The Midlife Refresh – Part 1

Say goodbye to the old ideas of a midlife crisis, and hello to personal transformation.

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, he was nowhere near the middle of his life. I completely understood how he felt though–that sense of being lost, unfulfilled and simultaneously ashamed for having those feelings.

When I hear “midlife crisis” it reminds me of a scene from Father of the Bride II with Steve Martin.  Not wanting to face the reality that his little girl is now a grown woman about to have a baby, 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 convertible with the top down.  I used to love that movie and this scene always amused me because of how ridiculous he acted.

Now, 30 years after that version of the movie was released and having been through doubts about my own life choices, I have a very different view of the concept of midlife crises. Most people aren’t trying to recapture the wild, glory days of their youth, so much as the feeling of aliveness that we once had before we were weighed down by expectations, responsibilities and obligations. We’ve realized just how short and precious life is. Now, we’re trying to make the most of what time we have left by stripping down to who we are at the core.

This can feel unsettling. It can also be a liberating and rejuvenating experience. Rather than thinking of it as a crisis, what if we viewed these periods as times to reflect and evaluate our lives?  And what if we saw this as a natural and even healthy part of life? This isn’t a new concept. Psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote about this stage of development back in the 1930’s. Yet, somehow we still use the phrase “midlife crisis” which brings to mind the negative stereotype of older men doing outrageous things to relive their youth. In fact, when I tell people about the changes I’ve made and how transformational it’s all been, many people look at me like I’ve lost my mind! The others give me a look of understanding and sometimes longing. They’ve either been through this experience themselves or they feel its pull.

If you’re feeling this pull yourself and are having trouble detaching from the stigma of a midlife crisis, here are some things I did to reframe my thinking to see this as a period of personal transformation.

  • I stopped to appreciate who I am now and all that it took to get me here. Recognizing the challenges I’ve overcome and the skills that I’ve gained helped me look fondly on the past and proudly at the present. Appreciating my own abilities gives me confidence that I will be ok in the future.
  • I gained a sense of the person I want to become. All of my experiences have taught me what brings me joy and what breaks my heart; what brings me a surge of energy and what drains me; what stimulates my curiosity and what dulls my senses. Stopping to consider these life lessons taught me more about myself than I had learned in years of plowing through each day. I gained clarity around the version of myself that makes me feel most alive. Now, making steps towards change is more exciting and fulfilling.
  • I focused on my growth. At times, all of this felt like I was letting parts of myself go. Sometimes, they were parts that I was proud of and valued. Putting my focus on the things I was letting go of made this phase feel more like the death of my identity, rather than the transformation that it really is. Focusing on all the ways I was growing into the person I want to be, shifted this stage from a midlife crisis into a less threatening and more invigorating midlife refresh. (Stay tuned for my next article where I’ll dive a little deeper into this issue of letting go.) 
  • I built my support network. Most of what was happening to me at this stage hit so deep within me that it was hard to get a full picture of my transformation with all its subtleties. Luckily, I had close friends and a trusted coach I could open up to about all the ways I felt like I was failing. They were able to help me unpack my experience and recognize the enormous impact of even my smallest steps. 

Hopefully, these tips will do for you what it did for me. 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.

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