Monday, March 9, 2015
How to Have a Productive Mid-Life Crisis
First you need a real crisis, the kind that is life changing and causes growth through pain. Sorry. I don't make the rules I'm just relaying what I've learned.
Are YOU your own crisis?
This applies mostly to the kind of crisis foisted on you by someone else's actions. You could however be creating your own crisis. Those are mostly brought about by realizing that life is half over, or feeling like you've done what everyone else thought you should do, or grasping for one last chance at youth or freedom. If that is where you think you are you'll need to heal from possible regret over past decisions or the pain of realizing this is not how you thought life would turn out. Trust me, we have all felt that. In which case this post still applies.
Of course the ideal thing is to know yourself so well by this point in your life that you avoid that kind of crisis altogether.
What it looks like
You are going to get knocked down by an event you never saw coming, which it has been my experience you don't need to go looking for or create yourself. The universe will obligingly deliver it to your doorstep. One day you open the door and there it is in a sort of squashed brown package with ripped brown paper and a tire mark on one side. If you are lucky it isn't on fire. This is your life altering event. It may be deceptively disguised as divorce papers or a call into your boss's office where she hands you a box to put your plant and personal photos in when you clean off your desk. This is God's hilarious way of saying "Hey, let's work on you."
You are going to think this is the worst thing ever. Don't fool yourself. It is. But after this you can stop messing around. Read Getting Over a Broken Heart in 10 (not so) Easy Steps.
Now you have this horrible thing that has happened to you and you have a little breakdown or meltdown. Or maybe a big one. You're going to want to buy your tissue from Costco at this stage. Keep some in the car because drivers who cut you off or honk at you in traffic can make you cry. Unless you are a man in which case they may make you want to kill them. Take the gun out of your car and give it to a friend for safe keeping. This is the part where you need some people who love you, or who are at least willing to listen to your tale of woe.
(Read Jane Eyre during this phase.) Read about how to take care of yourself here.
There aren't any time limits on this stage or any other. But do not numb yourself. Don't self medicate. Don't drink too much. Don't start relationships that remotely look like they might involve sex. Those are all just forms of temporarily easing the pain and you are going to need to have felt all of that later on the other side. This is your mid life crisis and it's okay to wallow around in the pain of the crappy thing that has happened. For a while.
Keep your friends close but hold the door wide open for anyone who doesn't want you so they don't have trouble finding the exit. Life is short; stop grasping. Be kind to yourself with healthy food and walks outside. Let your friends nurture you and give you advice. Find a therapist.
What NOT to do:
Don't become the cliche.
You see that guy trying to put a car seat in his red sports car? That's because he started out having one kind of cliche crisis and ended up having another. The middle aged woman at the bar in clothes that it looks like she borrowed from her 14 year old? Just another cliche.
Do this instead!
If you have to be a cliche at least run away and join the Peace Corps or volunteer someplace and do some good in the world.
Give yourself some time and some space. Being alone isn't the same thing as being lonely. In fact being alone can be sacred. Give yourself permission to stop being so active and noisy and connected with the whole world. Find a sunny window and sit. Take a walk and listen. Temporarily disconnect with everyone else so you can reconnect with yourself and God. Breathe.
Read about why you should be keeping a journal here.
What you want to do is decide what you want to do with your life after this. Take a tiny step in the direction of that idea. Buy some paint and a canvas. Offer to organize friends' closets. Take that cooking class. Whatever you are passionate about move in that direction. You must move so you don't get stuck.
Read my advice about not getting stuck here.
While you are being kind to yourself and finding your passion make an effort to say yes. I'm a homebody most of the time (unless my passport is involved) and can easily sink into the routine of saying "no" to requests and invitations. If you are feeling sad or struggling with negative thoughts it can be hard to say "yes" but do it anyway. Rethink who you want to be. Throw off any old negative labels that have been given to you by others.
Read about doing that here.
During this time create something. This is the time to take the class to learn how to tile the bathroom or plant a garden. You might journal through the trauma or take photographs. The thing you create might be action about a cause you care about or getting yourself in shape. You don't have to write the great American novel. You don't have to climb Everest. But use your pain or anxiety in some kind of constructive way so that when this part of life is over and you have recovered you have something to show for it.
The purpose of this post is to encourage you to have something to show on the other side of your crisis for all that pain. Something other than a few more wrinkles and a life that disappointed. Your creation, new skill, or new outlook is going to be your Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or other precious metals. The artist sees the cracks and brokenness not as damage that makes the piece worthless but as a part of the history of the pottery.
Fill your own broken places with gold. They are an important part of your story. Here are some things we can learn from the most painful seasons of life:
Lessons from a Rocky Shoreline
What do You Want Most?
In the midst of the storm read my crisis reading list. Crisis Reading: a Life Raft of Books
If you have passed through this storm already I'd love to hear about what you learned and what personal growth you experienced.