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.
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