Sunday I came across this article in the Washington Post that talks about what we traditionally call the “midlife crisis.”
Turns out it’s not a crisis at all. It’s a “psychological and emotional reboot” where “our values, our priorities, even our brains…shift away from competition and social striving and toward connecting and giving to others,” The transition is followed by a rebirth of positivity, wisdom, and renewed energy that characterizes late adulthood.
I read through the article and thought, “Wow! This is exactly what I’ve been going through these past few years!”
Midlife (as I’ve discovered) is much better described by the term “reboot” than “crisis.” This stage of life is about breaking down old patterns and building new projects from the bottom up. The process can happen across multiple dimensions – personal, professional, emotional, spiritual, financial, geographical… Of course, not all of these dimensions have to shift at once, but many of them do, often in tandem with each other.
Yes, it’s scary, and yes, it feels like a crisis – but part of the reason it’s scary (and the article talks about this) is that more often than not, we aren’t properly warned, prepared, or supported during the transition.
There’s real neuroscience behind this, folks. Our brains have apparently been wired through evolutionary time to undergo metamorphosis around fifty. Among humans, each individual experience is unique, but the fundamental patterns hold across multiple cultures and countries. Even our close cousins, chimpanzees and orangutans, have their version of a midlife reboot. It’s all detailed in the book The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After Fifty by Jonathan Rauch, who also wrote the Washington Post article.
As with so much else, we’ve structured society in such a way that we’ve no real means of accommodating this transition. To borrow Rauch’s words:
“If you wanted to design a society that exacerbated midlife misery and squandered the potential of later adulthood, you might deliver education in a single lump during the first two decades of life, load work into the middle decades, and then herd healthy, happy and highly skilled older adults into idleness. In other words, you would do more or less what we have been doing for the past century or so.”
Apparently, ours is the generation that’s striving to change that. In private industry, higher education, and through grassroots organizations, people all across the country are exploring creative ways to make the midlife reboot a recognized and productive axis of transition.
I’ve experienced this among my own circle of friends, as well. While we have all faced extraordinary challenges in recent years, not one of us has succumbed midlife with an attitude of decline. Instead, we’ve tackled challenges head-on and are rebooting our lives in unique and amazing ways, embracing each other and the future with a shared sense of renewal.
Part of what’s made this possible is the support we’ve given each other – a core theme of Rauch’s work: that if we’re to fully leverage the positive power of midlife, we cannot expect mid-lifers to get through the transition alone.