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I remember my dad telling me about some of the doctors he worked with: how they had new red sports cars, a dangerous new hobby, or a younger and blonder girlfriend.
He threw around the term “midlife crisis,” which had no meaning to me as a kid, but it did seem to be a catch-all for unexpected, often crazy, behavior.
When I hit 42, I suddenly and painfully understood: this precious, precious existence will come to an end. Maybe the pandemic brought this awareness on early. One thought has dominated my thoughts: you have limited time, limited paths and adventures, limited experiences and emotions to feel. Will you continue your life as it is, slowly floating down the lazy-river of milestones—college, job, wedding, kids, retirement, death—or will you dive into the icy water and swim somewhere unknown?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver
Once you’ve had the realization that your journey is ending sometime between now and 50 years from now, the lens becomes black and white. The little voice in your head ramps up the tension: stay with the safe path you’ve chosen, or move to Costa Rica and start a sloth sanctuary? Dream within the current structure of your life, or scare yourself with bigger, grander visions of what your life could be?
The questions that arise can be alarming:
>> Will I ever fall in love again?
>> Will I ever travel somewhere and have an adventure by myself?
>> Will I ever fulfill my potential in my career?
>> Will I reach self-actualization and stop doubting myself once and for all?
>> Will I make enough of an impact on this world?
>> Will I write my book?
>> Will I have enough time alone?
The minutes begin to tick, the second-hand tapping in your ear, and a message flashes across your mind at least once a day: you are wasting time!
The urgency to take action builds. But instead of a corvette or paragliding, I imagine a career change, a tiny house, and possibly a meditation retreat.
I imagine doing more of what I want, and less of what everyone else wants.
I think about my grandmother, who was widowed early and had 25 years to herself. People used to ask her if she wanted to get remarried. She would smile like a Cheshire cat and reply, “Why would I do that? I am only responsible for myself now.” She had the resources to travel and eat out with friends and take in a Broadway show—that was her reward for a dutiful life. She wouldn’t have had it any other way, but what if she hadn’t outlived my grandfather?
A woman’s midlife crisis isn’t about wanting to be younger. It is about wanting more time with herself, to live from a selfish place, one that isn’t populated with the needs of others.
It is about getting to know herself deeply, authentically, outside of the confines of her many roles. It is about reconnecting with a part of herself—the part that is Untamed, to quote Glennon Doyle, and free—that she may not have touched since adolescence.
A midlife crisis is rooted in what we’ve had to give up, to put away for another time. For men, maybe it is their sexual prowess—that vital energy that makes them feel young and invincible. For women, it is their authentic, unadulterated sense of self, untethered from others’ expectations. Perhaps, if somehow, we could allow those parts to filter through along the way, we wouldn’t need to blow everything up to find them again later.
Or perhaps, that is the beauty of a midlife crisis: to start again, reclaiming what was once ours.