A 5-step plan for taking stock of your life.
“What?!” you fire back. “I won’t have a mid-life crisis!”
Yes, you will. Because — if you’re a thinking person — you will knock up against some hard questions in mid-life. You NEED to.
I’m not talking about the cliché mid-life crisis, with flashy, impulsive spends on sports cars and tighter jeans or dumping your marriage for the “fun” (aka sex) you think you could be having.
I’m talking about slapping up against the cold, hard reality that you are a bit, well, old. That your skin has lost it’s (natural) elasticity. That, in your career, you are no longer the bright-young-prodigy-on-the-way-up. You’re their mentor, instead. Or their direct report.
Ooops. What to do?
Who are you, anyway?
At a party I was chatting to a young woman when she paused, looked me in the eye, and said: “I can’t wait till I’m old — because then I’ll have figured out who I am.”
“You won’t,” I replied, a little too quickly. “You’ll just become resigned to it.”
We laughed — but it’s also (sort of) true. When we’re young we believe age and experience will bring personal enlightenment. Roll the clock forward 20 years and we know it won’t. There’s just more to know and less time to do it.
In mid-life, we’re confronted with the reality of ourselves and our circumstances. Sometimes it comes with a bang: a significant relationship breakup, a job loss, the death of a loved one. Sometimes it’s just a whisper: Is this it? Is this all there is to MY life?
At some point, this will happen to you. When it does, don’t fight it — welcome it. Because, whether you call it a “crisis” or not, it’s healthy to take stock, to think about what you can and can’t change, what you could do differently.
For a shortcut, though, take these five steps.
1. How do I look and feel?
Roman poet Virgil said “the greatest wealth is health” for good reason. Without robust good health — physical, mental and emotional — life can be an immense struggle. Some people are dealt cruel hands with their health. But most of us, if we’re honest, have some work-ons. Are you happy with your weight, physical appearance, fitness and energy levels? The way you dress? Are you getting enough fresh air and good food? Are you emotionally healthy: Can you regulate your emotions, do you have good coping strategies or are you getting the help you need?
If you’re a solid yes to all of those questions, you get more than a pass mark, you get the admiration of the rest of us. But if you’ve identified one aspect of your health you’d like to improve, begin by creating a habit to support it.
2. What brings meaning to my life?
“The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.” ―Joseph Campbell
“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” ―Anais Nin
A lot of people get meaning from their work. Do you? You don’t have to be on a mission to save the world, run a country or have a burning passion for water colour painting. But you do need something in your world to give it meaning, to make the whole thing feel like a worthwhile trip. If you feel a little empty with this one, try being more curious. It will lead you to try new things.
The great thing about The Meaning of Life is that you get to choose your thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only person in the world who comes alive when you’re doing it. It just matters that you do.
3. How am I making a contribution?
If your work enables you to make a contribution to the greater good, you can double dip here. Making a contribution to a charity or your community or just helping out a neighbour in need gives you a tick in this box. If you don’t get one, challenge yourself a weekly act of service — beyond your work if you have any energy left.
4. Who do I love?
This is not about having a partner. Plenty of people have partners who they struggle to like — let alone love. And relationships are no guarantee of happiness.
But it’s helpful and healthy to have an outlet for your love, to be able to give love and receive it. Not everyone (who wants one) will have a loving, lasting, mutually supportive relationship. But it is within everyone’s power to be a loving person in the world. And that goes beyond people — animals, nature, the environment, community, humanity. If you are creative and open to it, there are many options. Who could you improve your relationship with? What could you do today to enhance it?
5. Where am I heading?
This is a tough one for many people. The older we get, the more it feels like the gates are shut, that it’s hard to make a change, to leave a relationship, to change career/job, or just do anything big and bold.