It’s my birthday (again) soon, and maybe that’s why I was reading a couple of articles on mid-life crises today.
One was on BeliefNet, courtesy of the Beyond Blue column by Therese Borchard. Borchard suffers from depression, and so do I, which is why I subscribe (you’d have to go a long way to find us atheists listed on BeliefNet after all – we’re under ‘other faiths’, which I think is a bit rich). But she also referred to an article by Stephanie Weiss in the Wall Street Journal.
Weiss, currently 49, was keen to build an idea that mid-life crises are all to do with hitting the nines, which she calls ‘harbingers of death’, and set out to interview a number of experts on the subject. But personally, I preferred the conclusion from one of her experts, Carlo Strenger. Strenger is an associate professor of psychology at Tel Aviv University and co-author of a Harvard Business Review article on the "existential necessity of midlife change," and his belief is that today’s midlife crisis is evidence of what he calls cultural lag. To quote Weiss:
Instead of joining the desperate effort to deny ageing, Strenger suggests that we knock down the myth of midlife as the onset of decline and build up the notion of a "second life cycle" full of new possibilities founded on self-knowledge and experience. "Imagine — as we often have people do in psychology experiments — that you’re 20," he said, "and you’re told you have an incurable illness. You’ll be fine for the next 30 years, then you’ll die at 50. What would you do? You’d live a full life. That’s exactly the situation 50-year-olds are in now. Statistically you have another 30 years. What are you going to do with your next decades?" It’s time, Strenger said, to move "from midlife crisis to midlife transition."
I hit 45 in a couple of weeks, so I think I’ll go with that idea. It’s all too easy once you hit 40 to start thinking that ‘It’s too late now – I should have done X when I was younger’, because the truth is, it isn’t too late. It’s not too late to travel, to train in a new skill, to experience a passionate relationship – whatever you feel you should have done, for good or ill, when you were younger. To put it another way, at 40 you can often waste timing feeling how OLD 40 is, but at 60, all you’ll remember is how YOUNG 40 was.
Take my friend M as an example. He went to college last year, to train to be an architect and I can’t tell you how much I admire this. Yes, he could have done it at 18, instead of dropping out of his A-levels to join a band. But now he brings his life experience to bear on his studies, which makes him more valuable, and also more dedicated.
Many of us would be afraid to sell our house and live off the income for three years while we qualify in a new skill. Too big a risk, we’d feel – and we’re too dedicated to our stuff. But M’s top of his class in everything he does and I don’t think he’s going to lack for job offers just because he’ll be over 45 when he qualifies. Instead of closing a door in mid-life, he’s forced a new one open. There’s a lesson for all of us in that.