Where’s My Stuff?
Midlife crisis, a real thing. A formidable foe. A real threat. It can last for more than a decade. Proceed with caution.
My late thirties found me with a three-bedroom house, a beautiful family, and a good reputation in the community.
My late thirties also found me with a flattened career arc, unrealized goals, and a big ol’ bucket of fatigue. I was a prime candidate for midlife crisis.
I was in the “middle” of my life feeling I hadn’t come anywhere close to living up to my own expectations. I’d always been a person of passion, ambition, and dreams. It never crossed my mind that I would ever fall short of it all.
Yet as forty approached I started looking around in a panic. Where was all my stuff? I was supposed to have much more than this at forty.
I thought I should have had more:
- career promise
I know this line of thinking sounds completely narrow-minded, selfish, and shallow. That’s because it is. That’s the heart of midlife crisis.
Moments to myself left me pondering what a train wreck my life was. I didn’t know exactly what to do but one thing was clear. I needed a change. I needed to go in a different direction.
The truth was (and is) that my life wasn’t a train wreck at all. But I sure could have turned into one if I had swallowed the midlife crisis lies. By the grace of God, I didn’t. My purpose in writing this post is to make sure you don’t either.
So I’m calling out the Top 5 Midlife Crisis Lies and how you can discover the truth behind them.
Get to know Jathan Maricelli in his new book Better after Burnout.
Lie # 1: Everyone Is Better Off Than You
I looked around at other people my age and felt like a loser.
It seemed like most of my peers:
- made more money than me
- were more successful than me
- had more influence than me
- had a far more promising career arc than me
That was a lie.
When comparing your own miserable life to others, have you ever stopped to consider that they might have a problem or two themselves?
- They might have more money but perhaps they would give it all away for your marriage.
- They might have more talent but perhaps they would trade it for the ability to have children.
- They might have a higher profile yet battle depression and anxiety because the imposter syndrome is squeezing the life out of them.
No. Everyone is not better off than you.
DISCOVER THE TRUTH THROUGH. . . EMPATHY
Harper Lee said:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Midlife crisis doesn’t want you to see the other side of the coin. Instead, it wants to jade your perspective with envy and cynicism. But if you can truly empathize with others, you will see that everyone has human being problems.
With a dab of empathy, who knows, you might even be able to help someone you once envied.
Lie #2: You’re a Complete Failure
Midlife crisis completely exaggerates how mightily you’ve underperformed.
There’s a cliche that says:
You’re never as good as your best performance and never as bad as your worst performance.
I’m not saying you haven’t had some real failures. I know I did. I’m not saying you didn’t overestimate your ability to succeed in a hypercompetitive world. Guilty again. But, c’mon. You’ve got so much more to celebrate than to mourn.
In my case:
- Although our church didn’t have many people, they were some of the best people on the planet. They were loving, faithful, and committed to serving me as their pastor.
- In a society littered with broken marriages, I had a great one.
- I had three beautiful children. I know people who bankrupt themselves on fertility treatments and adoption because of barrenness.
- Although my finances were tight, I was comfortable and not under a mountain of debt.
- I wasn’t at the top of the career ladder, but I did have a steady job. Two of them.
And the list goes on and on.
DISCOVER THE TRUTH THROUGH. . . GRATITUDE
Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Do that for the next thirty days and see what happens. Count your blessings. Actually, name them. Say them out loud.
Your perception of yourself will change because your definition of success will change. It isn’t all about money, prestige, and possession. Besides, your family and friends will want to be around you more because you finally stopped whining so much. (Trust me on this one.)
Lie #3: You’ve Wasted the Years
The aforementioned body blow of failure segues right into a right hook of regret. I remember thinking of how much farther down the success road I would be had I made different decisions. Better decisions. If I could just go back and do some things differently.
You might ask yourself questions such as:
- Why didn’t I choose a different major in college?
- Why didn’t I have the courage to move away from home? Now I’m stuck.
- Or maybe you DID move away from home and now you’re asking, “Why did I move to this place so far from home?”
- Why did I stay with that dead-end job so long?
- Why did I date that person for so long?
I’m sure you did make some bad choices in the past. Perhaps you did stay in a relationship too long, only for it to end unceremoniously. Maybe you let a great opportunity pass you by that would have changed everything. I question your possession of a pulse if you’ve not made similar mistakes.
But were all of those years a complete waste? Not even close.
DISCOVER THE TRUTH BY. . . RECONNECTING WITH THE PAST
To say that your life has been a waste is to say that you have nothing of value to show for the years that you’ve invested. Nonsense. Let’s add up the value you’ve collected from the past twenty-ish years.
YOU HAVE YOUR FRIENDS
At every stop along the way, you’ve made friends. I’ll bet you still hang out with people from that decade-long, dead-end job. Not a waste.
YOU HAVE YOUR SKILLS:
At every stop, you’ve learned new things. That stuff doesn’t go away. And time has a magical way of taking our eclectic experiences and crafting something unique and beautiful out of them. All of that will serve you well in the future. Not a waste.
YOU HAVE YOUR MISTAKES:
Please don’t tell me you tossed your mistakes. Those are some of the most valuable possessions you have. Unless you’re still bitter and angry over them that is. Please get over it. Move on. Your mistakes are not a waste. That is, they don’t have to be.
YOU HAVE YOUR CHILDREN:
Perhaps you’re in a marriage you regret. Perhaps you’re divorced and you regret that. But are you going to sit there and tell me that you wish you’d never met your children?
This should go with saying, but I’m going to anyway. Your children are not a waste. Please don’t treat them as such.
To read the last two midlife crisis lies, click here.
Resources and Links
THIS IS A STORY of one leader who experienced burnout, picked up the pieces, and got back up again. But it isn’t just a story of burnout. It’s a story of hope. It’s a story where God steps in and reminds us He is for us. And it serves as a reminder to anybody burning the candle at both ends that at some point, we need to take time to rest. When we do so, we might discover that better lies on the other side of burnout.