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.