Some people think of themselves as stuck in the mud at middle age, feeling as though they’re going nowhere after their children have grown up, graduated and moved on.
These people could be suffering from a “midlife crisis,” a well-known term for what some health professionals believe is a real psychological affliction, not a cultural myth. Studies show a high percentage of adults over the age of 50 have experienced a period of emotional turmoil in middle age in which they have a strong desire for change.
Sandra A. Miller (www.SandraAMiller.com), author of Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure, thinks those suffering from a midlife crisis can overcome it by turning this time of restlessness and confusion into an adventure that can open positive pathways for the rest of their lives.
“The greatest thing you can do for yourself is to live the life you were meant to live,” Miller says. “Finding that life often requires an external adventure, but it first requires an internal journey to peel back the layers to discover who you are, what you want, and where you want to go.”
Psychologists say symptoms of a midlife crisis include the fear of aging and a longing to feel and act younger. But that doesn’t mean the answers are always found in quitting a long-held job, buying a convertible, or ditching the spouse for a love interest who’s far younger — as depicted in some movies and sometimes seen in real life.
“Many men and women in midlife are struggling right now with what I call a crisis of the soul,” Miller says. “They might have achieved the many trappings of a successful life, but they still don’t feel fulfilled on a deeper level.”
Miller offers three keys to shifting the mindset and taking a midlife adventure:
Determine what you’re looking for — and don’t be shy about it. What have you wanted to do for a long time but for various reasons have not? “Many of us think we should be grateful for all that we have and keep quiet,” Miller says. “But in our life journey we also have to explore our desires and what they might be showing us. If not, what’s the alternative? People need to be real about what they feel is missing, and why, in order to get the most out of the rest of their life.”
Break rules. “Too many people conform to the rigid boundaries created by their self-limiting doubts or fears,” Miller says. “And sometimes we never take action on our dreams, never cross those lines because we’re afraid of what others may think or how it’s not conventional. Essentially, we impose rules on ourselves that shouldn’t apply, so we need to break them in order to break through. To have a big, creative life, you’re going to have to break some rules. And it’s never too late to start doing that.”
Live in the moment. “Living your life in the moment every day while being mindful of your adventure means being fully alive — observing, absorbing and appreciating constantly,” Miller says. “There is so much to search for, but sometimes we go looking too far for it when discoveries are all around us. With the constant distractions of our phones and social media, now more than ever we need to stay awake and alert to the beauty that is there if we just look up and take notice.”
“How can you live your life so it means more to you?” Miller asks. “That’s what a midlife adventure can answer for you.”
About Sandra A. Miller
Sandra A. Miller (www.SandraAMiller.com), author of Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure, teaches in the English Department of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She previously worked in the editorial department at NAL/Penguin and later worked as a literary agent. She has written stories, articles and essays that have appeared in hundreds of regional and national publications, including Modern Bride, Glamour, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Yankee, and The Washington Post OnParenting blog. She has facilitated workshops on treasure hunting as a spiritual experience. Miller also has created her own armchair treasure hunt with a custom-made jeweled bracelet worth $2,200 as the prize. The bracelet is hidden somewhere in New England, and she will be providing clues through the blog on her website.