I recently read an article that denied the existence of the proverbial midlife crisis. Is it true that there is no such thing as a midlife crisis? Have generations of middle-agers bought into an idea that doesn't even exist, or was it that everyone else bought into the idea of a midlife crisis, while the middle-agers were saying, "No, we're good, seriously."
Being a young middle-ager, (like how I fit the word young into my age description) I felt I needed to delve further into this matter. I was becoming pretty committed to my own version of a midlife crisis, so if it doesn't actually exist, that just leaves me seeming a bit off-kilter. I don't see that as being a viable alternative.
Susan Kraus Whitbourne, Professor of Psychology, burst my midlife crisis bubble in her post, The Midlife Crisis is Neither at Midlife nor a Crisis. Discuss. If the phrase midlife crisis makes you think of a middle-aged man, driving a red sports car, with a young blonde then Whitbourne will tell you there is no such thing. The research she has conducted over decades does not support the idea that people in midlife are prone to stereotypical, youth-chasing crises. In her research she found midlifers to be no more or less in crisis than the general population. Of the people she interviewed for her research, she did find a struggling sub-group of unhappy middle-aged people who had made poor choices throughout their lives.
"They'd made a series of poor decisions throughout their adult lives that cost them relationships, career, and general well-being. Their unhappiness characterized them throughout their adult lives, not just in the decades of their 40s."
In short, I believe Whitbourne is saying that if you make a lot of jerky choices in your 20s and 30s, expect to find yourself unhappy in your 40s and 50s, but don't blame it on a midlife crisis.
Continuing with my research on the validity of the concept of a midlife crisis, I came across a more comforting website, http://www.lessons4living.com/. It is authored by Clinical Psychologist, Dan Johnston.
Johnston, who supports the idea of a midlife crisis, uses a ladder metaphor for the challenges one faces in midlife. He describes midlife as a time when many of us are reaching the tops of our ladders, whether those be career, family, or special interest ladders. When we have accomplished what we set out to do as younger people, we have reached the top of our ladders, and are left asking in midlife, "What else is there?"
I have to admit this definition of a midlife crisis feels true to me. I am currently standing on the top rung of my own ladder wondering just that - what else is there? I doubt the answer is more TV and Bubble Pop (see prior posts). I have a suspicion that my ladder may have been on the short side to begin with. Did I forget in my earlier years to set a few more rungs? It would be like me, I'm fairly absent-minded. Regardless, I'm pretty sure I have reached the top rung of my short ladder.
Johnston's answer to the question - what else is there - lies in our redefining our identities in midlife. It is a second transition period in life, the first transition period having been adolescence. Unlike the first adolescent transition period, it's neither acceptable nor appropriate in the second transition period to dress weird, smoke pot, and lie to your parents. Although at this point in your life, you're more apt to lie to your increasingly judgmental kids.
No, acting like a teenager wasn't very cool when you were a teenager, it's even less cool to do it in midlife. However, Johnston doesn't deny this type of midlife reaction exists.
"While midlife gives the opportunity to enliven life many people think that it is a time to recapture lost youth. This is a common but a great misunderstanding."
Did you get that? Johnston says you can have a midlife crisis, and perhaps you should have a midlife crisis. Just don't do it by turning into an adolescent jackass. Youth is so overrated anyhow, was it really that good back then?
I'm feeling pretty excited about my midlife crisis. I'm wondering where my quest for a second identity will take me. Apparently, I'm going to become a lot less self-absorbed and lot more helpful to my community. You'll have to check on my future posts to see if that happens. Cool, a blog cliffhanger.
I'd love to hear about your experiences! Do you think the concept of a midlife crisis has any validity or is it just a myth?
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