I just turned 40 and find myself reflecting on midlife, the lessons of the past, and the potential of the future. The present feeling I have around this reflection is gratitude for experience.
I’ve been around the block a few times now and enjoy the confidence of my experience, my successes and my failures. As Chip Toth, a leadership coach, told me, “A humble person isn’t self-denigrating, a humble person is confident in both his strengths and weaknesses.” That blew my mind when I first heard it, because I had never considered being confident in my weaknesses. At 40, though, I understand that kind of confidence – it’s not an ego trip – it’s just experience to draw on.
One experience of weakness and strength that I draw on regularly is my own midlife crisis. Mine was what I jokingly call an early onset midlife crisis and it happened about four years ago. I felt dissatisfied at work, flat in my relationship with my wife, and stuck in a rut and routine that I couldn’t see beyond. I was really caught up in my own thinking trip and a very negative and judgmental worldview. At the same time, I was drinking a lot, self-medicating and numbing my inner pain. I remember one night thinking that I didn’t want to die being the miserable person I had become and that marked a new beginning. With the help of others, especially my wife, I started to see a way out of my crisis.
Over the next few months and now years, I found a hobby to be passionate about and devoted to (learning to play the guitar and sing), quit drinking (the thing that had once set me free had become a burden and a drag on my energy), and encouraged/supported my wife in starting her own business (while we simultaneously reinvented our relationship). What I learned from my experience is that it is never too late to change and that a midlife crisis can become a midlife transformation.
I am inspired to see others who are transforming their lives: the friend who quit a secure job in search of happiness even though it meant living with a tight(er) budget, the former colleague who is moving to Paris for a dream job while also pregnant with her second child, or the retiree joining the Peace Corps to serve as a volunteer and be immersed in an entirely different culture.
For my birthday, a friend gave me an autobiographical travelogue of the Rush drummer Neil Peart. He experienced the worst kind of suffering, losing his teenage daughter in a car accident and then his wife to cancer a short time later. Somehow he was able to heal and have one hell of an adventure in the process. Out of suffering and crisis, midlife or otherwise, we have the potential to transform our lives. For that I am grateful at age 40.