“So, are you a biker chick now?” he asked, referring to photos I’d shared online from a trip to the beach with my Harley-Davidson. I’d attended an annual motorcycle rally. “I’ve really enjoyed watching your midlife crisis play out,” he added, smugly.
Hmphf. Midlife crisis? I was miffed. Who is he to slap a label on what’s happening in my life? This guy doesn’t know anything about me, at least not since the 1980s, when we had class together. The context and tone of his messages seemed condescending and derogatory, which irritated me.
“I am not having a midlife crisis!!!” I told myself, adamantly.
My former classmate’s recent remarks were certainly not the first time I’d been ‘accused’ of a midlife crisis… as if it’s a crime against humanity.
When I decided to get divorced after twelve years of marriage, many other people, including the husband I was divorcing, also attributed my actions to a midlife crisis. Does that term truly apply to my refusal to remain “stuck” in an unhappy marriage for life, only to appease society, my family, or the Catholic Church?
My former classmate’s comments made me wonder. Could I actually be dealing with disruptive “midlife” issues after all? It sounds so cliché, like a bad made-for-TV movie, or a cheesy Lifetime series.
My Brand of Midlife Crisis
I then realized that if having a midlife crisis means that for the first time in my life I’m living on my own terms, then maybe I am in fact having a midlife crisis.
If a midlife crisis entails making decisions for myself, not for a parent, not for a church, not for a boss, a spouse, family member, or anyone else but me, then I guess I’m guilty as charged.
If a midlife crisis means trying new things, dating different people, having unique experiences, and acquiring new hobbies, then yes, I am indeed having a midlife crisis.
If a midlife crisis is realizing that your time on this earth is short, and there’s no time like the present to start living your life your way, then, please count me in!
If having a midlife crisis means accepting myself for who I am, who I am not, and where I am today, I think I am really having a midlife crisis.
If a midlife crisis includes reinventing my career, finally doing something I love, and improving my financial independence, then I’ve certainly been having a midlife crisis!
If embracing spirituality over organized religion after decades of indoctrination is a sign of a midlife crisis, that’s me too!
If setting new personal and professional goals is part of having a midlife crisis, then so be it.
If a midlife crisis involves learning to love my unique circumstances of being child-less and parent-less, then I suppose you could say I’m having a midlife crisis.
Life’s Realizations and Experiences
With all that being true, however, all the experiences I’ve lived and learned over the past few years have felt like anything BUT a crisis to me.
Personally, my biggest crises occurred much before midlife. I faced a “kid-life crisis” when, at age ten, I watched my Dad die suddenly of a massive heart attack. THAT was a devastating crisis that left me reeling.
I faced a subsequent teen-life crisis characterized by depression, insomnia, anxiety and disfiguring cystic acne. Meanwhile, my remaining parent battled clinical depression, an unhappy second marriage, anger issues, and alcoholism.
I realize that from my teen years through my thirties, I was going through the motions of life, unable to take control of anything. I wasn’t allowed to choose my own major in college and was forbidden from pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. The result: I graduated cum laud, with a degree I didn’t want, to begin a career that was all wrong for me, which took over 20 years to rectify. I then faced a young-adult-life crisis at age 33, when my mom died of liver disease and I became parent-less.
Later, I came to terms with the fact that I’d married the wrong person, filing for divorce, and realizing I’d never have children of own. These events were sources of ongoing stress and trauma over several years.
Understanding How We (Naturally) Change in Life
After surviving the crises of my childhood, teen years, and events that continued through my thirties, this current stage of life seems more like a midlife miracle – a rebirth, rejuvenation, or a renaissance – nothing at all like a “crisis.”
I’m not saying this most recent period has been free of pain, heartbreak, stress, or hurt. Death and divorce are never fun times, and post-divorce dating is no cakewalk either. But at least all of these recent events, trials, and tribulations have been experienced of my own volition, on my own accord, in my own way, and without anyone telling me how to feel, what to do, or what to wear! I understand that my midlife so far has been anything but perfect and I’ve made some messes for sure, but they’re my messes… all mine!
So, call it whatever you’d like – label it, diss it, dismiss it, downplay it, degrade it. What others may flippantly refer to as a “midlife crisis” has resulted in some of my best years to date. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt stronger, more capable, or more dynamic. If taking control of your life, and trying to improve yourself and your future is what people call a “midlife crisis,” then I highly recommend it!
“I believe that everyone should have a midlife crisis in order to change one’s life… before it’s too late.” – Sharon Rhea Ford
“It’s a deceivingly simple question, and one I’ve found most people can’t answer. What do you really want in your life? And where are you on the path towards what you really want?” – Oprah Winfrey
© Andrea Clement
Andrea Clement is a career advice columnist, writer, and communications professional with a background in medical sales, training, and healthcare recruiting. She is the Guide to Health Careers for About.com. She has contributed to books, journals, websites and has made media appearances on television and radio. Visit her blog, No Parents No Problem. Follow Andrea on Twitter at @AndreaSantiago, or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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