I’ve been pretty darned restless for about six months now and I just haven’t been able to shake the feeling. I wasn’t sure what to make of this unsettled feeling because I’ve got a really good life. Then, I received an email from one of my best friends who now lives in London (I’ve been having a bromance with “Drew” for some time) in which he wrote, “The good news is that I am having a huge midlife crisis.” His declaration hit me like a ton of bricks. Am I having a midlife crisis?
But I was confused; midlife crises are supposed to be bad. It’s when guys, particularly those over 40, pretty successful, and married with children (that would be me) feel the need to chase younger women and buy sports cars. Though, as a guy, the former has a certain immature appeal, neither holds much interest to me. So I asked him how a midlife crisis could be good.
Here’s what he said: “I actually think our generation's version of a midlife crisis could be a good thing. Mine anyway, powered by a growing sense of my own mortality and some vestigial feeling of re-birth, is all about becoming even more interesting to myself and to my wife and children. At this point in his life my dad was sinking deeper into a leather chair and a copy of Time magazine. On the other hand I still think I can become a better athlete, a better dad, husband, friend, pilot, leader, you name it. Maybe that's totally silly, but I feel a certain urgency to try. I think my midlife crisis is in some ways accelerating what I hope is an unconventional narrative; not a slowing and sliding into a life of comfort.”
All I could think of was, “Wow!” My heart raced and my adrenaline started flowing. This time he hit the nail on the head for me. Even though I’m supposedly on the back side of my life (over 50), I feel as healthy and vigorous and capable as ever. I’m doing the best work of my life. I can still run and ride my bike and ski with guys half my age. I’m not ready to concede anything to age at this point. And I feel like I have some of my best years ahead of me, personally, socially, professionally, and athletically. His thoughts really got me fired up to take full ownership of my now-defined midlife crisis.
But then Drew’s next words tempered things a bit for me. “I am fully embracing it even if it causes some stress! I wrote a friend the other day a version of how I am feeling about all of this, and made it sound too heroic and self-helpian...it is actually a messy process, with large doses of self-doubt and aches and pains,” he said.
I'm definitely not ready to sink into a leather chair and get comfortable. Yet, over the last year or so, I have been feeling perhaps too comfortable. I love my wife and children. I love my life. I have a career that is both fulfilling and, as I define it, successful. We have a reasonable degree of financial security. I feel fortunate that I can do something I love, earn a decent wage, yet still spend tons of time with my family.
At the same time, I’ve come to the realization that I’m a little bored. I’ve been doing the same work for more than 20 years. I’ve been running and biking the same routes every week for the last five years. I don’t have any new hobbies or new friends.
I’m definitely feeling that sense of mortality. At one level, I feel pretty nihilistic; what’s the point of life? I’m going to die and that will be it. I have two choices then. Either I decide to check out of life or I decide to create meaning in my life. I either waste my time or make the most of the time I have on this planet.
In these situations, the easy road would be to just sit back and let the clock run out because, well, I’m comfortable and I have a good life. But I think I would have a ton of regrets (“I wonder what could have been?”) 20 years down the road.
No, I’ve always felt that life at its most satisfying has an edge to it, some stress, some discomfort, some feeling of not being settled. Maybe that’s my problem. Perhaps my life now is too settled; there’s nothing in my life that is really jazzing me now. So I need to take action. I need to do something that will excite me and break me out of my lethargy. But what do I need to do? My motto should be, “Just change, baby.”
I do feel like I need a change, but don’t know what that change would be. I’m basically happy with who I am as a person (though there’s always room for improvement). I have no wish to trade my wife in for a newer model, as some men do. My kids? Well, I love them, and they are one aspect of my life that changes daily. I love my work, so I don’t want to change careers (not that I could even if I wanted to), though taking on some new challenges or heading in a new direction would certainly keep me on my toes. I don’t have any great desire to learn a second language, take up a new sport, or play the guitar. My wife and I have talked about leaving the Bay Area and starting from scratch somewhere new (I like the idea, my wife less so). So what kind of change do I make?
I’m sorry to say that I’m not going to be answering these questions by the end of this post. But I figure that asking the same questions that Drew asked is a start: Can I become more interesting? Can I become a better me? I’d like to hope so. I just need to figure out how. I’ll keep you posted.