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4 surprising reasons why you should embrace a mid-life crisis

Instead of allowing a mid-life crisis to knock you off track, LaRae Quy offers four ways to discover a new purpose and path for your life.

9 min read


mid-life crisi

(VioletaStoimenova/Getty Images)

You wake up one morning to start your day, but instead of being grateful for the opportunities in life, you realize the spring in your step is gone. Worse, you’ve become apathetic about your work and bored with living in the same house, in the same neighborhood — hell, in the same part of the country! 

Everything feels like a chore; you may be successful, but you’re not full of joy. You are no longer satisfied with what you’re doing or where you are in life. This is also the same time that self-help books with promises to help you find your true self grab your attention. Online programs offer assurances that you can become the person you’ve always wanted to be — with little or no effort as long as you sign up for monthly auto-pay.

A mid-life crisis usually doesn’t give a warning shot. It creeps up on us when we’re busy making other life plans. It’s a rude shock when we admit to ourselves that we need a course correction, perhaps something we haven’t felt the need to do since college. A mid-life crisis often coincides with middle age and reaching the middle of our career. It’s a crucial time to re-evaluate our achievements, ambitions, successes, and goals. It can be a moment when our aspirations and reality collide. We may come to the uncomfortable realization that many of our early dreams and aspirations might never happen.  

This period also offers a unique opportunity for growth. It’s a chance to reevaluate your priorities and draw from your experiences as you take a hard look at what you want to accomplish in life. 

Here are four surprising reasons why you should embrace a mid-life crisis:

1. Forge your own path

As children, we are wired to learn; we do that by watching and imitating others. Whether it’s adults or peers, we observe the rules and norms they construct around us and react by behaving in a way that wins approval. As adults, many of us set off on a path that was someone else’s dream, not our own. We try to fit in because we want to be accepted by our friends and family. Later, the sacrifices we make for spouses, children or careers further clip our ambitions.

Because we have focused on others’ expectations, we fail to develop our life priorities. Instead, we pursue the path that offers security and society’s approval. Starting out in life, this is often the prudent way to move forward. A mid-life crisis, however, is the perfect opportunity to take a hard look at where life has led you. This is not a bad thing — perhaps for the first time, there is no need to fit in with others or make sacrifices. There is no longer a need to conform to what those around you would like or expect to see.

Forging your path for the first time in your life takes a strong mind. Are you mentally tough? Take this evidence-based, FREE Mental Toughness Assessment.

How to make it work for you

  • Re-evaluate your relationships. Be picky about the people with whom you spend time, and get rid of those who suck the air from you. These are the ones who don’t support your decisions or ostracize you for your independence. 
  • Surround yourself with people who inspire you to pursue your dreams and goals.
  • Find curious people, learn new skills and embrace different experiences.
  • Be aware of the goals and expectations of those around you. Don’t let their low standards define who you are.  

2. Tap into purpose

When we double down on what is best for us, we identify the crucial relationships in our lives. We find a mission uniquely fitting our personality, strengths and limitations. That mission could be to find a cure for cancer, write the great American novel or wipe the drool from residents in a rest home. 

The point is that we become more aware of our purpose. By mid-life, we should be able to let go of the popular concept of passion because it’s a term better suited for children and immature adults. Passion is what the world can give to us; purpose is what we can provide to the world.

One of the best ways to drill down to find your purpose is to follow a Peter Drucker exercise in which someone asks you, “What business are you in?” They do this five times in a row, with each question allowing you to refine and focus your purpose. The final answer is the epiphany. You’ve cut through the surface stuff and dug down deep enough to uncover what “business” you want to be in.

Your current job may or may not satisfy your most profound purpose. But this exercise will help you develop a clearer understanding of what aspects of your job satisfy you and identify what other yearnings are still deep inside. 

How to make it work for you:

  • Dump people who hold you back.
  • Let go of hobbies and activities that are a mindless waste of time.
  • Drown old dreams that aren’t going to happen anytime soon. Instead, focus on the “business” you are in now and where you can grow it.

3. Begin a journey of self-discovery

As kids, we want to fit in with the crowd, but middle age is the time to grow up and embrace what makes us different. That can be a hard stop for many because we’ve become accustomed to aligning our values to those of our colleagues, family and friends. We buy houses, cars, clothes and vacations that fit into our lifestyle — that is, the lifestyle by which we’ve measured success. Middle age is an opportunity to test ourselves and excavate our true potential. We try things. Some go well, while others do not. We fail because we’ve hit our limit.

Most of us balk at admitting we have limitations. After all, cheerleaders like Oprah and Tony Robbins shove self-help mantras down our throats, assuring us we have no limitations. Wading through a mid-life crisis is a process of self-discovery. We know when we’re tapped out, but instead of crying like a baby and running home to mommy, a grown-up accepts that we can’t always win. No one is perfect at everything, and the sooner we accept this irritating bit of reality, the wiser we become about our potential.

We need to know our limitations. I’m not an athlete, and yet they surrounded me at the FBI Academy. There were nutty guys there who did 100 pushups for fun! I thought I’d been thrown in with a bunch of sadists for five months. I had to accept I’d never excel at anything athletic. It was a brutal hit for my ego because I slid into last place in every physical test. My colleagues watched my miserable performance, so it sucked for me.

I didn’t dissolve into a pity puddle. Instead, I focused on what I could do better than others — firearms and legal. No one else sees your target score or exam results, so they were solitary victories for me, whereas everyone knows who came last in the 6-mile run.

Many people refuse to accept their limitations. They don’t like to admit failure and would prefer to delude themselves into thinking their limitations don’t exist. They return to self-help books and wellness weekends where they are told they can walk on hot coals — and maybe walk on water if they pay enough money.

Self-discovery means accepting that you are not an expert in everything and you don’t need to be. Now, you can focus on the things that matter most to you. Move out of the Peter Pan syndrome, the eternal adolescent who always discovers something but never learns anything.

How to make it work for you

  • Forget about the need always to do more. You don’t need new exciting projects or experiences; instead, identify the things that matter most to you.
  • Accept that you may never accomplish all of your dreams, so zero in on the gifts you were born with and have developed over time. Those gifts will help you reach the most important goals.
  • Don’t rely on external circumstances to make you happy. They are unpredictable and uncontrollable.

4. Embrace the real you

We are created with an inner drive that only calms down when we find our true selves, our true home. Our spiritual journey is a spiral and never a straight line. 

If we go to the depths of anything, we’ll begin to knock upon something substantial and real. We move from the starter kit that defines us at the beginning of our journey to a deeper understanding of what is real for us. The second half of life is mostly homesickness for the authentic self. Some would call this homing device their soul, and some would call it the indwelling Holy Spirit, but we cannot ignore it. It calls us both backward and forward to our foundation and our future at the same time.

Mid-life is not a crisis but an emergence from the chrysalis. Spiritual homesickness is knowing that we’re coming to the end of one thing and beginning another. It’s both leaving and arriving. We need one era to end and start anew; evolution is transformative. Spirituality is a reoccurring desperation to find the sacredness within our souls; it’s nothing that can be found on the outside. It is a longing for what is real. It’s in our soul that we find our home in that sacred space that holds the Holy.

How to make it work for you: Spirituality may or may not be religion, churches, mosques, temples or other places of worship. Your sacred space is home, not a place to visit. You are connected to the Holy and your authentic self. You’re no longer content with the superficial. Like Odysseus, you left Ithaca and have returned to Ithaca, but this time you’re really home to stay.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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