It happens all of a sudden. You are waiting in the carpool lane at your child's school and you get this sickening sense that time is running out, that your dream of being a painter, a successful lawyer, or even just losing a few more pounds will never materialize. Or you are passing your spouse the serving dish at dinner and you suddenly pause, wondering, Why did we get married?
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are probably going through what experts call a "midlife transformation," a change that people between the ages of 35 and 45 undergo as they realize for the first time that they too will kick the bucket at some point.
"People frequently go through a midlife re-evaluation rather than a midlife crisis when they turn 40 because they become profoundly aware of their mortality," says Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life.
Strategies for Getting a Head Start on Your Future:
Ask yourself basic exploratory questions:
- Are you happy with your work?
- Ask yourself what you can do to continue growing.
- Dip into your own creativity and pursue new hobbies.
- Ask friends for suggestions on what interests to pursue.
- Examine lifestyle changes.
- Revitalize your relationship with your spouse or partner.
- Develop an interest in your partner's interests.
The re-evaluation opens up the door for reflection. According to Gail Sheehy, best-selling author of New Passages, people live so long today that they actually get a shot at two adulthoods. The first one, she says, takes place between the ages of 30 to 45, the time we spend brown-nosing people we have to please so we can get what we want. The second adulthood begins in our mid-40s, when we ask ourselves, "is this all there is?" and then embark on a personal, spiritual quest to find new meaning in our lives.See the next page to learn more.
Second Adulthood Strategies
Experts suggest that people start thinking about how they want to spend their second adulthood in their mid-30s to get a head start on setting the groundwork for their future. Consider the following strategies:
- Accept that you are getting older, but don't despair! Everyone goes through a period of psychological adjustment in their mid-40s until they become comfortable with the changes, both psychological and physical, that aging brings. "When you don't deny age," says Cohen, "you look at what is possible and you begin to plan differently."
- Ask yourself basic exploratory questions. What do you really want to do in your next adulthood? Who do you want to be with in terms of friends, family and co-workers? What new things do you need to try that you've been avoiding? What changes in lifestyle do you need to make to stay healthy?
- Are you happy with your work? If you like the work you do but feel you've reached a limit, ask yourself what you can do to continue growing. Cohen suggests that you talk to colleagues in your field, explore books or popular magazines related to the subject and find a role model to follow.
- Dip into your own creativity and pursue new hobbies. Just because you don't believe you'll ever become the next Picasso, Virginia Woolf or even Martha Stewart doesn't mean you can't be creative in some way! Identify interests that you've set aside, or strengths that have gone undeveloped and pursue them by reading up on them, taking classes or just talking to people.
- Ask friends for suggestions on what interests to pursue. "Friends have insight into you that you may not," adds Cohen. To find out what they think you may be good at, invite your best friends to dinner and just ask them. "Have everyone around the table saying something like, 'Hey, you are good at photography. Why don't you take a class in it?'"
- Examine lifestyle changes. Your health counts! Stay healthy by eating a well-balanced diet and exercise!
- Revitalize your relationship with your spouse or partner. Many middle-aged couples are bored with their partner, a frightening thought when considering that this is the person they will share a bed with over the next 30 years, says Mark Yarnell, author of Self-Wealth: Creating Prosperity, Serenity and Balance in Your Life. Think back on why you were attracted to your partner when you met, he suggests, and find activities you can do together to rekindle the romance.
- Develop an interest in your partner's interests. Many couples don't share common interests. Yarnell encourages people to "learn to like similar things ... the future of your marriage depends on it." He cites the example of a man who hadn't read a romance novel in 20 years because he thought they were cheesy and cheap, but finally read The Bridges of Madison County to please his wife. It turns out that he liked the book because it was well-written and not as sappy as he thought it would be!