“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ~ Mary Oliver
In our culture, the concept of a midlife crisis is the stuff of jokes and stereotypes. We distance ourselves from the prospect of midlife malaise and hope that it won’t happen to us. We either dread it or deny it. But what many people don’t talk about is the tremendous potential this event has.
Studies have proven, and an increasing amount of artists in public positions testify, that the experience of a midlife crisis can be a potent catalyst for personal growth. A midlife crisis can lead to a richer experience of life than ever — if you’re willing to see it as such.
It’s all about how you handle it.
The word “crisis” applies more to how midlife transitions are handled, than to the fact that a transition is taking place, says Leonard Felder, Ph.D., an L.A.-based psychologist. He suggests those feeling midlife identity confusion practice acceptance and trust that there are gifts to be found in the chaos. With this attitude, you’ll be in a position to make this time grant a higher return on investment. Support yourself by enhancing your growth mindset — know that each experience you face is a new opportunity to excel.
We have an opportunity to pause, take stock, adjust.
Midlife is a time of recalibration, where we feel called to look at our lives and take stock. With age comes knowledge of self — we know our strengths, weaknesses, and “what’s not ours.” A midlife transition presents the opportunity to figure out how we want to live more in accordance with our most authentic values and be the most valuable we can be. Now is the time to be honest about who we are.
Come midlife, we begin to evaluate our lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness. We have a chance to identify and invest in what is most important to us — our most meaningful relationships, work, and areas of conversation. We can derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments. This is why pausing and deciding how to move forward is a key first step in making midlife transition lead you to vibrant places.
What does this process look like? “Pausing” might mean stepping out of your daily routine to travel, walking in nature, journalling, or spending time simply being with loved ones. Pausing is about stillness, noticing feelings and realizations — it’s not about forcing anything. Taking stock is about comparing our inner worlds (or values) with our outer worlds. What do we need now in order to live more authentically? What no longer fits?
Forgiveness comes easier, and brings greater rewards.
Forgiveness allows us to truly take our lives and identities into our own hands. Forgiveness in midlife allows us to to move onward, embodying our most authentic values. In The Magic of Forgiveness: Emotional Freedom and Transformation at Midlife, Tian Dayton says:
“I drag my emotional state around wherever I go, and if what I’m dragging around is full of pain, anger, hurt or resentment, it’s with me all the time… It becomes who I am. So by hanging onto the inevitable resentment and rancor associated with not working through something and letting it go, I incorporate those feelings into my own self, my own thoughts, and my own emotions. They become part of me.”
In midlife, as we evolve in our identity, we also become more forgiving. This makes us more able to accept our past for what it is rather than hold grudges or continue to wish it had been different. Accepting and forgiving the past is the ultimate statement of personal power. It lets us release what’s no longer serving us and allows us to be our genuine selves.
We can set more realistic goals, and are more likely to achieve them.
As time horizons grow shorter, we tend to set more realistic goals and can work more effectively to achieve them. We are able to work smarter, not harder. Researchers used to believe that brain activity would slow with aging, but studies have overturned this assumption: middle-aged adults proved to perform better on four out of six cognitive tests than those same individuals did as young adults. Midlife is a time to set goals and pursue our dreams, not stop dreaming.
On the path to self-actualization, a “midlife crisis” can be a significant event, prompting us to revisit and reignite our passions, invest in the things that matter, and decide how to live in alignment with our truth.