The midlife passage (ages 35-55) is the most treacherous of our lives according to life phases expert, Gail Sheehy.
Midlife calm is not a phrase in the lexicon but midlife crisis certainly is.
Dictionaries define it as: a loss of self-confidence and feeling of anxiety or disappointment that can occur in early middle age.
Midlife cycles involve major mood shifts and physiological changes. Menopause for women and men. Most men notice a steep decline in sex drive while many woman experience a letting go of identities forged on appearances. Roles based on people pleasing and gaining societal approval wear thin. A crises of authenticity is just one of many that emerge.
Middle age Age
The middle years of middle age have been dubbed middlescence. It’s the adult equivalent of the mayhem we experience in adolescence.
An example of this can be seen in the recent film, The Professor, starring Johnny Depp.
He plays a responsible university professor named Richard who has a wife and family.
Struggling with her slumping career and midlife malaise, Richard’s wife has an affair with his boss.
Upon learning he has 6 months to live, Richard casts aside every social norm that feels stifling. In his opinion, “maturity is really just another word for how much misery you'd swallow.” And so he begins doing away with pretence to live boldly and freely.
In one conversation his wife says, “What happened to us?”
He replies, “What happened to us? Life.”
If you’re navigating this stage of life and like Richard and the rest of us, don’t feel like you’ve got it all together, take heart.
Some native Americans used the concept of the medicine wheel to explain the seasons of our lives.
Based on moon cycles they regarded our first 27 years as working through childhood development.
From 27-54 the developmental phase was adolescence. Gail Sheehy’s called it provisional adulthood.
In the indigenous model, adulthood only commences at around age 55.
Quite a contrast to the view of our culture that makes us feel we should have our life path and career direction sorted by the time we leave school at 18.
Fast forward thirty years and we end up thoroughly disengaged with our lives. As journalist Bill Moyers recounted:
“A man said to me once after years of standing on the platform of the subway, ‘I die a little bit down there every day, but I know I am doing so for my family.’”
The mythologist Joseph Campbell captured the other extreme, where a person had devoted themselves to a life of striving for what seemed critical only to discover it was at the expense of developing their psyches:
“There is perhaps nothing worse than reaching the top of the ladder and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.”
Mid Life Crisis Meaning
Just as the moon has a waxing phase and a waning phase so do our lives.
If we are to flourish during what Carl Jung called the afternoon of our life, we have to have a radical change of focus.
Midlife demands that we shed what we’ve outgrown and insists we relegate our egos from being lead role to supporting cast.
Should we embrace the changing cycle and grow more introspective rather than mindlessly striving, our second half of life can be both rewarding and one where we leave a legacy of substance.
The poet David Whyte wrote a piece which expresses the letting go aspect of midlife where we sit with uncertainty and discomfort, akin to the caterpillar dissolving during chrysalis before rebirthing into something far greater.
if you move carefully
through the forest
like the ones
in the old stories
who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
What is that thing in you that you will sow and cultivate in midlife so that your harvest years bring about your bloom?
You can read more about what is a midlife crisis, signs of midlife crisis and the effect of mid life crises for men & women.
You can also find out about our retreat program or online course for those navigating middle age / midlife crisis.
Learn about our Blue Mountains Retreat program for Midlife Crisis (or renewal)