Midlife Renewal

Gone are the days of the midlife crisis, the stage in the middle of the journey when people feel youth vanishing, their prospects narrowing and death approaching. Those days were described as “a time to become undone, with the red Corvette popping up in the driveway and stupidity reigning.” There’s only one problem with that old cliché. It isn’t true. “In fact, there is almost no hard evidence for midlife crisis at all, other than a few small pilot studies conducted decades ago,” Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes in her new book, “Life Reimagined.” The vast bulk of the research shows that there may be a pause, or a shifting of gears in the 40s or 50s, but this shift can be exhilarating, rather than terrifying.

Ms. Hagerty looks at some of the features of people who turn midlife into a rebirth. They break routines, because “autopilot is death.” They choose purpose over happiness; having a clear sense of purpose even reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. They put relationships at the foreground, as career often recedes. Life Reimagined paints a portrait of middle age that is far from grim and decelerating. Midlife begins to seem like the second big phase of decision-making. Your identity has been formed, you know who you are, you’ve built up your resources, and now you have the chance to take the big risks precisely because your foundation is already secure.

Today, people are healthy and energetic longer; the elongation of vital life has changed the phases of life. What could have been considered the beginning of a descent is now a potential turning point. It is the moment when you can look back on your life so far and see it with different eyes. Hopefully you’ve built up some wisdom, which, as the psychologists define it, means seeing the world with more compassion, grasping opposing ideas at the same time, tolerating ambiguity and reacting with equanimity to the small setbacks of life. You might begin to see how all your different commitments can be integrated into one meaning and purpose. You can dive fully into existing commitments, or embrace new ones. Either way, with a little maturity, you’re less likely by middle age to be blinded by ego, more likely to know what it is you actually desire, more likely to get out of your own way, and maybe a little less likely, given all the judgments that have been made, to care about what other people think. From this perspective, middle age is kind of inspiring. Many of life’s possibilities are now closed, but limitation is often liberating. The remaining possibilities can be seized more bravely, and lived more deeply.

By David Brooks – The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/newsletters/opiniontoday


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