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The Breadth and Depth of Midlife

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I’d heard about midlife crises. Other people had those, but it would never happen to me. I’m a well-adjusted person with my stuff together. I don’t “do” midlife crises, I thought smugly.

Ha, right.

It started niggling at me somewhere after my forty-eighth birthday. I began noticing that activities I used to love had begun to seem a little boring. This was a puzzling turn of events. I have always had more interests than you could shake a stick at. Everything was always interesting … until the next interesting thing, job or person came along. The discovery of the New was always good for an intense rush of enthusiasm and adrenalin. Exploring the New was almost that good. But it seemed to me I needed bigger and more dramatic hits to get the same rush.

I began to feel an indeterminate restlessness. Oh, nothing I could put a finger on, but just a global sense of wanting to … move. Literally and existentially. My sleep was disturbed. I wanted to quit my job, move to some small tourist town, and work in a small shop. Or, backpack around Europe. I needed something, wasn’t sure what, to be different. 

Then, someone asked me my age and I caught myself stumbling over my tongue. It suddenly pierced my consciousness that I was no longer in my mid-forties. Yes, I know. Some pessimists would argue whether forty-seven still qualified as “mid.” Okay, so it was a grey zone, I maintain the case can still be made for “mid.”

Still, forty-eight! Nope, no way even I, the Eternal Optimist, could stretch that into anything but “late” forties. Well. What was I supposed to do with that?

As it turns out, nothing much to do about it except ponder it. Which I did for close to an entire year. By that time, I did have a better handle on at least one big thing that was the source of my dis-ease.

The “life’s a constantly changing smorgasbord of interesting things of which to partake” mindset had lost its luster. Oh, my habit of mind still drove me to want to flit about from thing to thing. At play was some fundamental fear of commitment. If things ever got dicey, or much worse, boring, I could move on. Sticking with something meant it might not always be fun! That was a fate worse than death in my book.

But, it’s hard to accomplish something really significant without going through those hard times. Things often have meaning precisely because they are hard. That job that gets a little dull for example. I have always been quite successful at whatever I set out to do, but if I wasn’t being challenged, I usually left immediately. And, I generally wanted to try something altogether different.  

That meant I never earned what I was capable of because I was always starting a few notches down the ladder again. It meant I never really became an expert in anything. It amounted to the Jack of All Trades, Master of None Syndrome. It makes for an interesting resume, but I was definitely underachieving on the financial side of things. But, most importantly, it simply wasn’t satisfying anymore. I felt I had been living my life two inches deep and a mile wide. Now, I was craving some depth rather than breadth.

I wish I could say I’ve made a total transformation, but that isn’t the way it is. I guess when you’re changing a fundamental aspect of yourself, it’s a process not an event.

I’m a few months out from my fiftieth birthday and I’m still experimenting with what it looks like in my life. So far, it’s mostly been a deepening self-awareness of noticing when I have that urge to bolt for something new and exciting because the job has gotten to be a bit of a drag. I’m proud to say that for now, I’ve stayed put. I try to find ways I can do more of what I do see as fun and challenging in my job.

It’s also playing out in the relationship realm. I’ve been divorced, childless, and single for a number of years. I have always thought I wanted a long-term partner if not a spouse again, but here I am still looking. The pickings are slimmer at fifty than they were at forty-one for sure, but I also think my ideas of the perfect man and the perfect relationship are outdated. I’ve begun re-examining the things I’m looking for through this new lens.

For example, I’ve always thought I really wanted a guy with no kids or at least kids that were out of the house. This, even though I’ve always had this suspicion I would be a great mom and would enjoy it in some respects.

I know I’m stating the wildly obvious when I say that child rearing doesn’t look like it’s always a high, old time. You’d probably get attached. Then, you know, you would have to go to their soccer games. Maybe you and their Dad can’t go on a trip at the drop of a hat. Maybe they would be sulky sometimes. It might get ugly at times, but you would be committed to following through even in the tough times. It does cramp one’s freedom! Shiver. Nonetheless, I’m coming around to the idea that while it might not always be a barrel of monkeys, it might be deeply satisfying in a way that trumps fun.

I guess as midlife crises goes, mine is a little tame. No red sports cars, no boob job, and my hair is basically the same old medium brown it’s always been. Do I still feel that urge to move on to something else? Well, yeah, just about every day! But while the new path isn’t exactly fun, just knowing I can let that old urge try to work its magic on me and choose to ignore it in favor of pressing on is pretty darned satisfying.

That’s already an accomplishment I’m proud of.


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