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I’m a 40 year old woman who has battled feelings of a midlife crisis periodically over the last few years. Today, I’m going to share how I got out of that rut. It all starts with a little story:
On the day I turned 39, I cried.
It was dusk. The ebbing sun left the room in a cool, blue hue. I lay in bed, staring at the flaky ceiling as the ominous darkness crept over every inch of my dusty apartment.
39 today, I thought to myself.
Where has my life gone?
Then I felt it: a slow heat filling my face and tears welling up in my eyes.
A heavy realization that resided in the back of my brain came to the fore. The realization that time was unstoppable. The realization that I was almost 40 with nothing to show for it.
Images of my failures swirled around me. Images of family and friends smiling at me seemed like a lifetime ago – from the days of my wasted youth.
Then, when the self-pity became too much to bear, I broke down. Rolling myself into a ball, I’d feel every muscle in my face screwing up and quivering uncontrollably. Hot tears streaked down my face. It felt as though my entire body was forcing me into a heaving, sobbing mess.
This wasn’t the first time I had cried on my birthday though.
I often felt depressed about reaching 40 years of age
In fact, crying had been my birthday ritual for the past few years. I felt depressed about the idea of me, a once young and vibrant woman, turning 40.
Beaker, my husband, knew the drill. He would sit solemnly at the edge of the bed, not knowing what to do or say. He knew that I’d blow off any attempts to comfort me anyway. It was like I was determined to feel sorry for myself on this particular day every year.
Now, you’re probably thinking: Wow, she’s weird.
I can’t disagree with you there.
After all these years, I really wanted to rationalize why I was doing this. I thought long and hard about my masochistic tradition when finally I realized:
At 40, I felt like the world was getting away from me, and I regretted that so freakin’ badly.
That’s why I cried every year on my birthday.
My depression had nothing to do with an aging body
People who knew about my birthday cry fests would often try to comfort me by saying that I still looked like I was in my twenties. Older people would say, “you think you’re old, then what am I?” That kind of thing.
These people didn’t understand that my regrets weren’t because I was aging. Sure, I had to consciously suck in my belly for photos. Sure, I couldn’t wave goodbye to someone without my flabby triceps flapping in the wind.
But I never thought to myself, man, my body is breaking down! Help!
Rather, I feared that I hadn’t achieved enough in life, and I feared that I it might be too late to do anything about it.
What made me feel that I had fallen short of my potential though?
For middle aged woman, I was far behind in life
I looked at my peers and saw how they had beautiful children, illustrious careers and achievements under their belt.
Me? By age thirty I had one divorce behind me, a fully developed shopping addiction, racked up credit cards and debt up to my eyeballs. I had spent the last 10 years just trying to rebuild my life and climb out of the pit that I had dug for myself.
I felt so far removed from the world a 40-year old should be living in. People who were once friends were leaving me in the dust. As our lives grew increasingly different, we naturally grew further apart.
I scrolled through my Facebook friends list recently. I was saddened to realize that most of my “friendships” were merely superficial. I hadn’t spoken to 99% of them in years! I thought back to my youth, when I had an ever expanding circle of friends and groups that I could go out and party with.
I guess.. to a certain extent, being “left behind” in life made me feel lonely too.
I hadn’t made an impact in my first forty years of life
When I was younger I had a terrible shopping addiction. I could never get enough stuff and I would often open a wardrobe full of dresses and shoes that I had probably only worn once.
To a large extent, my obsession with things stemmed from my general nature to be a consumer.
Yes, I put in my best at work, but outside the hours of 9 to 5 I would spend all of it consuming something. I’d indulge in entertainment like going out for movies and getting massages. I’d consume by having fancy dinners out on town and shopping for stuff I didn’t need.
I never did anything to contribute to society. I didn’t produce any works of art or finish projects that I could feel proud of. I never created anything that would carry on my legacy.
Soon I’d be gone. My ashes would swept away with the sands of time and I’d have nothing but a cluttered wardrobe for people to remember me by. I felt lousy for that.
Was this a midlife crisis?
Beaker would sometimes subtly (and probably suggestively) quip that I was facing a midlife crisis. While it might have been tongue-in-cheek, it made me sit up and think.
Boy, he might be right.
Often, I would talk about all these goals I’d accomplish as a 40 year old. It was often frivolous things: go on an adventure in the amazon forest, quit my job start a cupcake business etc.
These were things that I thought would help me get on the same level as my friends. Things that would make me someone to be remembered.
I never really saw how these could be symptoms of a midlife crisis until now.
At first I was embarrassed. Wasn’t a midlife crisis something that people laughed at? I remember when I was young and out with my girlfriends. If we saw balding middle aged man hooning around in a porsche with the roof down, we’d snicker to each other and say, “that guy must be having a midlife crisis!”
Surely I wasn’t like that man!
Worried, I did a bunch of research on the symptoms of midlife crises. Yikes. I ticked a few boxes alright. Especially the one about constantly asking myself, “where am I going in life?”
However, the more I learnt about it, the more I realized that having a midlife crisis was not a bad thing at all.
Is a midlife crisis merely about “being young again?”
People that go through a midlife crisis often appear to want to be young again. They dye their hair, try to get in shape, drive fast cars and start dating again etc. However, their core desire isn’t to delude themselves that they are young or young-looking. Instead it’s a chase for what their youth represented.
Stop for a moment and picture a young version of yourself standing there, smiling back at you. What do you see?
For me, I see four (4) wonderful things about being young.
Being young meant you had hope
You had a whole life left to live. While you’d never know how it would turn out, something about the vast number of years ahead just made you hopeful that you’d achieve something great in that time.
As you grow older however, you begin to feel your days are numbered. You feel that you might be too old to learn anything new; that you might be too old to go on an adventure and discover yourself.
Being young meant you were in control
Your younger days were simpler times. No bills to pay, no office politics, no spouse to compromise with. You were the master of your destiny and your life wasn’t dictated by your circumstances. You lived every day as you wished.
As you grow older, you can’t live as freely. You have to worry about what your boss wants, what your spouse wants, what your children want. You might even have collections agencies knocking at your door. It’s easy to feel trapped.
Being young meant you had options
The world was your oyster when you were young. There were so many things you could do, and you truly believed that you’d do many of them. I thought I could be a national hockey-playing business woman with a ten bedroom home. If I got bored of that I’d just go back to school and train as a nurse.
At 40, you look back and think, how could I have been that naive? Often we took the first job that came by, and over the course of our working life we kind of just got corralled into a series of jobs that turned into our career. With bills to pay, it was ludicrous to think you could just take a break and “reinvent yourself”.
Being young meant you had limitless potential
As a young person, you were a blank slate. Your abilities, talent and drive hadn’t been tested by the ruthless workplace. You hadn’t been measured against your peers by your net worth, salary and spouse.
As an older person though, you have been tried and tested. While you might not consider yourself a failure, you know where your strengths and weaknesses are. In your mind, you know what you should limit yourself to.
A midlife crises is a force for positive change
What I came to realize is that I don’t want to be do life over again. I’m so grateful for the life experiences that I already have.
I didn’t want to be young again. So what did I want really?
Rather I wanted to have the hope in my future, control over my life, exciting options awaiting me, and know that I have the potential to do great things with the remaining years of my life. I thought you could only have these things when you were young, but I was wrong.
Everything clicked when I finally came to the conclusion that:
A midlife “crisis” isn’t a deluded goose chase for days long past.
It’s a mature realization that we’ve lived frivolously because we had lost sight of our dreams.
It’s the passionate reignition of faith in our ability to achieve those dreams.
And it’s the determination to make the most of our remaining days regardless of how we’ve lived in the past (our history is not our future.)
Finally taking stock of my life and feeling like there’s not much time left was a much needed “kick” to start me living a more goal-driven, fulfilling life.
How to embrace your 40s by changing your mindset
I’ve come to embrace my 40s and the fact that I’m growing older. It all began by changing my perspective and mindset. Here are some ideas that helped me embrace them, and I hope it’ll help you too.
Your first 40 years have primed you to start living life to the full
You might be like me and be tempted to wonder, what would my life be like if I had done a, b, and c or I hadn’t done x, y, and z. It can be fun to fantasize once in awhile, but not to the point that it makes you depressed or regret how you’ve lived your life.
Even if you’re disappointed with your first 40 years of life, know that they haven’t been a waste. It’s given you the life experience, maturity and wisdom to live life to an even fuller extent than when you were young.
It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses
I’ve decided to give up comparing myself to my “peers”. Comparing your current situation with others is problematic. This is because you’re concerned only with what the final state – whether you have a nice home, good career, happy family etc. By doing this, you inherently discount your journey.
In the last 10 years of my life, I’ve fought a shopping addiction, rose from the ashes of my divorce to build a loving relationship with Beaker and have paid down much of my debt. How many of my friends have had to face that and come out triumphant?
I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I refuse to let other people’s lives dictate how I should feel about my progress.
Let go of the young vs old mentality
“Age is just a number” is so cliche, but so true.
As we discussed earlier, people going through a midlife transition want hope, control, options and potential.
Your ability to have all these things has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with you making it happen in your life. Being young doesn’t automatically give you a special ability to achieve your dreams. You give that to yourself.
I’m often heartened by this infographic that shows entrepreneurs who achieved success late in life. It reminds me that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.
Another takeaway from this is that you don’t have to live like your twenty year old counterparts to have a meaningful and happy life.
Where to from here?
By changing my mindset, I was able to get over the embarrassment of a midlife crisis, and see my yearning for a “more impactful life” as a driver for positive change. With a renewed mindset and energy, how should one go about making changes in their life?
It all boils down to this: goals.
In the next article, I‘ll share the goals I set myself for my next 40 years of life. See you then!