Midlife needs rebranding, and redefining midlife crisis for women is an important priority. Why? We are living longer than ever before. As a result, we are boldly going where no women have gone before. In addition, we’re talking about once taboo topics like menopause, sex, and aging.
Until the 20th century few people lived past middle age. Leave infant mortality out of the equation, and between the 12th and 19th centuries average live expectancy was fifty-five. Few women made it to let alone through menopause. You reached midlife, kicked out the kids, and croaked.
In contrast, today the average life expectancy of women in the United States is eighty and a half years. In addition, if you reach sixty-five there’s a 46 percent chance that you will live to ninety. For the first time, people are living longer.
Midlife is a miracle?
Take a moment, subtract your age from ninety. Certainly, you’ve got a whole lot of living to do. How will you spend those decades?
Reaching midlife is a miracle not a fiasco. You can shift and transform. You get an entire second adulthood to know and love yourself on a deeper level. Therefore, it’s time to figure out who you are and what you want. Most importantly, you can take all the mistakes you made in your first adulthood, throw them in a makeover blender, and create a smoothie of an existence.
Blue-haired crone in a rocking chair, binge-watching Jeopardy and The Golden Girls? Forget about it! We want to rock midlife. As teens we listened to Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, and Cyndi Lauper; now we want to dream on, think about tomorrow, and have fun!
Nothing is written in stone. In other words, anything and everything is possible. For instance, you can change jobs (the average woman does it twelve times in her lifetime), partners, your hair color, your health, sell everything and move to a tiny house in a foreign nation, or travel cross country in an RV; it’s up to you. Literally, you can transform who you are and how you live. This is the miracle of midlife.
Creating a new vision and vocabulary
Possibilities are endless. However, we have yet to create a new vocabulary and vision for this period of life. For example, Google “midlife” and it’s conjoined with crisis. Put midlife in the thesaurus and the only synonym that appears is, “the wrong side of forty.”
In other words, the current “midlife crisis” scenario we know too well of breakdown and radical behavior no longer fits. As researcher and author Brené Brown writes,
“To call what happens at midlife ‘a crisis’ is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable, and defining event that can be controlled and managed. Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.”Brene´ Brown
Moreover, that unraveling can be a good thing. First, the yarn you liberate can be spun into a second adulthood. Second, you can learn how to Rock Your Midlife. Most importantly, with that knowledge you can weave a miracle of midlife tapestry.
Today, midlife in the 2020s isn’t a dreaded downhill slog towards old age. The increase in life expectancy necessitates a fresh definition and new narrative. Yes, we may struggle with our mortality and search for ways to feel younger. However, that angst fuels positive change.
Midlife crisis for women isn’t a breakdown. Instead, it’s a breakthrough period – an opportunity to make your next chapter your best chapter. Consider this, the Chinese word for crisis consist of two characters: wēi, 危 which means ‘danger” and jī, 机; 機 which means “change point.” Perhaps, you feel you’re losing your mind. Crisis is your change point. Why? It is tempering and transforming you.
The challenges you face in your 40s and 50s are catalysts that kick you out of your comfort zone. The chaos, confusion, and uncertainty within and without are the wake-up call you need to start transforming.
What does a midlife crisis look like?
Here’s a question, when you think of midlife crisis for women what comes to mind? Nothing? Perhaps your mind pictures the classic male cliché – an aging man with a receding hairline, who’s terrified of becoming old and irrelevant. In a disparate attempt to boost his ego and testosterone levels, he’s racing into his fifties driving a red convertible accompanied by his thirty-something personal fitness trainer on the way to pick up Viagra.
While this remains the dominate narrative surrounding “midlife crisis” and does happen (I’ve had a couple of clients with Runaway Husbands – a term coined by Vikki Stark – who experienced Wife Abandonment Syndrome.) the cliché is not the norm. Plus, it’s miles from the reality of midlife crisis for women.
Midlife crisis first appeared in 1965. The term is older than most GenX women! Canadian psychoanalyst, social scientist, and management consultant, Elliot Jaques coined the term. Why? He observed some clients when faced with mortality and limitations radically changed their behavior.
However, while the term midlife crisis remains, few people (perhaps as low as 8 percent) make drastic life changes at midlife. In addition, the concept is the subject of jokes. For example, Mrs. Clause tells Santa “You can’t trade you sleigh for a Harley!” Similarly, movies (American Beauty, Another Round, and Thelma and Louise...) reinforce the old narrative.
The cliché belittles the inner turmoil experienced at midlife. Certainly, we realize we’re running out of time. What do we want? Above all, meaning, purpose, and connection, and facelift or Porsche isn’t going to feed our starving soul.
What triggers a midlife crisis?
First, there is no norm for a midlife crisis in women. Second, what triggers the so called “midlife crisis” for women varies tremendously between and within individuals. In addition, societal, cultural, and policy changes influence the triggers. Consider the last two Covid infected years. Since women tend to be the caregivers, school policy changes required numerous midlife women to juggle jobs and teach their children.
Most of us don’t experience the stereotypical “midlife crisis” cliché. However, most of us do experience ‘a loss of self-confidence and feelings of anxiety or disappointment that can occur in early middle age, which was how Jacque defined midlife crisis.
Existential fears around our own mortality and what the future holds combined with regrets that we haven’t accomplished enough are common. These uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can trigger a crisis of faith, of meaning, of confidence, or of relationship. In addition, the crisis can be internal, external, or both and last for moments or months.
The midlife crisis typically has three phases: yellow (trigger), red (crisis) and green (resolution). The triggers include stressors (demanding stimuluses) and challenges (experiences that require grit). Challenges and stressors help us. First, we become stronger and can better handle what life throws our way. Second, we become wiser and can therefore better grow into the next phase of life. Challenges and stressors are like grains of sand. They trigger irritation to make a pearl.
What’s the biggest challenge? It’s not menopause. Research from the Midlife Health Study revealed one overarching theme, “Searching for balance.” In addition, the study revealed several challenges including changing family relationships, re-balancing work/personal life, re-discovering self, securing enough resources, and coping with multiple co-occurring stressors.
What does a midlife crisis feel like?
Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep describes midlife crisis as “a toxic brew of fear, anxiety and anger.” Researching an article called “The New Midlife Crisis” she asked a friend “do you know anyone having a midlife crisis I could talk to?” What did her friend say? “I’m trying to think of any woman I know who’s not.” Calhoun admits what keep us up at night are first world problems and maybe we shouldn’t feel bad. But she admits “indeed we do.” Stress, depression, and finding happiness are all common for Gen Xers. As she puts it, “An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed.”
These difficult, confusing feelings can vary from day to day. You may feel like a hot mess juggling multiple rolls on Monday, fearful about moving forward with a project or desire on Wednesday, completely overwhelmed on Thursday, and like you’re about to lose it on Friday.
I’ve worked with hundreds of women at midlife and gone through rough waters myself. Going through a midlife crisis can feel like being hit by a Mack Truck filled with physical, emotional, and mental turmoil.
In my forties, work/life balance was elusive. I had two young children, a tiring job, a failing marriage, and undiagnosed Hashimoto’s disease. Peri menopausal symptoms were flaming the exhaustion, frustration, and irritability. Working as a personal fitness trainer was sapping my energy. My marriage and libido were eroding because we were touching base about childcare and supper rather than touching each other.
Life can feel like Ground Hog Day. The self-doubt and lack of self-confidence make it hard to change habits and your trajectory. You feel frustrated and tired. Why? You lack the support you need and may be overworked and under appreciated,
When does a midlife crisis start?
A “midlife crisis” typically begins between the late thirties to early fifties. While, we label it as a crisis period with a set timeline it isn’t the only challenging period. The truth is, we go through phases and stages throughout our lifespan. Plus, we are always reevaluating priorities and goals. For example, teenagers question who they are, what they want, and where they are going. Twenty somethings may feel in crisis mode as they transition from school to a job. Thirty somethings may face a crisis as they have kids.
The midlife crisis low point is normal and natural. It’s common humanity, the second element in Kristin Neff’s definition of self-compassion. The suffering or questioning we experience is a common part of the life.
That angst can lead us to question where we are and follow up on our dreams. Empty nest creates space to change careers or follow a passion that we’ve been longing to explore.
As journalist Jonathan Rauch points out in his book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, a large body of research across 132 countries shows that there is a U-shaped curve in self-reported life satisfaction scores that cuts across our species.
Most, if not all of us hit a low point at midlife. As Rauch explains, “it’s not just a crisis” but “a change in our values and sources of satisfaction, a change in who we are.” He calls it the dawn of “encore adulthood” and defines it as a new stage of adult development that is reshaping how we think about retirement, education, and human potential.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that we reach our potential at age 60 and this continues into your 80s. Midlife is a gateway to the best time of your life.
How do you fix a midlife crisis?
Ah if only it were as easy as taking your car to the shop for a 50,000 mile oil change or ditching the jalopy for a Jaguar.
Ironically, the place to start fixing your midlife crisis is accepting where and who you are right now flaws and all. To paraphrase Carl Rogers, the strange paradox is when you accept yourself as you are you can change. Plus, acceptance helps you feel okay at midlife. Therefore you can drop the “I’m not good enough” storyline.
From a Law of Attraction (like attracts like) perspective, you stop attracting what’s not working. As a result, you stop sabotage your future. Instead you can create what you want. What shows up is the antithesis of crisis: peace and calm.
To sum it up, redefining the midlife crisis for women, requires us to first embrace challenges as opportunities to transform. Once we do that we can start to discover the miracle of midlife.
Want to know specifics on how to transform at midlife? Grab my free gift: 10 Tips to Rock Your Midlife HERE.