NEW JOB, NEW WIFE, NEW LIFE….MIDLIFE CRISIS?
“…You’ll just wake up one day and think how the F*** did I end up here and looking like this?! And then you’ll try to work out who or what exactly put you in a coma 20 years ago and left you to wake up somewhere in your forties feeling that you’d accomplished sod all, and done absolutely nothing with your life..”
Falling down… that’s what Hollywood dubbed the movie starring Michael Douglas featuring the story of a man who one day simply loses it. In the film Michael reacts somewhat impulsively to the things that are wrong in his life, acting out scenarios that most of us have probably thought about but seldom realised. Such as abandoning his car and walking off when the traffic jam on a hot day goes on for way too long, exacting revenge on staff at a fast food outlet when they refuse to serve him breakfast minutes after they’ve switched over to the lunch menu. He also takes issue with the fact that the marketing poster depicting the burger he purchased does not in any way resemble reality. From there, the character goes on to ‘right wrongs’ with a bunch of racists as well as with his ex-wife.
In my opinion, the film literally ‘lost the plot’ half way through yet it was met with relative success, and I think that success was due to the fact that many were able to relate to the character because they too, at one stage or another in their lives, had fantasized about acting out the events portrayed in the film.
When I say one stage or another, I’m actually talking about the thirty something, slash fifty something age, considered to be the ‘midlife’. It’s the time when we, as human beings, find ourselves, often inadvertently, considering our own mortality; the fact that we’re half way through our existence on this earth. For many, this realisation can prove a somewhat distressing time with symptoms of depressions, anxiety, sense of failure, sense of loss, depression and anxiety, to name just a few!
Sound like somebody you know?
If it’s you, don’t worry about it. Most of us are said to experience this ‘phase’ at one stage or another in our life so you’re not alone.
It’s said that men in mid-life become members of a buffer generation, unsure whether to emulate their elder, more traditional and perhaps somewhat austere fathers or become more like their younger, progressive, individualistic sons. This so call uncertainty is compounded by the ever changing nature of the labour market that, for the past 60 years, has seen a decline of traditional male industries, and many working class men have internalised this not only as the loss of their jobs but also of their pride and identity.
So, picture this if you will, what’s your definition of someone going through a midlife crisis? Go on, take a few seconds…. Now read on…
The stereotype for a heterosexual man going through a midlife crisis is a bloke in his fifties desperately trying to recapture his youth. Generally, it’s a character we pity because he tends to be blind to the fact that he may have taken on board a few pounds that are showing and thus perhaps not as sprightly as he used to be nor does he look as cool in the clothes that perhaps suited him better several years ago, he also tries to lead a lifestyle that is perhaps more compatible and socially acceptable to a twenty year old yet this still doesn’t stop him making an ass of himself as he desperately tries to recapture his youth by seeking to realise adolescent fantasies of taking up adventurous activities and possessing the ‘dream’ sports car. This is often accompanied by a re-evaluation of his libido as well as his stamina so he seeks to partner with or the attention of a member of the opposite sex, many years his junior, this is both to score a psychological boost as well as the opportunity to project his ongoing virility onto his peers with the metaphorical tag of “I still have it”. This self-delusion feeds the fantasy that by being able to ‘pull’ and (in theory) ‘keep up’ with his younger model that his physical appearance is not an accurate representation of his actual maturity when it clearly is!
Is that how you envisaged him?
Of course it was… it is, in various forms, the stereotype.
Yet there’s more to this character who is actually going through another stage of his evolution. Other life blocks on the slab for re-evaluation is career (humiliation, angst as comparisons are made against more ‘successful’ colleagues or peers), children (or lack thereof) and their maturity which in turn reflects his age, spousal relationship (was it the right choice?), life choices made and many many regrets.
So, as you can see, it’s a pretty busy time for our man with key ‘life anchors’ receiving the once over. And it is indeed a dangerously ‘hormonal’ time for most men who will seldom discuss any of these feelings with anybody, rarely their life partners and certainly not their ‘mates’ (or friends, it depends on your definition), this in turn makes for a very lonely and thoroughly depressing time, and the vicious cycle continues as the search for ‘fulfilment’ goes on. In fact, it’s believed that this transition can last for 3 – 10 years in men and 2-5 years in women (yep, the fairer sex are clearly much more resilient against this physiological onslaught).
And whilst I’m on the subject, what about women?
Well, as depicted above, generally, when we picture midlife crisis it’s normally of a mature man but the reality is more and more women are suffering the same fate as that of their male counterparts and, worse still, this so called ‘afternoon of life’ is no longer exclusively reserved for those fortysomething year olds but cases have been reported as early as 30 and 35. This traumatic time is marked by the onset of angst, boredom, self-doubt, a loss of identity (the struggle to identify with physical evidence of maturity) as well as a terrifying sense that ‘time is running out’. For women, it’s the reawakening of the proverbial biological clock but often for different reasons. This state was once intrinsically linked to ‘empty nest’ and the menopause but not anymore, and it’s terrifying.
It’s believed that this new physiological phenomenon is yet another symptom of women’s quest for equality. In 2012, there’s a lot of pressure on women to seek success not only in the office but at home, in the bedroom, in front of the school ground and within their social circles. This is a time when women’s identities have polarised with that of their children whilst childless women are waking up to the possibility that they may never experience a ‘family life’ of their own, a distressing concept when considering women’s biological urge to give life. Add to this a smorgasbord of images of scantily clad twenty something years olds with their metaphorical world in their hands, and it’s suddenly really easy to feel passed your prime and deeply unfulfilled.
Cue ‘Eat, Pray Love’; a biographical novel of how an unsatisfied woman quits her marriage and her job then embarks on a world adventure or if you’re looking for a much less glossier rendition, you could opt for Shirley Valentine who quits her home for a Greek adventure only to end up right back where she started.
The reality is that whether you’re a man or a woman, they’ll come a time in your life when the fragility of, well life, will be brought to you with all of the delicacy of a charging rhinoceros. You’ll just wake up one day and think how the F*** did I end up here and looking like this?! And then you’ll try to work out who or what exactly put you in a coma 20 years ago and left you to wake up somewhere in your forties feeling that you’d accomplished sod all, and done absolutely nothing with your life whilst meanwhile discovering that those things you had an endless tolerance for have now turned out to be the things that grate you the most whilst friends for whom you seem to have all the time in the world, despite a busy life, are much busier living their seemingly super fulfilled lives with no time for you and that the one thing you thought was on your side, your body, has equally turned traitor as well as its back on you and has embarked on its own journey south, leaving you feeling psychologically saggy and all to keenly aware that feeling sexy is no longer a state of mind but a daily battle; you and your makeup versus the mirror and the cold cold light of day!
The reality is that you didn’t sleep walk your way here. You simply allowed the years to slide by thinking you’d never get here. Forty seems so far away when you’re twenty as does sixty when you’re forty but you’ll get there nonetheless.
Wait, haven’t you heard that saying; life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey?
We all suffer a crisis of confidence from time to time and those who don’t are either lying or in denial.
I too am wresting with my own midlife conundrum. I’m forty (uh hum) something, standing at the crossroads of life and what the hell have I achieved?
At this stage I’d have to cue my sister who would say…. “What do you mean you haven’t achieved anything? You were a DJ of a successful radio show at just 17 years of age which led you to cut your own demos and eventually to record your own record. You’ve performed in front of thousands of people and even won a TV talent show, you know a second language, you’ve written and produced several plays and these have been staged around the country, you’ve written 3 novels one of which was published, the others you haven’t even finished yet, you’ve travelled extensively you’ve led a successful professional career in senior management and eventually acquired your own successful company, you live in a relatively large home that you adore which enables you to host some amazing parties, thousands of people you’ve never met and whom owe you no loyalty read your blog on a weekly basis, you have family and friends that love you despite the fact that you’re an exacting know it all, arrogant…. “
…And so on
And what’s my answer to that?
As the song goes, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
But what am I looking for? When is enough ever really enough for anybody? Should I be happy that I have been privileged to lead a seemingly eventful and fulfilling existence? I guess the answer would be yes but I had to work for it. And I think herein lies the answer. I’m a naturally ‘driven’ person who has to ‘achieve’ to feel satisfied and if I’m not ‘achieving’, if I’m not dominating a new challenge on a regular basis then I start to get, well unhappy. But is this a midlife crisis or merely the fact that I am driven to overachieve and am therefore dissatisfied? I’m guessing it’s the latter, only because it would mean that I’ve been in perpetual ‘midlife’ and we all know that, by its very definition, it is not possible. Although this doesn’t mean that I too am not going through my own re-evaluations because I believe I am. Although they say recognising the symptoms is the first step to ‘getting better’.
But am I correctly diagnosing the symptoms?
Well, that’s something else that you should keep in mind. Not everything is what it seems. Research shows that people often mistake every day stressors as a midlife crisis. That is the converging of a series of everyday stresses, such as the death of a loved one, career failure, relationship troubles and so on. These amalgamated stresses eventually manifest themselves in the form of mood swings, angry outbursts, emotional and mental breakdowns and, in some acute cases, the not so uncommon practice of ‘going postal’ and even suicide. This turmoil can often take place at midlife but it isn’t necessarily a midlife crisis.
There’s also a very interesting aspect to the whole midlife conundrum and which is that research has found that the whole midlife event could be cultural. Studies have found that the midlife crisis is not as prevalent in Japan and India. It’s believed that the ‘culture of youth’ in western countries could well be the germs of later angst.
So, what’s the solution to all of this? Here are a few recommendations.
Well, by the very fact that we’re all human means that there isn’t a magic wand that anybody can wave to spare you the trauma of your wiser years but one key recommended remedy is ‘don’t suffer in silence’. And if there was ever a case for this as a remedy, just read above where I write about how long the transition takes for a male versus that of a female, this alone points to the fact that women tend to overcome the trauma sooner because they are not afraid to ‘share’ their feelings with friends and even family whilst hardnosed men tend to find that practice much more difficult than say, going out and buying an expensive car or proving their manhood by seeking out the attention of younger sexual partners.
And here’s my favourite; adopt a good diet. Has that annoyed anybody yet? It seems that all evils lead to a good diet. I’m fat, well eat well. I’m depressed, you aren’t eating healthily. I don’t like Mondays, well that’s because you didn’t have your greens on Saturday! Sounds like a crock of crap but there is some truth to this. The act of simply changing your diet for the better will not only improve your inner sense of wellbeing but also will make you feel like you are in control of something again.
Exercise (oh no, another one of those) but again, there’s truth in this assertion also. Each and every one of us accumulates stress and or tension during everyday life and it’s important that we discharge this tension. Exercise is a very good way of dealing with this. Not only is it alleged to release ‘feel happy’ endorphins but we’re, again, taking action. We’re taking control of our bodies by making it fitter whilst taking advantage of those lovely dovey endorphins.
Change your life. Again, it’s another control thing. Take up an activity that you wouldn’t normally contemplate. Change your routine. Part of the trauma of a midlife crisis is the sense that you haven’t progressed in life that you are stagnating.
And if all this activity stuff has left you huffing and puffing then then there’s a far easier option that most Americans would highly recommend; seek a therapist. You’ll be amazed at how cathartic it is to splurge all of your woes and fears on somebody you know is paid both to listen to you and not to share with your friends down the local.
Whatever approach you choose, just remember that there’s no better cure than ‘acceptance’. Accept what is happening to you as part of life. It doesn’t mean that your life has come to an end, on the contrary, it really is starting. I say that because now you have the forethought, wisdom (okay, a reality check) to know that life is short and that you should really make the most of it. Unlike when you were young and you thought the midlife would never come rapping at your door, now you know all too well that is does so now’s the time to really make the most of your existence on this planet. Like the Eat, Pray Love woman, make the most of your life now. Okay, so you may not necessarily want to quit your marriage and take a trip to a foreign land but there are ways of taking care of YOU.
Most importantly, DO NOT live your life for others. You are your own person; you don’t need a ‘hall pass’ from your partner to go out. Who the hell invented such a stupid practice anyway? I mean really? Who decreed that marriage was like a jail sentence (or a compulsory school class for that matter)? Should you really have to wait until your partner (generally female) is out with her friends before you can do something with yours?
You are both independent human beings. Live your independent life and then share it with the life you have together. Seriously, girls, if you are one of those ‘dominating’ people who does practice the ‘hall pass’ theory then, really, have a word with yourself. You may be together but you are individuals. Love really does start by setting someone free, not by strapping them to a leash. This is exactly what suffocates relationships and eventually leads to later life ‘exploration’. Trust me; I’ve seen it enough times.
LIVE YOUR LIFE and let him LIVE HIS. Be there for each other but don’t shackle each other. Make the most of the here and now so that you don’t wake up many years down the line and wonder what the hell you did with yourself. The opportunities that YOUR life has to offer are varied and multi coloured and should be experienced with as many people as possible and not just one.
A flower has many petals.
And life has many roads. Which path you choose is up to you.
At the recent rebrand of my company my speech talked about this very thing that in life we’re presented with many opportunities, many roads but only we can choose a new path (embrace change) or stay stagnant, stay still and I truly believe this.
Yet the true meaning of this was brought to me only recently.
For a good part of my life, I dreamed of a career that would enable me to live and work close to the ocean, and no, not as a fisherman but as a resident of a small village by the sea, I wanted to be someone who could rise by the sound of seagulls and sleep to the sound of the surf. When I quit writing full time, I also resigned myself to the fact that I would most likely be giving up any hope to live such an existence. It was only the other day, when I paused for my own midlife contemplation, that I realised that it wasn’t true. I realised that, I had actually worked as a director of a software house in the centre of the city of Cambridge for over a decade and that I then acquired that same company, restructured it, changed its business model and its practices not only to reflect that of the modern world but also to mirror our product portfolio.
What I didn’t realise is that by doing so, I’d also be setting the stage for the realisation of my dream once more. Prospettiva is a cloud enabled company and, as such, I can work pretty much anywhere, and that includes a little cottage or a modern apartment somewhere on the Cornish coast.
Good or bad, life has a way of speaking to us, the trick is being wise enough to listen.
Have a serene Sunday. 🙂