Midlife equals crisis. Or not.

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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