October 28, 2018

Detours on the Way to a Midlife “Puberty.”

Puberty is known for a few things: acne, sexual exploration, body insecurity, questioning authority, and acting out against social norms.

From what I can tell so far, midlife is pretty similar to puberty.

Midlife can be anywhere from late 30s to mid-50s. Although I’m still somewhere in that range, for me it has not been a singular event, aka a crisis—yet.

Brené Brown describes midlife as an “unraveling,” which feels much closer to my experience, but still implies that there is some connectivity to the life you led before.

For me, midlife has been more like a lane change: I was driving in one lane that I thought I knew and even enjoyed, and suddenly, there was a detour that took me to someplace completely different.

There are a number of stereotypes associated with midlife: affairs, buying expensive cars, second careers, and divorce to name a few. As always, there is some truth within the exaggerations, but the pitfalls of midlife can be an opportunity to experience some beautiful, albeit unexpected, things.

When it comes to lane changes in life, there are many kinds of “drivers” on the road. Some use turning signals, and some do not. Some change lanes quickly and others take their time. Some pay no attention to other drivers and nearly cause an accident.

The same holds true for midlife transitions. Which type of midlife driver are you?

Driving Miss Daisy: Always obeying the traffic laws, The Driving Miss Daisy midlifer knows that the lane change is coming well ahead of time, puts on the turning signal in order to make sure everyone else knows what is about to happen, and cautiously looks over his shoulder to make sure he is navigating correctly. The Driving Miss Daisy starts planning for midlife early on (say, maybe mid-30s) and the lane change is slow and smooth.

National Lampoon’s Vacation: Clark Griswold is driving with his family in his station wagon when a beautiful woman pulls up in a Ferrari. Griswold starts imagining his life with the beautiful woman and the fast car as his wife sleeps in the seat next to him. The National Lampoon’s Vacation midlifer is itchy and wants a faster, more glamorous life so he drives faster and more recklessly in an attempt to keep up. He is desperate to feel some validation from the beautiful woman and will risk anything to feel young again. But, look out—you never know what is coming in the other lane!

Sandra Bullock in Speed: Sandra Bullock is terrified as she drives the speeding bus down the freeway. She is white-knuckled, holding on to the steering wheel when she sees the end of the freeway up ahead. Despite her fear, she manages to clear the gap with the bus. There is cheering and a brief sense of relief before the next challenge reminds her that she still has much to fear. The Speed midlifer faces challenge after challenge, and although her life as she knew it blew up and she is scared to death, she navigates it all and finds out she’s pretty badass in the end.

Thelma and Louise: As Thelma and Louise face their feelings about midlife and embark on a life of adventure, they must choose to obey the laws of society or live life on their own terms. Their final act is one of disobedience and solidarity as they put the car in gear and “put the pedal to the metal” one last time. The Thelma and Louise midlifer goes all in and throws caution to the wind as she realizes that she can shed societal norms and expectations to find the freedom of spirit she has been looking for.

Just like we cannot avoid puberty, we cannot avoid the inevitability of aging.

We embrace puberty and the “coming of age” that accompanies it. We also have an opportunity to embrace our midlife lane changes with the same sense of humor and understanding that we lend to teenagers.

We are all still learning and growing, even as we approach the middle of life. Changing lanes gives us a new perspective and may take us in a new direction, but we are still in the driver’s seat.

Buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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