359: 6 Ways to Prevent a Midlife Crisis
On the day I’m writing this, Amazon lists 438,584 self-help books in their inventory. If any of us were to read one per day, it would take 1,202 years to read them all.
I don’t have that kind of time. You probably don’t either. Rather than focus on what I can’t read, I’ve been diving into the books, articles, and even YouTube videos that have made significant blips on my cultural radar. I’m learning a lot about how to reduce stress, avoid a midlife crisis, and build a legacy—how not to waste my life. In case you’re on that same pursuit, here’s what I’ve synthesized from all that media.
Ditch happiness as your primary goal.
“The point of it all isn’t to escape from it all and live on a Wyoming ranch—but rather to find a way to live well in the midst of our lives.” Arianna Huffington
As an American, we are free to pursue happiness in thousands of legal ways. There’s one problem with that: what we think will make us happy often doesn’t, and moments we didn’t expect overwhelm us with pleasure. Thanks to the law of diminishing returns, many of the things that have made us happy in the past don’t always deliver the same satisfaction in the present. To make matters worse, the law of contrariness frustrates with the reality that sometimes the harder we chase something, the less possible we make it to capture. Serendipity can’t be planned, and joy often follows pain we wouldn’t request. So, the best bet is to absorb and document the simple pleasures in our daily lives.
Filter each day through your life agenda.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard
The compound interest of our daily choices accrues to build our legacy. Fulfillment typically displaces stress, when we feel we are growing as a person or making a difference in someone else’s life. We all want our lives to count, but we don’t typically script our days accordingly. Unlike a board game, we can’t skip from where we are to a great accomplishment without taking all the smaller steps in between point A and point B. So, it’s imperative to (1) know intrinsically what our highest goals are, (2) map the incremental destinations on the map, and (3) pursue the next mile marker each day or at least each week. In the very least, we need to know what disciplines or character traits would be true of us at our someday pinnacle and then filter everyday decisions through those elements.
Accept and process life’s seasons.
“When we are who we are called to be, we will set the world ablaze.” St. Catherine of Siena
People, places, and abilities occupy our lives only for finite weeks, months, or years. If we focus on some golden stretch of the past or some mountaintop in the future, we risk missing the beauty and lessons of the present. If we know our purpose and pleasures in our current moment of life, we can lean into them. We can better absorb them. We can leverage our emotional, physical, and financial resources around them. It doesn’t mean that we avoid mourning or dreaming, just that we carve time and attention to touch, smell, taste, and hear—absorb—our unique present.
Put your mask on first before helping others.
“Just be the best you to the people who matter the most.” Alli Worthington
We can’t give from an empty cupboard. We can’t function on empty batteries. Self-care can be unselfish, as it often leads us to more creativity, better efficiency, improved cognition, and serendipitous breakthroughs. What drains us most are the expectations we place on ourselves and let others place on us. We can’t do it all. None of us can do a lot and do it well. We can, however, do a few things well for a limited number of people. Saying no is really hard. The conversations that include those no’s bring awkwardness and discomfort. Regret from the wasted time and resources, though, looms larger. So, have the hard conversations. Write the difficult emails. Protect the time in your life budgeted for your priority relationships and refueling activities.
Regularly do something that makes you feel small.
“You will find something more in woods than in books.” Saint Bernard
The more we see of the world, the more perspective we have on our personal ecosystem. As we meet more people and experience more customs—across town or across the globe—our myopia is challenged, and our assumptions are corrected. As the world grows larger around us, our problems get a truer context. So, explore natural wonders, contrary opinions, or a faith system. Watch a bunch of documentaries; get some passport stamps; or audit a class. Try something you’ve never tried, and leave your comfort zone.
Make your lifestyle measurable.
“Every line is the perfect length if you don’t measure it.” Marty Rubin
Progress requires an odometer. We can’t reach our goals without movement. The only way to know if we’re moving is to measure our progress. That analytical mechanism can look like a journal, a points system, a support group, or a counselor (or in my case: a mix of all four). Personal growth in and of itself is rewarding, encouraging, and energizing. That momentum pushes against the inertia both in our own lives and those we touch.
It’s not too late to start moving toward your best you. No matter how many candles were on your last birthday cake, you can still realize your purpose and leverage your potential. Start today. Start small. Then repeat that regularly. When you get to your next scenic overlook, please do tell the rest of us what you’ve learned on your journey so far.