I’m sure the term “midlife crisis” rings a bell. The clichéimage of an older man running off with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, zooming into the sunset in a new convertible may come to mind. In reality midlife crises are not so generic. Not only is the experience itself very personal, the timing and consequences often vary depending on circumstances. For some time now this phenomenon has been widely accepted. A recent longitudinal study conducted by the German Institute for the Study of Labor has found conclusive evidence of “A U-Shape in Life Satisfaction with Age.” What is most striking is how uniform this pattern is across cultures, each with a low point in happiness around age 40.
Each situation is highly personalized, but typically midlife crises occur amidst several other life changes. Sometimes it comes as a result of hormonal changes (menopause for women), empty nest syndrome, caring for aging parents, and acceptance of visual aging signs. It is a time of reflection—life contemplation. Where is my life going? Am I truly happy in my job, in my home? Stagnation in either work or personal lives is acutely felt. It is a period of reinvention. Taking up that hobby that someone never had time for. Truly appreciating one’s youth and trying to live life to the fullest. The scary realization that your life is halfway done, that death is inevitable provides perspective.
I am fully convinced that before the midlife crisis exists the mid-adolescent crisis, deemed by myself the “midlescent crisis” is experienced. Just as we all prepare to go to college several forces are at work. Everyone realizes that graduation is a rite of passage—a turning point in the story of our lives. It is a deeply sentimental time for many. Whether joining the workforce, the armed services, or going onto a secondary education nothing will be the same.
For 12+ years the majority of people have had a well-accustomed schedule. Five days out of the week we went to school. The daily routine, well rehearsed that after much practice ran every morning without a hitch. For those going onto college this is a time for introspection through writing all those college essays and finding your “true” self. Bygone are middle school days full of experimenting with haircuts and outfit choices, rebelling against society norms, and we go onto angst-filled awkward teenagers.
Now we are welcomed into the adult world. We can revamp our vision, decide who we are and how we want to be perceived. Being able to differentiate what we want for ourselves rather than what others want from us. Independent enough to explore our passions and follow our hearts, take risks, live and learn, but still young enough to avoid the harsh consequences and collateral damage that such behavior can garner in later years. Midlife crises get a bad rep because of how it affects other people. Children, spouses, close family and friends are not necessarily on the same page as the person going through the crisis and are taken by surprise by uncharacteristic behavior and sudden changes.
The time after graduation is ideal for reminiscing. Campfires have a way of bringing up sweet memories. Those times that you said you would laugh about when you were older and finally are able to see the humor in. I’ve seen a revival in childhood traditions. Personally, I have taken up skateboarding, a hobby mostly chosen by middle schoolers, but something I’ve always wanted to try. Without school or summer work people have a chance to try new things, reinvent themselves. A common theme for people is wanting to get in shape the summer before college, to better integrate an active lifestyle into their daily routine.
Though not as well documented, I fully believe the “midlescent crisis” is real. Perhaps recent high school graduates are not going out and buying fancy new convertibles nor eloping with children half their age (that would be quite shocking and very illegal!). Yet, there is a clear undefined period. The boldness that comes with a midlife crises is represented in the fearless confidence that graduates exude. The willingness to try new things, risk it all, be vulnerable and have no regrets. The people you went to high school with you likely won’t see for a long time, if ever again. So why not speak your mind? How death seems to negate any hesitation, so too does the thought of a brighter better future, different from one’s high school life, so invigorate people.
It is a scary thought, leaving behind what you have known and coming into the real world, far from the safety bubble of childhood. The independence is at once exhilarating and terrifying. What will we make of our lives? If we only have ourselves to rely on, who will we be? Who do we want to be? What do we stand for? We have to embrace this time of change, time of reflection, so that the “midlescent crisis” may not follow in the shadow of the midlife crisis. This can have all the benefits, living happier, more satisfied and confident lives, without the large impact that comes from making such drastic reevaluation and change when you already have a well-established life and family. Use this time wisely, for the power of a “midlescent crisis” has the potential for both good and bad.
Cheng, Terence C., Nattavudh Powdthavee, and Andrew J. Oswald. Longitudinal Evidence for a Midlife Nadir in Human Well-being: Results from Four Data Sets. Rep. no. 7942. Germany: IZA, 2014. Print.
Diller, Ph.D., Vivian. “The ‘New’ Midlife Crisis.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 17 July 2013. Web. 30 June 2014.
Emling, Shelley. “7 Signs You Might Be Facing A Midlife Crisis.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 June 2014.
“Mid-Life.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 30 June 2014.