What if you woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and had no idea how you got to this place in your life? It may be that years, or even decades, had been lost to career indecision and missteps, or that overriding needs of family members took precedence. Maybe a lack of self-awareness and self-worth steered you completely off course. And what if you are already in your 40s, 50s, or (gasp) 60s and feel like you’re standing at the proverbial train station of life watching everyone else speeding off toward their perfectly-orchestrated futures? They have made good on their educations with successful careers, their children are happy and flying from the nest on schedule, and they’re enjoying all the fruits of their labors.
The thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, regret, and emptiness would be almost panic-inducing, right? At the very least, your head would be clouded with questions…
- “Have I wasted all of my potential?”
- “What happened to that bright, ambitious younger version of me?”
- “How could I have let myself down like this?”
- “Is it too late, and do I have to settle for discontent and mediocrity?”
What if your friends and peers are starting to coast toward retirement, or they are happily checking fabulous adventures off their bucket lists, and you’re just frantically trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? Is this what a midlife crisis looks like?
Psychologists have been studying the phenomenon we call “midlife crisis” for about 60 years. Renowned psychologist, Daniel Levinson, theorized that midlife is a time when people begin to question the meaning of their lives, and they become aware that they have a finite amount of time with which to create a valuable legacy. Famed psychologist and psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson, developed a life-stage theory which posited that a person who had failed to create feelings of usefulness and accomplishment in life would be left feeling depressed, guilty, and hopeless. So, does the work of these famed psychologists affirm our worst fears? That we’re standing at a precipice with nowhere to go but backwards or down?
It depends on how you view the events and decisions that led you to this crossroad. Do you see them as failures or see yourself as a victim of unfair circumstances? Are you going to allow them to keep you stuck, settling for discontent and regret for the rest of your years? Or are you willing to view them with objective eyes and a mindset of opportunity for growth? You’ve undoubtedly heard the old prescription many times…everything happens for a reason, turn lemons into lemonade, and other hyperbole. But what if you never learned how to sport those rose-colored glasses – you’re “wired” for negative thinking and perfectionism? At this point, you might just be desperate enough to try anything, right? But what? And how?
While it will be necessary to do the work of figuring out how you got to this point so that you can change your trajectory, it doesn’t have to be a miserable pursuit. In fact, here is where you can make things fun…
You may be thinking, “I’m not getting any younger, and I’m reading this because I want to avoid, or fix, a midlife crisis. I don’t have time for fun!” The truth is, you honestly don’t have time to skip this next step. There are many people much younger than you are who have the exact same feelings of fear, confusion, and even disappointment about their lives and careers. And sure, they have more years ahead to modify and fine-tune their goals. But unless they learn some fundamental truths, they could easily end up right where you are now. So, how to begin, you ask?
The way to climb out of the abyss is to return to your genuine self, and then you’ll be able to move toward your true passions and purpose once again. Remember, the reason you didn’t recognize the person who was looking at you in that mirror is because he or she got lost somewhere along your life’s path. By stripping off the layers of self-protection and removing the survival masks that you learned to put on during those months, years, or decades, you can reach down to your original and beautiful authenticity. This is where the metamorphosis begins. It’s not just new-age fluff. In order to be genuinely happy and content, you must excavate the things that make you feel alive.
There are many tools to use when searching for our true selves, such as revisiting the activities that we loved as children, journaling, finding support groups or groups of like-minded friends, working with coaches or mentors, creating vision boards, or volunteering, just to name a few. Take some time to reflect on who you were before the rest of the world told you who you “should be.” If possible, look at photos of yourself as a child and remember what brought you happiness then. Or think of the most incredible events from your life. What made them so special? Is there a takeaway or message in there for you?
The most important step is simply to begin. Just take a small step toward finding those things that can grow you into the very best version of who you are meant to be. And know that you’re not alone, you’re not too old or too far off track. It’s time to stop letting yourself down and to start devouring life! Like the saying goes, “Don’t be afraid to start over. It’s a chance to build something better next time.”