, I’m inclined to pay it without much consideration. After all, the last thing I want is to spend a lot of money on a holiday I’m excited about only to have it (potentially) ruined because I get paired with someone who’s incompatible. Sometimes, however, the supplement is egregious. I recently signed up for a four-day workshop that runs around $1650. The single supplement was – wait for it – an additional $900!! Raise your hand if you think that might be a bit out of bounds? Go ahead. Let me get a good head count. Aah, yes, you see the absurdity too. So, an event that already costs a little over $400 per day, becomes over $600 per day just because I want to fly solo.

Somehow I’ve morphed into a person and a half. That’s a little hard to make sense of. I’m not going to eat for one and a half people, although it must be said that I’ve been known to do this on occasion…I’m not going to take up more space in the workshop, nor am I guaranteed of walking away with one and a half person’s worth of knowledge. It seems it has to come down to the accommodations, in which case I can only surmise that a butler is included or that singles are paying for all those extra high-end toiletries. Payback for all those times I’ve pilfered the shampoo and soaps.

You can see this same kind of foolishness with certain memberships. Gyms are famous for it. Join a gym by yourself, and perhaps it costs $50/month. But find a partner and maybe you’ll pay $75 or $80. Add on some kids for even less. The next thing you know, a family of five is paying the equivalent of $25 or $30 per person.

Many, many years ago, a male friend and I pretended to be part of a loving couple just to get a reasonable rate at our local gym. There was no requirement for couples to be married, but the illusion of togetherness was imperative. We were being penalized for being uncoupled, so we decided to game the system. Things worked well for about three years, and then, even that relationship, died on the vine when my friend moved to another town and joined a new gym with a new fake partner.

The single supplement isn’t going to stop me from traveling solo or from joining the gym, but have a heart, people. Perhaps your time would be better spent finding me a suitable mate instead of creating new ways to gouge both my wallet and my heart.

Don’t even get me started on taxes…


When 2+2 Doesn’t Equal 4

Do you remember when you first became interested in math? Or maybe your memory is when you became afraid of math, decided it was too hard, or perhaps it  just didn’t have much to do with your life?

When I was 8 my father decided he needed to teach my sister and me about the principles of saving. He gave us each some seed money and created a make-shift ledger on a simple sheet of yellow legal-size paper. This was my first introduction to compound interest and eventually I even learned how to calculate it myself so I could double check my dad’s math – my first clue, perhaps, that the banking industry required a little oversight.

In fifth grade, I parlayed these new-found math skills into a moderately successful loan program in the lunch room. Unfortunately, my mother insisted on making our school lunches, so I didn’t have as much capital to play with as I might have liked; but she often doled out the 15 cents needed to buy an ice cream sandwich – a treat that I was willing to forego for a student in need.

I tallied each student’s loans in a small notebook that I carried around like a roving reporter. Really, it was the deal of the century since those who quickly paid me back incurred no fees. I was, after all, merely performing a public service. But be late on a payment and you wouldn’t like the results…(yes, I’m kidding!)

Roll forward to my junior year of high school when I got my first computer as a gift – the Commodore 64. I was mesmerized. Its mere presence seemed to seal my future of getting a math degree and pursuing a career in technology.

I love math as though it’s a member of my own family. I love it for its precision and rigor. I love the history of math, the philosophy behind it (was it created or discovered?)– oh, how I could go on…

What doesn’t add up for me though is why we lose so many students to the prison of math hell before they’ve even made it to high school. And really, this isn’t just about math. It’s about all the so-called STEM topics – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

According to the National Science Foundation, only 17% of US college students earn a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math. This low figure is made even more curious since the recent skills gap ratio for jobs in computer science and math was 3 to 1. Three jobs for every one qualified candidate. That’s nothing short of an oasis in a desert in today’s job market, and yet it doesn’t seem to be influencing choices of what to study.

If we look at the data across gender lines, the results are even gloomier. Women who do get a degree in a STEM topic are twice as likely to leave a job in their field than men with similar degrees.

But, really, the problem starts much earlier. The numbers show that girls drop out of the STEM pool at every step along the way of their education.

In elementary school, a positive attitude about math and science is equally shared between girls and boys. One report showed that among 4th graders, 66% of girls and 68% of boys had favorable attitudes toward math and science, but by 8th grade a dramatic shift occurs. In just 4 short years, the numbers show boys being twice as likely as girls to still have positive attitudes.

Girls at Chalkboard

Current research suggests that stereotypes are strong contributors to the gender discrepancy. When asked to draw pictures of a scientist, both elementary school boys and girls drew pictures of white men in lab coats. When women were drawn they appeared stern and unhappy. As the stereotypes persist, girls’ enthusiasm wanes.

When I hear about programs created to increase the involvement of girls in STEM, I am at first excited and then often a bit let down. Such programs tend to honor the extraordinary achievement – the high school senior who created a robot capable of scaling small buildings, the future Rhodes Scholar who developed an algorithm to analyze the behavior of the Bonobo monkey.

Yes, those are all fantastic, and programs that promote the extraordinary are necessary and inspiring. But ultimately they miss the point – we are raising entire generations where upwards of 50% are afraid of math, are convinced they can’t calculate a tip for a dinner bill, can’t understand the effects of changing interest rates or assess which insurance plan is the best deal.

If the pervasiveness of stereotypes is even partly to blame, then this seems like a problem we can all participate in solving. When you speak with your children or other young people about math (and I hope you do), try not to promote the stereotypes or validate the fear. Try to relate math to everyday life, even go so far as describing all the times that your day intersects with math. Trust me, it probably happens more than you think.

If you need to double a recipe, you’re using math. If you need to decide how many 12×12 tiles to purchase to cover your bathroom floor, you’re using math.

Math is a language, and like any second language, it requires practice and some may master it and some may not; but there’s no reason why we can’t all understand and feel confident with the basics.

It would thrill me to no end to find more young girls (boys too, for that matter!)loving math, but first I’ll settle for the absence of fear.

Math needs a PR campaign and the best campaigns start at home.