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  • Writer's pictureCécile Hemery

Midlife Crisis Doesn't Have to Happen When You're 50

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Woman seating on a sofa reflecting

The concept of a midlife crisis has long been associated with individuals reaching their 40s and 50s, typically depicted as a time of turmoil and discontent. However, recent perspectives challenge the notion that this crisis is solely confined to a specific age range. In fact, many individuals experience an existential crisis and search for meaning and purpose at various stages of their lives. The traditional stereotypes of the sports car or clinging to youth no longer define this phenomenon. Instead, it is a deep introspection into who we are and why we are here.

Elliot Jacques, a psychoanalyst, first came up with the term "midlife crisis" in 1965 after observing significant changes in one of his middle-aged clients. However, this crisis is not limited to middle age. My clients going through these experiences can be anywhere from their late 20s to their 60s.

Midlife crisis turns everything upside down

It is a profound emotional turmoil that affects multiple aspects of life, including relationships, careers, confidence, happiness, and a sense of purpose. It is not a crisis that can be neatly categorised or attributed to a single cause. Rather, it permeates every aspect of one's existence, leaving everything feeling upside down.

The underlying cause of this crisis is often rooted in the search for meaning and purpose. In a society that offers unprecedented freedom and choice, you are confronted with the daunting task of determining how to navigate your life.

Considerations such as the environment, our contribution to society, and the legacy we leave behind contribute to this loss of meaning. Many of my clients express feelings of inadequacy about working in corporate environments that prioritise profit over purpose.

Choice of career is often an illusion

A couple of hundred years ago, people were expected to follow in the footsteps of their parents' professions: for example, if your father was a farmer, you would be expected to become a farmer. There would always be those able to break through societal barriers, but these were rare. You were not expected to choose your life, but rather to live the life you were born into.

In contrast to past generations the modern world offers endless possibilities. Education provides access to a wide range of opportunities. Not only do we have a choice about what we do with our lives, we are also expected to find something we’re passionate about, good at, find a way to do it and make money out of it.

However, this is not reality. Choice is often an illusion. Society and conditioning still exert influence, just in different ways. And one day, you realise you do have wants, and these wants are different from what you’ve been expected to want. The weight of societal expectations and the conflict between personal desires and external pressures can eventually lead to the eruption of the existential crisis.

Midlife crisis needs a trigger to fully develop

The trigger for this crisis is usually a significant life event, such as divorce, loss, or a toxic relationship. These events force you to confront your deepest fears and reevaluate your life. They serve as catalysts for introspection and the quest to uncover what truly matters.

The journey to find meaning and purpose is unique to each person. It requires deep introspection and self-reflection but it can feel lonely. Seeking guidance and support from others, through therapy, counselling, coaching and engaging in meaningful conversations with loved ones can provide valuable insights and perspectives.

Navigating the midlife crisis, or rather, the existential crisis, is an opportunity for personal growth and transformation. It is a chance to question societal norms, reevaluate priorities, and make intentional choices aligned with your authentic self. It may involve making difficult decisions, such as changing careers, pursuing new passions, or redefining relationships. Embracing this period of self-discovery can lead to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven life.

Midlife crisis happens because there is a shift and a need for change - not because of how old you are

In conclusion, the midlife crisis is not limited to a specific age range, and it goes beyond clichés like the sports car or clinging to youth. It is an existential crisis that can occur at any stage of life when individuals confront questions of meaning and purpose.

Society's expectations, personal desires, and external triggers can all contribute to this period of introspection. However, the midlife crisis shouldn't be seen as a negative experience, but rather as an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. By embracing this journey and seeking support and guidance, individuals can navigate through the existential crisis and create a life that is truly meaningful to them, regardless of their age. With this perspective, maybe it is a blessing when experiencing it early on.


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