We have all heard about midlife crisis. You might have friends or loved ones who have displayed the symptoms of this – living a steady, even mundane life until, midway through, they suddenly do uncharacteristic things like buy a sports car, take up adventurous new hobbies, or even have an affair. But do we understand the true cause of midlife crisis? ‘Getting old and wanting to be young’ – you might say. And yes, it does seem to be a time when people realise they are ageing and seek to do things that make them feel younger and more ‘alive’. The term ‘midlife crisis was first coined in 1965 by Elliot Jaques and is thought to occur in individuals at around the age of 40 – 60 (midlife). However, individuals do also experience this at a much younger age. So, is this apparent desire to hold onto youth the real reason for ‘midlife crisis’?
Lack of Purpose
One of the major symptoms associated with a midlife crisis is a lack of purpose. Individuals begin to question what life is about. The monotony of waking up, going to work, coming home – this continuous Groundhog Day cycle – what’s the point of it all? Living with no definite purpose to their actions, their contribution to the world seems futile. They feel insignificant, in the grander scheme of things and this can be a depressing thought. Purposelessness drains your energy and lowers your mood. Without purpose, life doesn’t seem worth living. So, some people going through midlife crisis suffer from depression, and give up on life – while others seek ‘excitement’ or ‘adventure’ – the adrenalin rush that makes them feel something – alive.
Having no purpose makes you feel unfulfilled. If you have a purpose, you feel motivated to live it and achieve it – you have a sense of fulfilment in life. When people hit this time in their lives – often midlife – they attempt to recapture the fulfilment they used to feel. This generally takes them back to a time when they were younger, when they felt happy, lively, and carefree, without the stresses or dullness of ‘ordinary’ life – so they try to reconnect with those youthful times and feelings, in the hope they will find some peace.
There Must Be More To Life Than This?
Midlife crisis may well represent the search for something ‘more’ to life – but I believe it originates from the need to fill a deeper, spiritual void. People experiencing this think (even subconsciously): Is this all there is to life?
Some people may call this an existential crisis. I call it a spiritual crisis. I suggest that a so-called midlife crisis is triggered by an internal awakening. You experience an epiphany and realise that your current life doesn’t have ‘purpose’ – or doesn’t reflect your purpose (if you know what that is already). The life you have chosen is out of sync with who you truly are. You wake up one day with an inner knowing that the choices you have made don’t reflect your deepest wants and desires. It’s a crisis of self. A crisis of identity. It’s a spiritual crisis. But oddly, it manifests as material and physical things – the sports car, the bungee-jumping, the sex with new people. These just deal with the surface of the issue – they are the symptoms, not the cure.
Loss and Rebirth
Midlife crisis often occurs at a time of loss or grieving – perhaps when our parents or friends die, or we grieve for our ‘lost youth.’ Confronted by our own mortality, we want to do something with our lives or enjoy ourselves while we have time. Some people buy expensive things – material signs of achievement. Others seek to ‘do’ exciting things before it’s too late.
And whatever it is in life that you currently have – whether it’s your current relationships, your career or your general lifestyle – it isn’t enough. Some people realise that they have settled into a life that was not of their choosing and are fulfilling other people’s expectations without taking their own needs into account. Whatever the reasoning, millions of people go through this process of realisation and change.
Ultimately, we want our lives to have more meaning and purpose. We want a reason for living that demonstrates our place in the world and makes sense of our existence. We want to leave a legacy. We want to leave a unique mark on the world, and on others. We to be creative. We want rebirth.
So, what can we do to feel reborn and fill the void, without voiding our bank balances and relationships?
Tips To Get You Through Your Existential Or Spiritual Crisis
Reflect On Your ‘Calling’
Take time for reflection and use this time for a degree of soul-searching. You don’t have to over-analyse. You can empty your mind through meditation, to gain clarity when you allow helpful thoughts and ideas to come from your subconscious. Listen to your inner voice. What is it telling you?
Then, simply answer the following questions with the first thing that comes to mind:
What are you naturally good at? What are your passions? What do you enjoy? What achievements have given you most pleasure and satisfaction?
These answers will indicate your true calling.
Envision Your Future – With Purpose
What is your vision for the future? Put it into action now.
You might think you’re too old, but you still have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the world.
Many entrepreneurs are success stories who only began living their dream at a later age. Colonel Sanders launched Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) aged 65, using his first Social Security payment to start it. Poppy Bridger, a retired chemist, bought Anaheim Test Labs, aged 72, after being a carer for 3 years. It now makes over $400k per year.
Spend time on creating your vision, then take steps to make it a reality.
Service To Others
How can you best serve?
Can you tie your vision to a mission that serves others, as well as yourself?
When you embark on serving a purpose bigger than yourself, the feeling of contribution and fulfillment is immense. The greatest success stories of our time also tie in with a greater, deeper mission. However modest, you can make a contribution. Sylvia Lieberman became an entrepreneur when she was 90, starting a company to author and promote her first award-winning children’s book – Archibald’s Swiss Cheese Mountain – which teaches children how to achieve their big dreams. A percentage of the profits goes to two children’s charities. And Grandma Moses started painting at 90.
Find yourself a mentor or coach. It is hard to ask yourself questions like, ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is the meaning of life?’ especially if your colleagues, family and friends are business-like, pragmatic or even superficial. Find someone you know and trust, or seek out a professional like a coach, mentor, counsellor, therapist, yoga or meditation teacher, or even a spiritual leader. Especially if you are finding it difficult to cope with current circumstances. But for everyone – even the most positive and active of us – it is still great practice to take time to reflect and talk through some of these big questions and refocus our energies for greater satisfaction in life.
Fill the void in your life (or midlife) with outward-focused purpose and action, and you will achieve inner fulfilment and peace of both mind and spirit.
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