Throughout the modern era, no birthday has sent shivers down the spine more than the big 5-0.
There’s something about 50 that sends us scurrying into denial. We don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to talk about it. We certainly don’t want to acknowledge it.
The age of 50 is significant because it is a time of transition, the point at which we reach the middle of our life expectancy (even though midlife in Western society is about 41-43 for women and 40-42 for men).
It’s a psychological turning point, the age of no return, when we are closer to retirement than not. Worse, insurance companies start targeting us to up our premiums and doctors suddenly take an interest in anatomical areas we’d forgotten about in our infancy.
But it’s also the age with which we commonly associate with crisis. Which is why we have a name for it—the midlife crisis.
It’s the time where our identity is questioned and our self-confidence is challenged. Though it affects both men and women alike, men seem to be most affected (or at least outwardly show it). I tell people I had my midlife crisis at 28, so it’s given me 22 years to think about turning 50. Which means I’ve had 22 years of crisis.
But jokes aside, the age of 50 seems to be the age at which our mortality suddenly hits home. Up until this moment, the thought of death has been pushed to the back of our mind. Death is something that happens to other people, older people, not you. Especially not now.
The crisis occurs, however, when you can no longer tell yourself that you are further from death than nearer to it. The age of 50 is the line in the sand, and you’ve just crossed it. Which triggers all kinds of fear, self-analysis and introspection.
- Did I do (or am I doing) what I always wanted to do?
- Have I become the person I hoped I would?
- Am I where I thought I’d be by now?
When the answer is ‘No’ to these questions, the reality of this self-perceived failure gnaws in your stomach like an ulcer. Feelings of remorse and regret, confusion, resentment, humiliation, and longing for the vitality of youth.
But there is still time to live the life you dreamed you always would. All it takes is a change in mindset.
I call this ‘turning your midlife crisis into midlife opportunity’. When viewed in a positive light, this is a time full of potential, full of opportunity for self-growth and self-realisation, which can be greatly beneficial and rewarding.
As Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, said:
“People may call what happens at midlife a ‘crisis’, but it’s not. It’s an unravelling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re ‘supposed’ to live.”
The familiar image of a man going through midlife crisis is the 50-year-old who suddenly buys a shiny red sports car, divorces his wife, starts going to nightclubs he hasn’t been to for 15-20 years, and starts dating women half his age.
But this cliché image is not the real picture. The more common, hidden picture is of a man suffering a psychological battle, usually in silence:
- He feels a disconnection between who he has become and the person he feels he should be.
- He feels a lack of power—a psychological impotence—to change his circumstances to what he wants.
- He feels trapped in a role he hasn’t signed up for.
But this psychological battleground doesn’t have to end in defeat. You are only in a battle against yourself, not your circumstance.
Which is good news. In order to turn your midlife crisis into midlife opportunity, here are 3 strategies that will help you to use this time to become the best version of yourself you can be:
- Reconnect with the Real You
The period of midlife is an ideal time to reconnect with the real you. You know who that is; it’s the person behind the mask you’ve been wearing.
How long have you been wearing it? 10, 20, 30, 40 years?
Midlife is now the time to remove the mask and reveal the real you. The real you that has until this moment been hidden from the world, and perhaps even from yourself.
The real you is the truth of who you are. Like all truths, you know it without being told by anyone else; it’s simply who you are.
You can uncover the truth of yourself by answering some simple, but profound, questions:
- What values do you most align with—wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence? (*Values in Action Inventory of Strengths)
- What character traits do you value—creativity, bravery, honesty, perseverance, kindness, humility, humour, gratitude, forgiveness, love?
- What part of your being do you naturally seek—joy, security, worthiness, peace, freedom?
Take the time to reflect on your values, character and natural state of being, and the real you will reveal itself to you.
- Realign with Your Life-Purpose
Meaning and having a reason to live is vital for your wellbeing. As the philosopher, Carl Jung, said,
“Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”
Midlife is a time that seems disproportionally affected by the impact of life’s purpose, whereby the benefits of its presence are magnified and the detriments of its absence are exaggerated.
Research shows that people who are aligned with a life purpose have consistently better physical and mental health outcomes than those who ignore their life purpose.
In fact, those committed to their life purpose have a 20% lower risk of death (*Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine 2015, Dec).
They have a lower risk of heart problems and they even sleep better. They also have better function and independence with aging.
The benefits of life purpose are available to everyone. To reap these benefits, all that’s required is for you to align yourself with the reason you’re alive.
It is said that the two most important days of our life are the day we are born, and the day we find out why.
In his book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek says most businesses operate inside out. They focus on what they do first and how they do it. But he urges businesses to identify why they exist, what their purpose is for being in business. The ‘Why’ of a business leads to how that business operates, which leads to what they do, an inside-out approach.
Like most businesses, most people operate from the outside in. They know what they do and how they do it, but not why.
When you know your ‘Why’, though, when you take the inside-out approach and seek out the reason you were born, everything else falls into place like jigsaw pieces in the picture of your life.
- Rejuvenate Your Inner Power
Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness are heightened around the time of midlife. You can feel as though you are on a train racing toward retirement and death, a helpless passenger of life with limited power to do anything about it.
You can struggle with events as they unfold around you. You can feel as though all your efforts to change your life for the better are all in vain.
But power doesn’t come from what you have, it comes from who you are.
As Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search For Meaning, wrote:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
After witnessing the horrors of the Nazi death camps, Victor Frankl came to the realisation that he himself had the inner power to respond to the situation happening around him. There was no more helpless or powerless situation than being a prisoner of the Holocaust. With this understanding, he didn’t just survive, he went on to live and thrive.
You too can thrive by harnessing your own inner power. Midlife can be a time of rejuvenation, a time to revitalise and become the person you always wanted to become. You can be reborn to yourself in any way you choose.
50 can be the new 30, if you choose to seize the day and turn your midlife crisis into a midlife opportunity.