I hate the term “mid-life crisis”.
It evokes the image of a balding middle-age man who flips out and engages in a series of irrational, irresponsible and uncharacteristic behaviours – selling the family sedan and buying a V8 Shelby Cobra, entering into salacious affairs with inappropriately aged women and recklessly leaving a stable job to pursue some pie-in-the-sky venture. Think Kevin Spacey in American Beauty.
I recently read an article in The Atlantic, titled “The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis”, which explores the U-curve phenomenon that studies have found to exist between age and happiness. Basically, a bunch of studies have revealed that overall life satisfaction levels bottom out between the ages of 39 and 57.
The article suggests a couple of reasons as to why this could be the case, such as unrealistic expectations that have not been met and feelings of inadequacy resulting from comparing oneself to others.
My own experience of a so called “mid-life crisis” has given me a somewhat different perspective on this issue.
For me, it came in my late thirties, when I realised that I no longer recognised the person I had become. I can only describe it as watching from afar as someone, who looked liked me, but was not me, walked around in my body and lived a life that was somehow not my life.
This person was a shiny, happy PR man running one of the largest agencies in the country, kicking ass and taking names, while trying to be the smoothest and most extroverted guy in the room. But I am an introvert by nature, more interested in concepts and creativity than being a captain of industry.
This person went to all the hottest parties and openings of restaurants and clubs. He partied hard, endured massive hangovers and hung out with the cool kids in town. But these parties give me anxiety and I feel nauseous after one drink. I also prefer quality one on one interactions discussing interesting issues, rather than trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to make small talk in large groups of people with whom I have little in common..
This person was into high impact gym classes and lifting weights. But I prefer ball sports and outdoor activities like wakeboarding or skateboarding.
This person was married to someone with whom he shared few common interests, values, beliefs, goals or views.
This person went on holidays to the same popular, mainstream beach destinations each year. But I like adventure travel, being active, exploring exotic new destinations, trying new foods and visiting museums and natural wonders.
To be clear, there was not necessarily anything wrong or bad about the people and activities in my life at the time. I spent time with some amazing, fascinating people and had some incredible experiences. For the most part though, they just weren’t… me.
So, while everything about my life looked amazing on the surface, in reality I was miserable.
I clearly remember an incident that showed just how close to rock bottom I was. I was flying to Johannesburg for work, when we hit some serious turbulence. As the plane bounced violently around, everyone started to freak out, terrified that the plane was going to crash and we would perish in a fiery hell. Except me. I was calmly thinking to myself – would it be so bad if it did?
I spent a long time feeling sorry for myself and blaming everyone else for my predicament. There came a point however, when I realized I had to accept that the situation was entirely of my own making.
I had made all the decisions and carried out all the actions that had led me to this position.
I also knew that I was the only one who could get myself out of it. Accepting responsibility for my reality was the first step in finding my way out of the darkness.
What followed thereafter would, in some people’s minds, constitute a classic mid-life crisis.
In the space of eighteen months, I sold my business, got divorced, stopped going to the parties, got out of the gym and vowed never to go back to Mykonos.
I made a conscious decision to choose activities and people more aligned to my authentic self. I rediscovered my love for tennis, married a wonderful woman who sees and loves me for who I am, began travelling to exciting new destinations, formed closer bonds with fewer friends (some old, some new) and re-connected with family.
And then there is Wealthwoke, which combines my passion for content and creativity with my purpose, which is to help people redefine their concept of wealth. I’ve also started mentoring young entrepreneurs through the incredible Entrepreneurs Organisation Accelerator programme.
It has not been an easy journey and there have been some mistakes, guilt and collateral damage along the way.
Overall, though, I would say I’m definitely moving back up the life satisfaction curve. To my mind, this is largely due to my decision to accept myself for who I truly am and live my life in manner that is consistent with my authentic self.
Would you call that a mid-life crisis? I don’t. I call it a mid-life reawakening.