Midlife crisis is inevitable, right?

To quote Gershwin, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “midlife?”

I asked that on Facebook the other day, and at thirty-three replies and counting, got way more responses than the cutest bunny video I’ve ever posted. (Bunny Elphaba is not happy about this, but I am.)

Six people said “midlife” evokes “crisis,” although three qualified their responses as influenced by cultural brainwashing.

Other responses – second chances, second act, relief, gratitude, self-determination and wisdom – confirm my assertion that I’m connected to some of the most well-adjusted and enlightened folks on social media.

Four people said, “freedom,” which puts it in either first or second place, depending on whether I count the “crisis, because of brainwashing” replies.

Approximately 10% of the respondents in my totally informal, non-scientific, would never pass peer review inquiry equated “midlife” with “crisis.”

The fascinating part?

Numerous formal, scientific, peer-reviewed research studies show that 10% is exactly the incidence of bona fide midlife crisis of the “existential fear about impending death and lost opportunities” variety.

The remaining 90% of us are likely to experience something at midlife – a shift, a malaise, a checkup, an upheaval.

But the whole crisis thing?

Not a given for the vast majority of us.

The term some believe is so inevitable that it might as well be one word – midlifecrisis – was coined in a 1965 paper titled “Death and the Mid-Life Crisis,” by Canadian psychoanalyst Elliot James. He based the term on his observations regarding 350 historical geniuses (think Mozart) and a handful of his psychotherapy patients, all men.

In 1978, Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson wrote a book, The Seasons of a Man’s Life, based on conversations with colleagues at Yale and interviews with 40 subjects – 30 professionals and 10 industrial laborers. All men.

Noticing a theme here?

Based on 40 interviews and a handful of chats with Yale professors, Levinson concluded that 80% of men between 40 and 45 suffer the agonizing process of de-illusionment when they compare youthful dreams with their midlife reality, which forces them to choose a new path or adjust the old one.

The problem, other than samples which don’t come close to being representative of the general population?

Researchers who have done extensive, long-term, peer-reviewed studies of midlife over decades simply cannot find evidence that midlife crisis is inevitable, and they consistently estimate that only one out of ten people experience a genuine midlife crisis.

That’s not to say that midlife transition isn’t a thing.

It is.

More and more in the new world of work.

And while I’m not up for agonizing in “de-illusionment,” a la Levinson, I think self-reflection and adjusting one’s path is a good and necessary thing that creates opportunities for growth and, yes, freedom.

 

image: Pixabay, used with permission

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