WARNING: Are You Heading Towards A Midlife Crisis?

*The man who invented the midlife crisis had a midlife crisis of his own; His idea bombed. In 1957, a Canadian psychoanalyst named Elliott Jaques gave a speech before a distinguished audience in London in which he claimed people in their mid-thirties went through a depressive period.

Reaction to this time of life included concern over health, compulsive vanity, promiscuity, and religious awakening. The audience hated the idea, so he dropped it.

Nearly a decade later, he revisited it, this time in a paper called “Death and the mid-life crisis.” Jaques was inspired, he said, by the oversimplification of how we talked about life shape. “Up til now, life has seemed an endless upward slope, with nothing but the distant horizon in view.” Now, he went on; he’d reached the crest of the hill, “and there stretching ahead is the downward slope.” It ends, inevitably, in death. The most common age for this crisis: thirty-seven.

Jaques’s idea, while tantalizing, was not grounded in research. It was based on his reading of biographies of 310 famous men, from Michelangelo to Bach. He didn’t include women in his study, he said, because menopause “obscured” their midlife transition—no wonder the London audience scoffed at his theory.

But others ran with it

In the early seventies, Roger Gould of UCLA sent questionnaires on midlife to several hundred subjects. Daniel Levinson of Yale interviewed forty people (also all male) and identified what he called four seasons of a man’s life. “There is a single, most frequent age at which each period begins,” he went on: seventeen, forty, sixty, and eighty.

Everyone lives through the same development periods at the same time.  Again the rigidity is stunning. Levinson was so precise – and doctrinaire – that he insisted the mid-life crisis must start in the fortieth year and will end at forty-five and a half. Eighty per cent of men go through one of these crises, he said.

Rather than question this idea...

Americans embraced it, largely because of the brilliance of one woman. Gail Sheehy was a former home ec major turned freelance journalist and a divorced single mum, when in 1972, while in Northern Ireland, a young boy she was interviewing was shot in the face. The shock produced an existential crisis about how she felt on reaching her mid-thirties. Sheehy picked up on the research of Gould and Levinson and used them for the basis of an article in New York magazine.

Gould, who went uncredited in the story, sued her for plagiarism and won, securing $10,000 and a 10 per cent of the royalties of  Passages, the book that grew out of the article. Published in 1976, Passages tapped into a moment of deep change in America, with the sexual revolution, surging divorce rates, and economic anxiety all converging.

The book went on to sell five million copies in twenty-eight languages. It spent three years on the bestseller list. The Library of Congress named it one of the most influential books of the century.

Subtitled Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Passages is the bible of the linear life. Using her unmatched talent in naming, Sheehy said all adults go through the same four stages: the Trying Twenties; the Catch-30 around your thirtieth birthday; the Deadline Decade of your thirties; and the Age 40 Crucible. (She mentioned no passage after age forty, which she admitted later was an embarrassment.)

After Sheehy, the midlife crisis was no longer a theory; it was simply a fact of life.

The Deck of Disrupters

Let’s start with a definition. A disrupter is an event or experience that interrupts the everyday flow of one’s life. As opposed to stressors, crises, problems, or any other label they’ve been given over the years because the term is more value-neutral. Many disruptors, like adopting a child, say, or starting a new job, would not traditionally be defined as negative, yet they’re still disruptive. Even the most customarily negative life events, like losing a spouse or being fired, sometimes become catalysts for reinvention. Disruptors are simply deviations from daily life.

Bruce Feiler, the author of “Life is in the transitions”, mastering change at any age. Combed through 225 life stories to generate a master list of the events that meaningfully redirected people’s lives. These events ranged from getting married to caring for an ageing parent, from being fired to being sexually harassed, from overnight fame to public humiliation. The total number of disrupters was fifty-two. The parallel to a deck of cards is irresistible, so he named the list life’s deck of disrupters.

There were five storylines that emerged from the conversations as the shared fabric of personal identity. In order of the number of disrupters, the storylines are Love, Beliefs, Work, Identity, and Body.

*Excerpts from “Life is in the transitions.” Mastering change at any age by Bruce Feiler

Midlife Crisis Symptoms

Because midlife crises can affect people in different ways, there’s no simple checklist of behaviours. However, certain signs do seem common, such as dramatic changes in habits or mood swings, feelings of anger  or anxiety , emotional outbursts, or impulsive decision making and risk taking.

A previously energetic and happy team member may have stopped enjoying the activities that they used to do. They may have started comparing themselves unfavourably to others, or talking about making major changes in their life or career. This may be accompanied by a loss of confidence  or focus.

Other warning signs might include a colleague saying that they want to “get away from it all.” They may feel trapped in their role or life, and ask, “Is this it?” They may become obsessed with their appearance or health, talk about their past with regret, or change their spending habits to focus on fun and excitement.


How to Deal With a Midlife Crisis

Getting through a midlife crisis is a challenge, but it is something that you can deal with and overcome. Here, we explore four strategies for coping with this difficult stage of life.

  1. Talk to Someone

Don’t bottle up your feelings. Confide in someone you trust, such as a friend or partner, your doctor, a trained counsellor, a life coach, or a therapist.

Some of the signs of a midlife crisis – losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy, feeling pessimistic or hopeless, and, in extreme cases, having suicidal thoughts – are also symptoms of depression, and ignoring them could have serious implications for your health.

Alternatively, keeping a journal  can help you to make sense of your thoughts and feelings, and it can help you to understand any stresses in your life and career.

  1. Reframe Your Situation

We tend to look back at our youth as the “good old days,” and forget the challenges and difficulties that we faced then.

But there are many positives to getting older, such as wisdom, experience and security. So, rather than saying, “My best days are behind me,” ask yourself, “What do I want to change?” Use rational thinking  to challenge any negative thoughts, and focus on what you still want out of life, rather than what you’ve lost. “Count your blessings” and think about things that you are grateful for.

Now that you’re feeling stronger, have another look at your unfulfilled ambitions. Is it really too late to achieve them? Consider this time as an awakening, and as your chance to reassess your life and to make changes for the better.

  1. Do a Life Audit

You may be feeling painfully dissatisfied right now, and want to make some dramatic changes before it’s seemingly too late. But, before you do, it’s worth thoroughly brainstorming  what’s working in your life, as well as what isn’t.

Use this time as an opportunity to re-examine your values  and sense of purpose. Don’t judge your situation on others’ expectations or compare it to other people’s – they probably have their own doubts and insecurities.

Catalyst for reinvention

In my coaching sessions with my clients, they often use expressions like “I went through a mid-life crisis at twenty-five or thirty-seven or forty-six, or when I reached my fifties and when I retired. My midlife crisis happened at forty when I got divorced and at fifty-six when I lost my business due to the 2009 banking crisis and went personally bankrupt. These were undoubtedly catalysts for my reinvention.


Have you ever stopped to consider how many times you have reinvented your-self in your life? Maybe changed schools, or moved cities, or changed jobs and careers. Discovered new things about your-self, your identity, beliefs, your image and who you really want to be. For me, these are all forms of reinvention. And reinvention can be both positive (moving towards) and negative (moving away from.)

So, what does reinvention mean for you? Perhaps it’s moving on from a relationship, losing your job, starting a new career. You may want to increase your confidence and empower yourself to feel less anxious and be free from self-doubt and negative self-talk. Create positive habits that serve you, not negative ones that hold you back.

Reinvention coaching is about giving your-self the confidence to make changes and move outside your comfort zone. Because being comfortable doesn’t get you to where you want to be.

So, where do you want to be? What if you were curious enough to find out…

If you like what you hear and want to discover more about reinvention coaching and how it could help you

Grab yourself a coffee and let’s have a chat. If all this call did was to inspire you into action would it be worth it?

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