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Mid-Life Crisis: It’s Not Just for Men Anymore!

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A recent story in Career Journal begins:

“The ‘midlife crisis’ has long been thought of as something that afflicts men and often involves expensive toys and second wives. But the Wall Street Journal’s Work & Family columnist, Sue Shellenbarger, says that as gender roles change, women are increasingly experiencing their own version of these upheavals.”

I’ve certainly seen evidence of this in my own work as a personal development and business coach. My practice is comprised primarily of women, but it tends to be my male clients who volunteer the term “mid-life crisis”. When describing their current state, however, the women are certainly running a parallel course.

What constitutes a crisis?

For many, it appears to be a realization that life is finite. The older we get, the more we are apt to say, “Wow, this summer FLEW by!” “Where did the month go?!” And then friends start to lose parents. I personally know of 35 deaths this year! Two of my clients have lost parents just this week. At some point the awareness dawns on you. It’s not the month or the season that is flying by. It’s your LIFE!

What do you do with that realization?

The Chinese symbol for “crisis” combining “danger” and “opportunity” could not be more appropriate. The fact that many people at mid-life have accumulated the skills, financial cushion and talent to make true consideration of career and lifestyle changes possible is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The trickiest part for both the men and the women that I have spoken with appears to be in making the distinction between a “risk” and a “gamble.”

How can you tell the difference?

Simply stated, a risk is calculated. You know you could lose, but you are able to take an educated guess as to what is at stake and how the loss could impact you. Having a “worst case scenario” in mind helps you to know what kind of safety net needs to be in place in order to make a mid-life transition possible. Analysis of the situation with a confidante or coach also helps an individual differentiate between psychological “heebie jeebies” and rational fears that need to be taken into consideration. Very difficult questions are faced directly and no actions are taken until careful consideration of the answers.

What if I do lose my job? Could we still survive?
What if my new business fails?
How bad would it be if we did have to sell our home?
Will my family allow for a change of lifestyle in order for me to try to make my dream come true?

A gamble, on the other hand is impulsive and often based on emotional needs rather than logical analysis of a situation, leaving one vulnerable to losing more than one can afford. Unfortunately we have some cultural beliefs that can seduce people into taking leaps that they can ill-afford. “Build it and they will come” is a common mantra in this set.

Can you always know what is a gamble and what is a risk?

This is a hard one for people who are facing significant burn-out and who have begun to feel desperate in their circumstances. Many times I have listened to people fantasize about the choice words they will use when they quit their job. (I was one, myself!). Some people are so afraid that they won’t get family support to make a big change that they try to do it with no one noticing. As a result, they avoid difficult conversations about needed changes in family spending habits to build a cushion or anticipated changes in roles to allow for a return to school.

The key is to recognize burn-out and desperation before it becomes intolerable and to pay attention to that little voice that keeps whispering in your ear that maybe there is a different road you should be on. If it’s too late, and you don’t feel like you can stand your situation any longer, it’s critical to take your self-care seriously and implement some stress management strategies to help you get your focus back so you can lay a solid foundation for what could be one of the most interesting and exciting chapters of your life.

To read Sue Shellenbarger’s article, go here.
Laura Young is a personal development and business coach and collaborator for hire. To learn more about her, visit Wellspring Coaching.
To visit Laura’s blog, visit Musings of an Ant Watcher
Pub/Ed: NB

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About Laura Young

  • http://antwatching.blogspot.com/ Laura Young

    An alert anonymous reader at my blog let me know that I have fallen prey to an extremely pervasive myth that the translation of the Chinese symbol for crisis is comprised of symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” I set off to find out where I had been led astray (since anonymous reader did not seek to educate me further, a shame since I love to learn and would have appreciated the education). It took some investigation but I think I found my answer at pinyin.info.

    In the Chinese symbol for “crisis”, wçijî, “wçi” does indicate “danger”. The problem lies with common Western interpretation of “jî” as “opportunity”.

    Here I quote Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania:

    The jî of wçijî, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a wçijî is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A wçijî indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits.

    I have to thank “anonymous reader” for two things. One, for the correction and leading me to become more educated on this. And two, for reminding me of the way many people interpret the word “opportunity”. Mair’s article rants quite a bit about New Age candy-coated feel good interpretations and I absolutely agree that anyone who interprets the word “opportunity” as “Hey, it’s in the bag! We have to take advantage of this!” is just being goofy. It doesn’t change the message of my article. In fact it strenghtens my contention that the “build it and they will come” attitude constitutes a gamble.

    Perhaps I am not typically American in that “opportunity” always has been a neutral concept for me. The “crucial point where something begins or changes” is beautiful to me. Beginnings, endings, changes…concepts that often strike fear in the hearts of many going through them are much easier to deal with if you can get to the neutral place. PLEASE NOTE: Neutral is not meant to indicate “safe”. I mean here, neutral as in “I don’t know, this could go either way.” As I stated in my article, you have to assess “risk” vs. “gamble”. Risk does indicate that caution is advised. Even with caution and consideration of all the “knowns”, when you take a risk things can get messy and the crisis will require something of you.

    In the end, I see a crisis situation as something that requires engagement. Things can go well or poorly, and what looks one way today may look much different when you reflect back 5 years later. For those who desire to live a full life, bringing all your consciousness, powers of discernment and courage to the crisis situation, facing it squarely and stepping up the the challenges will certain test your mettle and if you stay the course it will surely grow you.

  • Nancy

    Great post & even better correction!