If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’ve been working through a bit of a personal crisis. I, however, prefer to call it my journey of personal discovery. Most of the time when I mention this feeling of restlessness and discontent to someone older, I am told that I am just having a mid-life crisis. How can that be? Women can start their mid-life crisis at 35, or so the Internet says. Unfortunately, I think I’m already on my third mid-life crisis since mine seems to come in five-year cycles. The description doesn’t exactly fit.
A few weeks ago, I got to meet up with a friend who I’ve known for over 20 years. We don’t talk very often and see each other even less, but every time we do I feel like no time passed at all. We quickly get past the superficial and into the deep discussions about finding the passion and purpose in our lives. The funny thing was that she and her boyfriend are both experiencing the exact same awakening that I am. The more that I read and talk to people, the more I realize this is not a unique experience.
What I have noticed that is unique about all of us going through this sort of awakening is not just that we are in our 30s and 40s but also that we have achieved significant success in our careers. As a matter of fact, we’ve all devoted significant time and energy into developing our careers. We would all be considered successful in our chosen fields, especially at this particular point in time. The thread that unites the stories is that we reach this point where we realize none of that success really matters to us. Well, not exactly. It’s not that we don’t want the success or feel proud of our accomplishments. Instead, we realize it doesn’t bring us much of a sense of fulfillment. You reach the top of the mountain, look around, and think it was not worth the hype.
Maybe this has some of the signs of a mid-life crisis because it involves a certain level of introspection and desire for change. It’s not the kind of thing that causes you to buy a sports car, lose weight, have a baby, or get a face lift. As a matter of fact, those types of solutions are in direct contrast with the deeper awakening going on in our lives. Instead, we tend to find that those superficial signs of success do little to make us happy.
So, is this really the new mid-life crisis or just a side effect of success? We’re handed this framework of what it means to be successful. We go to college, get degrees (in my case, lots of degrees), get a job, work hard, get promotions, buy houses and cars and designer clothes because it is what we are supposed to do. The problem is, especially for those of us with more creative spirits, those signs of success are far too shallow. When you are able to achieve success relatively early in your life, you are left wondering what else you are supposed to do and why it matters at all. That’s why I call it the dirty secret of success. Sometimes you find that the things you have worked for don’t matter much to you at all.
Another thing that is unique about these stories is the desire to leave the corporate life or preconceived notions of success behind for something far less tangible. We want to trade our titles and status symbols for adventure and experience. We want to explore the world, move to another country, and feel a sense of wonder and fascination again. It’s a question of what happens when the status goals we’ve been led to believe are important don’t matter to us. I’m not sure if age is relevant to this questioning. Is this the new version of the mid-life crisis? Or is this something fundamentally different affecting our generation? Is it simply a personal awakening? Are we the new bohemians who decide that we want to re-define success for ourselves?
What do you think?