This is a term I've been hearing more and more lately, as a more accurate description than "mid-life crisis". I would say the majority of my community of friends is mid-30s to mid-50s and I'm blown away by how many of us are in some phase of the mid-life awakening season of our lives. I always tell my kids I'm going to live to be at least 108 so I'd like to believe that this identity crisis of-sorts that started a couple years ago is more of a "first one-third life crisis" for me.
I wouldn't have called this a mid-life crisis or mid-life awakening two or three years ago when it started bubbling up to the surface. In fact, I wouldn't have even acknowledged that my crazy feelings and thoughts were actually quite similar to descriptions of mid-life crisis that I had read about or thought I understood. I felt too young to be having any sort of mid-life anything, let alone a crisis of identity. That term mid-life crisis seemed like a bad word, a psychological disorder, implying something that's broken and desperately needs to be fixed.
There was naturally a little box of shame that accompanied me when the thought first crossed my mind "Am I having a mid-life crisis?" I had spent years working on mindset, around my business and personal growth. I had spent tens of thousands of dollars on coaching, seminars, and classes. I had a library full of self-help, personal growth, and business books I had read. So how could I be having a mid-life crisis? It felt like a weakness, like my operating system had been hacked and infected by a malware virus.
My life from the outside was so normal, and seemed kindof perfect. So how is there anything resembling a crisis in that? What would possibly need to change? I wasn't out buying a sports car, reinventing my look, or leaving my family and having a wild affair (isn't that the image that we usually conjure up when we think mid-life crisis?). I suppose my story is so much more vanilla than that -- no big exploits to speak of yet. But I have also come to believe that what I'm experiencing is not at all unique to me.
I live a pretty drama-free life. Two very healthy kids whom I love and adore. A husband of 23 years (only married once--the love of my life!). Middle class. Own our home in a great community and have a healthy financial picture. Successful careers. So WTF?! How does that life equate with any sort of crisis of identify when I turned 40. The fact that I even have the luxury or priveledge to spend a second of my thoughts on something as self-indulgent as contemplating a mid-life crisis should say a lot.
As I began to journal on this (and, gasp! I even began talking to other people about it) and really contemplate my experience, I saw how common it was; though it takes a different form for everyone. Even some of my 30-year old friends were having a similar experience. This is when I began to see it as a journey of awakening--rather than a crisis. It's a process of awakening to an intense, strong desire to find more purpose and meaning in one's life. A process of beginning to challenge myself with tough questions about who I am, my place in the world, and diving deeper into my understanding of joy, love, and meaning in life. (Hint: For me, I also have come to understand that I must not only be the recipient of joy, love, and meaning. I must give it and add more of it to the world.)
It's not entirely different from the coming-of-age identity crisis many of us experienced in our late teens through early 20's as we begin to find our independence and establish goals and dreams for what we want our lives to look like. The biggest difference this time is that it feels like it's less about proving something to the world. I'm still asking what I'm going to be when I grow up. (I kindof giggle inside when I imagine my 90-year old self asking what I'm going to be when I grow up, but I also can entirely see this as a possibility.)
This time, the questions are about how I want to experience the world. And how can I help others around me experience the world in a more favorable way? How do I want to feel each day? How can I help others feel better each day? Am I happy and/or fulfilled? I realize now these are very different and fulfillment is more significant for me. And the BIG question: How would I feel about my life if I died today? Would I have felt fulfilled. Would I feel love and a deep spiritual connection to a source energy? Or would I feel regret? Fear?
These were ultimately the questions that completely shifted my career momentum in the spring of 2017. This mid-life awakening sparked something in me that I simply couldn't turn my back on. It was an awareness that I knew the answer to that BIG question: How would I feel about my life if I died today? And I didn't like the answer. Once I admitted that to myself, I couldn't undo it. I knew I had to make changes in my life. My striving in my career and my definition of success at that time (which has since changed and continues to change) had me on a path of choosing career over family and choosing a version of myself that I liked less and less each day. I longed to spend more time truly being present for my family. And though I didn't fully realize it at the time, I longed to reconnect with a part of myself that I had ditched many years ago in pursuit of my notion of success. It means a lot to me to be sitting here typing this blog because I know that this blog is part of that version of me that got scrapped so many years ago. The part that I ditched to pursue a more financially-lucrative version of success.
I am now nearly 3 years into that process of re-aligning my priorities with my heart and intentions. This mid-life awakening has been a priceless gift. I believe it would have been an entirely different experience had it not been for Chris supporting me through it all and helping to create a pressure-free space to explore new interests and indulge curiosities. My work team has also been a gift that has allowed this to work. For all of them, I am very grateful.
The little box of shame that I packed around when I first glimpsed that I might be having a mid-life crisis has now been unpacked and put away. I realize that my journey is a key part of bringing me back into alignment with a deeper purpose and meaning that I'm craving. I've spent the first 1/3 (based on my hopeful thinking) of my life checking boxes and climbing ladders. I've now begun to examine those checked boxes and those ladder rungs to analyze whether they are creating fulfillment. I have no doubt I have much more growth and work to do around the notion of fulfillment as I continue to create a new definition of success, but I'm excited to see the possibilities ahead.