What image does the midlife crisis bring to mind? In my head I see Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester Burnham from the movie American Beauty. Lester Burnham quits his meaningless job, buys a red sportscar, starts working out regularly, and generally begins spending all of his time doing exactly what he wants to do. Lester Burnham is the prototype of a man in a midlife crisis.
But beneath the surface, what does the midlife crisis really signify? Discovering that you are not happy with your life the way it is? Realizing that the status quo is boring? Recognizing that you’d rather be doing something else with your time? Making changes focused around bringing you happiness in the present? This doesn’t sound so awful to me.
There are negative connotations with a midlife crisis, of course. Having a midlife crisis can be seen as making moves that would otherwise be seen as irresponsible. And true, if you realize that you’re unhappy, and all you do to fix it is buy a sportscar and start hunting after a younger woman (or man), you’re unlikely to be much happier than you were before. But the problem isn’t with the midlife crisis – it’s that you haven’t taken the crisis far enough.
Here’s what I think is really happening in a midlife crisis: it’s a crisis of identity – it’s waking up one day and asking yourself “is this it? Is this all life is?” It’s realizing that life is short. It’s realizing that going through the motions at a meaningless job for decades hoping to pack a bunch of happiness into a few retirement years is total crap.
The problem isn’t this realization. It’s that most people come to this realization too late in life. The crisis only happens in midlife because most people spend the first 50 years of life checking off the boxes of marriage, mortgage, kids, six-figure job, bigger house, nicer car, etc., before realizing that those things alone won’t make you happy. What really sucks about a midlife crisis is that people usually wait until midlife to have it.
Are you in need of an early midlife crisis? Ask yourself the following questions:
1) If you continue your current path for the next twenty years, will you be proud of the way you are spending your time now?
2) Are you checking off boxes created by other people, or are you doing what YOU want to do?
3) Are you doing the things that make you happiest in life on a daily basis?
If you’re not, wake up.
There is no such thing as the future.
Telling yourself that you’ll be happy when some future event happens (marriage, kids, raise, retirement, etc.) is feeding yourself a lie. Waiting to be happy in the future is training yourself to be OK with unhappiness in the present. Newsflash: It’s always the present.
There’s no need to wait until you’re 55 to have this kind of awakening. Start having your crisis now.
Yes, I’m suggesting you plan your own midlife (or quarter-life) crisis. Trust me, this will be better than buying a sportscar or being that old guy at the club.
1) Write down some one-time experience you’ve always wanted to have – whether it’s skydiving or riding a horse or going to a major league baseball game. Pick a date in the next 30 days and do it.
2) Write down one dream location you’ve always wanted to go. Print out a picture of the place and put it on your fridge or some other place you will see it daily. Skip your next meal out and put that $15 in a jar labeled my “My (dream location) fund.” Pick a date in a year and go there. Work overtime if you have to, but make it happen.
3) Write down the job/career/other way to make a living that you would rather have than the meaningless job you’re working now. Figure out the first tiny five-minute step towards moving into the career of your dreams. The smaller the step, the better – I don’t care if it’s just looking up the qualifications online. Take that step, then write down the next tiny little thing that moves you towards your dream career and do it tomorrow. Repeat. Never miss a day.