“The greatest potential for growth and self-realization exists in the second half of life”. Carl Jung’s words are more than just comfort for an aging society. They are about opportunity!
When my two kids were launched into college and beyond, seeking their bigger lives beyond our front door, I was also launched. The structure that provided the bedrock of family life for the past decades wasn’t needed. With anticipation, I looked at this new phase as a page yet to be written.
It turns out that I am not alone. What used to be described as a Mid-Life Crisis could now be more aptly described as Mid-Life Opportunity. The tired traditional stereotypes of mid-life crisis involve a man with a receding hairline, new sports car and younger girlfriend – a desperate attempt to hold onto or recapture a past. Not only is this picture outdated, it rarely reflected a woman’s journey. In fact, it wasn’t until the movie Thelma and Louise, that women found a collective voice when turning against their circumstance. As Thelma says, “I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know. Everything looks different now.” With this model rather than having a younger boyfriend or new sportscar, the result of an acknowledged woman’s Mid-Life Crisis was to grab your best friend by the hand and drive off a cliff!
The Crisis in Mid-Life Crisis, comes when the subscribed rules of our past push against the blank slate of our future. Fearfully, we cling with white knuckles to a familiar life structure while acting out in sometimes ridiculous ways, trying to quell that persistent itch of curiosity. Affairs, gambling, over-spending, immediate gratification rather than deep reflection. Mid-Life Crisis, even in its name, is inherently about destruction. An implosion of monumental proportion. How do we manage the transition that comes with entering the middle state of life while minimizing collateral damage?
Carl Jung’s words provide the first guidepost on the journey through mid-life. I believe it is only a crisis if we mistake the excitement of the future as a restlessness with the present. When we experience a big life change that typically aging brings – empty nest, health issues, death of elderly parents – it can trigger Mid-Life Opportunity. Self-awareness and honest personal conversations combined with knowledge and experience that only living can give, set a new course. It is the time to take stock. It is the time to pay attention. It is the time to fulfill potential.
Recently I was at a family gathering where it was revealed that most of the couples and the single people of my generation, were either embarking on or contemplating big life changes. Selling homes and moving miles away; planning months of travel; taking on new career paths; rediscovering dormant creative lives. Exciting opportunities were being sought out that would put them on entirely new life paths. There was no crisis here! Instead, I was hearing about a renewed sense of adventure. A rediscovery of what it was like to live unencumbered by an obligation to something other than themselves – almost like being a teenager again! But this time, with experience. Couples were facing this together, rather than one acting out destructively. Single friends were blessed with realizations there were new choices ahead that could take them where ever they desired. Mid-life was asking the question ‘what comes next’?
I like Jung’s optimistic view. This is the time to fulfill your potential with a renewed energy while armed with a lifetime of experiences. Maybe that’s all it takes. A re-branding. Rather than dreading aging, we can look forward to this next phase. When curiosity and anticipation replace fear and angst, Mid-Life Crisis is no match for Mid-Life Opportunity.