new midlife crisis
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?

2 thoughts on “The Dirty Secret of Success or the New Mid-life Crisis?

  1. Pernille

    I can totally relate to this! My first one came VERY early, before thirty. I ultimately left a successful architecture career (shortly after traveling for a month in Africa, where I began questioning my priorities and devotion to the 90- hour/week ready race). I then broke records in my MK National Sales area and became the fastest person to make Sales Director, then the fastest Cadillac level sales director … and became bored. I got recruited into lending and worked with previous clients, now offering a variety of loans to finance their projects. Within months I wad number 2 in sales, all self – generated with no company support (my choice) but was felling utterly unsatisfied. Another trip to Africa highlighted to me that I was feeling adrift, and a few months later, after a big injury playing in a USAFL scrimmage, I ended up bedridden for several months while healing … wondering how the heck my life had ended up here.
    I had always wanted to teach (I tight architecture or planning) and somehow ended up in a commission-only finance job. Talk about going left instead of right. I sent of an email to a couple of old professors and lo – and – behold, they needed some hemp that Autumn teaching across disciplines. As I suspected, I loved it … and decided to pursue my PhD so I could get a permanent position. That’s about the time we first met, as Elaine brought me to my first ARES meeting that first PhD year. A move to Australia after finishing seemed like one way to postpone the usual feeling … what seems to be a similar 5 year cycle for me … where I become restless and bored. I have figured out how to explore new topics under the umbrella of urban resilience to keep from getting bored with a single area. Four years in and I’m still loving it! Highly recommend 😁


    1. admin Post author

      Thank you for sharing! I knew there was something special about you that I related to, and now I know why! Plus, it’s good to know I am not alone in feeling this way!


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