CASE STUDY > Mid-life crisis
A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45 to 65 years old. The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person's growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly lack of accomplishments in life. This may produce feelings of intense depression, remorse, and high levels of anxiety, or the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to their current lifestyle or feel the wish to change past decisions and events.
Patrick was a successful senior manager. He worked in a great company, commuting to London from a vibrant town and ran a high performance team well. He had seen his children through school and into good universities, and had organised his parents' recent move to the coast, to be a closer to him and his family. To an outsider his life was successful and full. What was clear to Patrick though, was that whilst it was busy, he was increasingly wondering why he worked as hard as he did and what had happened to his ambitions and dreams and the younger trailblazing Patrick.
He was arguing at home about how much support the older children needed, and what their responsibilities were towards getting them on the housing ladder. He was finding life repetitive and boring, and he was despairing at being the only one in the household really working, day in, day out. His house seemed full of young adults, sitting around having fun and he increasingly went upstairs to get away from them. His house was too small, and a prison rather than the spacious refuge he felt he should have at his age. He began to act out of character, going off all day with his guitar and sleeping in his car, being tired and unsociable the following day.
How to get over a mid-life crisis
His wife had become concerned and suggested life coaching when he was started to make excuses for missing work. Parick began to reassess his values, his drivers and motivations and to start to live his life intentionally again. To make active choices in his life, and feel his life was moving in a direction with purpose. Touching on existential themes of a purpose in life that was bigger than him, the family and his work. His life before the family had been implusive and exciting, with a highlight of cycling through Brazil as a fundraiser with friends. He needed to see beyond the nostalgic past to an optimistic future.
Finding purpose in work, and in life
Patrick looked at areas where he could grow, to develop areas that added energy, connection and interest to his life. He began to notice what he was thinking and saying, and how he could create a more positive mindset about his life. Getting music and cycling back into his life, but in a more balanced way, as a creative outlet that gave him connection, inspiration and energy.
The classic book Man's Meaning in Life by the psychologist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl suggests 3 key ways to find meaning in life - by making a difference in the world, by having particular experiences, or by adopting particular attitudes. Crucially, this is a very individual subjective approach, and there's no one answer for all. What each person can do though, like Patrick, is to understand more about what means most to you, as a person, and how intentionally working towards this can create a meaningful life.
Am I having a mid-life crisis?
You, or someone you care about could be experiencing:
a strong desire to hold on to youth, or younger friends, at whatever cost
frustration or annoyance with people who are happy and 'in a rut'
out of character changes to lifestyle - the classic motorbike purchase without a licence
a sense that you have not lived up to your expectations, that life hasn't quite worked out
an urgency about resolving any past 'mistakes' or experiences in life
a feeling that you need to alter the course of your life, immediately
confusion or disconnect from your identity and role at work or home
shame about your life compared to your peers, wanting to avoid some people
over-indulgence in drink, sex or drugs or hedonistic activities
a sense of a lack of meaning in your life, or purpose - 'is this it?'
Research is pointing to less of a ‘mid-life’ crisis, but more of a natural life cycle that can happen to anyone, at any point in life, with the chance to reflect. This can bring a greater sense of fulfilment and happiness as you can take the time to rethink and intentionally create a more meaningful phase in your life. You can bring your skills and knowledge gained throughout your life to support a renewed purpose in life. This new phase can be motivated by both a fear of letting go of the past, or a desire to hang on to it.
“I was dragging around all this stuff about how I was going to be different from my parents, and really give my kids opportunities... but I got stuck with work a bit and forgot to do the same for myself. Thank you Ella for opening up my eyes to this, it's been a revelation and an education.
Interesting reads & watches:
Try this at home:
We often forget the things that give us energy, connection and inspiration as we work out way through life. The Spectrum of Possibilities can reveal some new options.
Draw out a horizontal line of 10 boxes on a piece of paper and mark them up as 1 - 10
Headline this with a phrase that makes you feel energised about a new possible career. eg. Doing something with nature to help people reach their potential
Write the smallest idea in the number 1 box eg. Read books on ecopsychology or nature's effect on happiness
Write your wildest dream in the number 10 box eg. Run a working-holiday retreat on a sustainable small-holding in Andalusia
Fill in the other 8 boxes and review the full spectrum of possibilities.
Are there some that would actually work as well, or start you on your path to your dream? e.g. join a community allotment with volunteers from all walks of life as a social enterprise.