Making the most of a midlife crisis
RACHEL DOHERTY
Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen
A midlife crisis sounds like a rite of passage, about the time we face the emptying nest and menopause. But there are points in life when circumstances force us to look deeper at what we do with our time, energy and money. And rather than having a crisis, it might be time to pivot.
The first half of 2018 has been a challenge for me. My mother learned she had end stage cancer in late November. The news was she wouldn’t make it to Christmas. It’s hard to take news like that. You just start going through the motions and making the most of what time you do have.

But as Christmas approached, her health stabilised. So I brought her home for a few weeks of love and care. We had a wonderful time of reconnecting, but the heavy clouds of grief were never far away.

In late February my mother slipped away. Much quicker than anyone had been expecting. There was no goodbye. No warning.

“In midlife, we’re as dumb as we get.”
PJ O’ROURKE
So now I find myself, three months later, coming to terms with what feels like a new me. I’ve been wondering if I’m having a midlife crisis. My appearance has changed. Things that I used to love no longer give me joy, and I seem to wear a cloak of anxiety I didn’t have before. That grief still lingers too.

Perhaps you’re feeling the same way.

If you’re dissatisfied with life, questioning a midlife crisis, read on to find out why this could be good. Not only will we look at the positives of a time of change, but we’ll also explore how to make the most of it.

Looking at the positive side of a midlife crisis

A midlife crisis sounds so negative. It sounds like something has broken and needs fixing. But surely life can take a different direction without being a terrible thing? Neither good or bad, just different. Which means not all midlife change needs to be a crisis.

Jenny Blake calls the plateaus in life “pivot points” in her book, Pivot (2016). She suggests that when we hit these moments, we have three choices. We can accept where we’re at and putting up with the plateau. We can let it get to us and fall into an emotional decline. Or we have to pivot and start working towards something new.

I’ve had these plateaus before. Tweens2teen was a big pivot two years ago, but this one seems weightier. It’s been more revealing about who I am and what I want to do for the next chapter of my life. Realising my own real risk of cancer has refined the choices I want to make and the priorities I want to set.

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Betty Friedan

Making the most of a midlife crisis

So if you too feel life needs to change, here’s some tips to make sure your next step is a positive one:

  1. Get to know yourself again. Jenny Blake suggests pivoting is all about working from your strengths. But it’s hard to do that if you don’t know what they are. Over time, we get used to doing things without thinking about them. Make time to ponder what things bring you joy, make you feel valued and are easy to do.
  1. Accept that change involves grief. The reason people cling to what they know is because change is hard. It’s scary and hurts. Let yourself feel those emotions of sadness, fear and anger.
  1. Watch your coping strategies. The stress of reflecting on your life and making decision can be challenging. Be careful that you don’t give up good habits or take up poor ones in the effort to keep the overwhelm at bay. My midlife pivot has included eating better, exercising more and losing a lot of weight. They’re paying off for my general health and emotional wellbeing. But I’ve also given myself permission to enjoy some of my other coping strategies. Things like going to bed early with a good book and the odd bout of retail therapy.
  1. Don’t do it alone. Reinventing yourself is a huge undertaking. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on, but also challenge you when you get things wrong. Having a couple of good friends’ shoulders to cry on goes a long way too.
  1. Include your loved ones. I wonder if the reason so many marriages break up in this stage is because one person changed and the other didn’t. If you’re wanting to take your life in a new direction, be sure to explain that to your family. You might have to defend your choices, and tell them more than once. That’s okay! After all, they’re facing change too, so be patient and keep talking.
  1. Zero in on satisfaction, not happiness. Happiness is something that comes and goes, much like the weather. It’s better to think about what things fill your life that feel valuable and worthy of your time.
  1. Don’t rush it. Pivoting takes time. You need to give yourself space to reflect on what you value and the goals you want to chase. If you try to move too quick, you’ll make mistakes or expose yourself to too much risk. So give yourself permission to wander through the process of change, not run.

Pivoting is so much more positive than plodding through a midlife crisis. We might all come to do it on a regular basis as we adjust to the never-ending cycle of change life seems to throw our way. But if you’re wanting to make the most of a pivot, you need to make sure it’s purposeful. That you get plenty of support and take care of yourself as you work out where you’re heading.

What do you think? Are you at a “pivot point” in your life? I’d love you to share what’s working for you.

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