Midlife is what happens after the credits roll.
No matter how you slice it, midlife is just a uniquely and profoundly unremarkable period of life. By it’s very definition, it is an age between other ages. It’s interstitial, domestic, and unexceptional.
I think this is mostly because middle age is a stage of life that is, by-and-large, bereft of any major milestones. Compare that with your teens and twenties: society grants those age ranges so many baked-in rites of passage. Every year there’s something new:
- More drinking!
But then, what’s next? Realistically, a whole lot of nothing.
Midlife feels like it could seemingly go on forever. It is “a book without any structure, sentences, periods, commas, paragraphs, chapters…or punctuation.” And so, without any of these built-in cultural chapters, you can quickly find yourself slipping into one fantastically dreadful existential breakdown.
You might even call it by it’s more popular name: a midlife crisis.
I first started writing on my experiences growing up and getting older soon after my 33rd birthday. Life was speeding by so fast up to that point that it was honestly the first time I recall thinking to myself, “Y’know, I’m kind of starting to get old.”
Your thirties are that tweener age range that, as a kid, you can remember your parents being, but never dedicated much forethought to reaching yourself. When you’re young, it’s just some far-off dot on the horizon. That boring mid-point between “younger” and “older”. It’s Marty McFly watching his dorky-dad-self in the way distant future of 2015.
I can’t say what it was specifically about turning 33 that tripped a breaker in me the way it did. Maybe it was realizing that I had officially reached “the age of the Lord”. You know, the age when Jesus decided he’d had enough of his human existence and kicked it into high-gear back to heaven. (He had to know what he was doing, right?) Maybe it was the realization that virtually every pro athlete essentially reaches the washed-up phase of their careers around age 33 (the one exception being LeBron, of course).
Or maybe it was that little bit of extra hurt I started to feel in my knees the day after I ran at the gym. Or the slight twinge of anxiety that shot through my gut when I realized how quickly my children were growing. Or the expanding list of doubts about beliefs I was so certain of all those years before.
The best part of middle age is finding the perfect balance between anxiety about the future and regret about the past.— Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) February 4, 2015
Maybe it’s because your 33rd year is right about when the full weight of “getting old” starts to set in. You’re starting to get a better picture of the frailty of your own body and the brevity of your own life. It’s roughly the age when you realize that if you’re not doing what you want with your life by this point, then maybe it’s time to start re-thinking your priorities. And if you’re not who you want to be by now, it’s likely time for a full-on sea change.
It can be a bit disorienting, yes. But I’m learning that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
And so, now that I’m smack dab in the middle of my thirties, I have come to recognize just how crucial this time of life is. The middle is where the work happens. This is the proverbial “nose to the grindstone” portion of your life. It’s where things get done. It’s where you become:
- A better driver
- An informed voter
- A working professional
- A seasoned partner
- A mature parent
- A craft beer drinker
Midlife may not be filled with many “firsts”, but it will almost certainly be filled with many of your life’s “bests”.
You may not be able to see it quite yet, so let me report back on my early findings from where I sit at this stage of the game: your midlife crisis is a gift.
Your thirties are this sweet spot in the center and thick of it all. You’ve lived enough life to know what not to do, while still possessing the agency over yourself and your choices to be able to do what you want to do. Yes, midlife can be unremarkable. But it’s also this rare presentation of a second chance that we are afforded allowing us to regroup, refresh, re-purpose, and redirect. Getting a handle on your fragility may just be the wake-up call you need to remind yourself that you’re still in this thing. And you’ve got a long way left to go!
And so, I’ve resolved that if there are no inherent dividers in this section of the book, then I am just going to have to create them myself. If society isn’t going to hand me any punctuation during these interminable middle years, then dammit, I am going to add my own exclamation points.
And just like my expanding waistline can attest, there is a lot to love in the middle.
Speaking of waistlines, next up we’ll look at what growing up into a midlife body looks like. I promise, it’s not all bad! Click here for Part 1: A Grown Up Body…