The mid-life crisis stereotype is familiar to just about everyone-- and how could it not be? Just about every sit-com since the 1970's has felt compelled to make an episode in which a middle-aged character gets to experience a full 30 minute of psychological distress in which women blubber and men act like buffoons.
The solutions are usually formula, too. Sit-com women take on new career goals and give up the hooch-mamma clothes they bought on impulse. Men give up flirting with college-age girls and get rid of the sports car bought on impulse.
Reality just doesn’t usually pan out that way—at least it doesn’t have to turn out like that. Our lives are full of transitions. Mid-life is not the first transition we’ll ever experience, nor is it the last. And it certainly doesn’t have to amount to a crisis.
Mid-life no longer has to be a crisis when you realize you can approach it as a rebirth.
The Negative Connotations
Look back on the other transitions in your life, like puberty or going off to college, or graduating college; getting married or having kids. You realize you're older, and that you've passed through a phase. Part of you is a little saddened, knowing doors have closed. The other part of you is a little excited, knowing new doors have opened.
This is not so different in mid-life. Usually the mid-life 'crisis' is sparked by big changes. Your children leave the nest, or your parents die. You'd been married for a decade or two, into middle age, and the marriage begins experiencing problems or falling apart. You come to a cold, hard realization you're no longer as young as you used to be; you've turned into your mother or father.
Unlike when you were entering puberty, or going off to college, or going to start your life right after college, mid-life became associated with a ‘crisis’ because there was a time when it meant it was all downhill from there. Once your kids moved out or your marriage fell apart, all you had left to look forward to were grandkid visits, bingo tournaments and a nursing home.
The Changing Times
This mid-life transition was accepted without struggle for many generations, until about the mid-20th century. Life expectancy had risen significantly, and people were remaining healthier than and as mentally alert as they could be, thanks to medical advancements. Prosperity of our nation had given them a stable home, bank accounts and many comforts.
People reaching their 40s and even 50s realize they were still feeling fit and had a whole lot of living left to do and the means with which to do it. Yet culturally, they had hit a point that traditionally meant it was all downhill from there. No wonder they felt a crisis! They weren’t ready to retreat to the rocker just yet.
Now, 40 or even 50 hardly mean life is drawing to a close. People see the glass more half-full than they do half-empty now.
Handling Your Own Mid-Life Transition
Mid-life no longer has to be a crisis when you realize you can approach it as a rebirth. It’s a great time for you to reflect on your past, on the choices you’ve made, on your failures and your accomplishments. Rather than dwell on them, though, it’s also important to look to the future.
Consider it a second chance. Plan a career switch. Go back to school if you like—there’s plenty of time for it. It may be a good time to travel or indulge more in your passions. It’s time to focus more on yourself, and your relationship if you’re in a happy, stable one.
Don’t think about the lifetime behind you; realize you still have a lifetime left ahead of you.