I coached someone the other day who expressed frustration about their situation and referred to it as feeling like a midlife crisis. This person was young enough that short of a tragic illness or accident, they were nowhere near the middle of their life. Their frustrations instantly resonated with me though, and I understood that sense of feeling lost.
When I hear “midlife crisis” it reminds me of a scene from Father of the Bride with Steve Martin. Not wanting to face the reality that his little girl is now a grown woman about to be married, he does all the stereotypical things that we associate with a midlife crisis. He dyes his hair, buys new clothes, and drives around in a new convertible with the top down. I used to love that movie and this scene always amused me because of how ridiculous he looked and acted.
Now, 30 years after that version of the movie was released and having been through my own doubts about my life choices, I have a very different view of the concept of midlife or identity crises. (By the way, I had a momentary meltdown when I did the math and realized how old that movie is, and what that said about me!) Luckily, my new view is a much healthier one that would benefit others to adopt. What if we viewed these periods as times when we are reflecting on and evaluating our lives? And what if we saw that as a natural part of life? Rather than feeling in crisis, we might be more accepting of times that have passed and more appreciative of who we are now. We might use these moments as a time to celebrate, learn and grow, instead of feeling as though we’ve lost our way or that our world is falling apart.
Leaders may be even more susceptible to falling into crisis mode. The weight of responsibility, perfectionism, and other limiting beliefs about leadership can cause us to deny our own humanity. Then, when we feel incomplete because our lives seem consumed by our role, we can be hit by a sense of loss for “the person we once were.”
How can we keep ourselves from entering into a crisis mentality and instead entering into a time of personal reflection? For starters, make regular time for self-care. This doesn’t have to be a huge act that costs us money like getting a massage or taking a vacation, although I’m not against either! Giving ourselves the grace to feel human, to take time for ourselves, and to allow others to know our struggles are all ways we accept our whole selves.
Second, normalize our feelings. Having a community of colleagues who understand the challenges of leadership can be a great way to release some of the pressure we build up over time. When we see our colleagues as humans who struggle with the same feelings and doubts, it allows us to feel more human, too.
Finally, appreciate your journey. We are all likely to long for parts of our youth, whether it’s the good times we had, friends who are no longer around, or the things that once came to us with ease. Recognizing the challenges we’ve overcome and the skills that we’ve gained can help us look fondly on the past and proudly at the present.
And if you still want to dye your hair, buy new clothes, or cruise around town in a convertible, go for it. Maybe Steve Martin’s character wasn’t completely wrong.