Sooner or later we all go through it. We begin to lose parents, our friends or spouses start to come down with “old people” illnesses, our children grow up and (if we’re lucky) begin to leave home. We look around at the landscape of our lives and realize it has become unrecognizable. What we once centered our lives around has changed, anchors that moored us have detached and, as the anxiety begins to mount, we find ourselves looking for something to hold on to. But what?
We understand, too well suddenly, that things change. We see our own mortality staring us right in the face; and we don’t like it. So we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” “What am I to do now?” “Where do I go from here?” “How do I fit in all of those things that I want to do in the time I’ve got left?”
Recognize any of these feelings? Well fear not. While it’s true that this can be a scary time, how we choose to answer the questions that confront us at mid-life can lead to introspection, great personal insight, and positive transformation, or, to us looking really, really silly. Here are some basic rules that will hopefully lead you to achieve the former and avoid the latter:
Mid-Life Crisis: The Rules
- Don’t panic. Just because the end seems suddenly near, don’t feel that you have to totally change your life in an instant. The truth is, you still have plenty of time left. If you want to wisely make the most of that time, well-thought-out decisions are the way to go. You can’t choose wisely when you’re panicking.
- Do take time to relax. Feelings of panic and time-pressure can easily push you into making faulty choices (think convertibles, fake tans, face-lifts and torrid affairs). This is the time to start meditating, learning yoga or taking an occasional walk in the woods to calm yourself and clear your mind.
- Don’t simply react to what you are feeling at the moment. While living in the present moment is normally a good thing to do at this point in your life, you don’t really want to ignore all of the wisdom you have gained from past, as well as current, life experiences. Really, do you want to act rashly and make the same mistakes all over again?
- Do take a look into the past. Take time to evaluate where you are and where you have been. Look back over your life. What were the highlights? What did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy? What lessons have you learned? Based on this you can decide what you want more of in your life and what you might want less of.
- Don’t try to be someone you’re not. You might feel like this is the time to let loose and really live, and it may be. But quitting your job and running away with some young lover may not be the best approach. If you value security and intellectual conversation, you’re bound to be miserable. Anytime that your goals and life choices don’t match up with your personal values, you’re going to either fail, or be unhappy, or both.
- Do focus on your values. We tend to think that this is a no-brainer, but it’s not. Sometimes, we lose sight of what we really see as important. Sometimes, we try to value what others say is right and good. It’s important to take time to think about what you as an individual hold dear. Do you really place a high value on family time and time spent doing volunteer work or do you do it because everyone else values it? Would you perhaps rather spend your time reading and painting and writing? Your choices need to be consistent with your values to make you happy.
- Don’t bury your fears of death or failure or loneliness. These are all valid emotions that need to be dealt with head on. Burying them leads to self-destructive behaviors, the last thing you want when you are trying to make the most of the time you have left.
- Do ask yourself what you fear most. What is it about being this age and going through these changes that scares you the most? Are you afraid that you will die alone? Do you fear that you will never write the book you always wanted to write? Are you worried that bridges burned will never be repaired and you’ll die with your (children, ex-wife, sister) hating you? Are you afraid that you’ll never experience anything exciting and die of boredom? The answers to these questions can help you to determine what really is most important to you. They can help to give the remainder of your life focus and you a sense of purpose.
Now, are you still worried? Try not to be. We all ask ourselves these questions and go through this angst at some point in our lives. It’s just a normal part of our growth and development. The key is to try to see this stage of life for what it actually is; a time of great opportunity. Recognizing that life is finite and facing you fear of mortality can motivate you to free yourself from the chains of the past and to propel yourself towards a more fulfilling future. Take this opportunity to begin your life’s journey anew.