In developmental psychology, much attention has been given to the negative aspects of midlife, but within the last twenty years new insight into how to grow successfully has surfaced. In this research, psychologists and medical doctors produced new research to suggest that people have it within them to grow and transform in positive directions. Although most of their work and findings are published as experiments, common themes and threads weave together produce a schema for people to increase their vitality and power.
In 1965, psychoanalyst, Elliot Jacques published a study entitled “Death and the Mid-Life Crisis” in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. In this study he suggested that around the age of 35 a man begins to move into crisis mode as he begins to see death around the corner. According to Jacques, he moves into a state of panic as he realizes that he may die before he can fulfill the dreams of his youth. Women, Jacques reasoned did not enter into this form of crisis due to menopause. Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson in 1978 picks up on Jacques’ research in his text The Seasons of a Man’s Life. In his research he argues that men experience transitions as they move from one stage of life to another. Levinson resolved that between the ages of 40-45 a man suffers the agony and de-illusionment when he compares his youthful dreams with his current older, grayer, reality. They began to question the decisions they have made to this point. They begin to question every aspect of their lives. Depending on what is revealed, they make serious decisions to change their current path completely (while there is still time) or to modify the old path.
The drastic decision to make an about face at the moment of recognition of one’s unfulfillment is common. It is a natural flow of the human condition. In this season, one can choose to go into a place of crisis or power. People find at midlife that they either crumble to depression about their past or give into anxiety about their future as they begin to observe the effects of biological aging. It becomes a matter of perspective. There are many things to celebrate at midlife.
Relationships move into the foreground as other external accomplishments including success in one’s career move to the background.
We deal with loss better. We are more resilient because we have seen enough ups and downs to know that this too shall pass. We may pause, reflect, and consider previous responses to similar situations. We make decisions from wisdom instead of simple reaction.
We decide to improve ourselves. The good thing about this time of life is not only do we have to improve ourselves to meet the needs of our universal human psychological shifts, we have what we need to do it. We tend to earn more money in our late 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s than at other points in our lives. We have greater respect from our peers because of the knowledge we have accumulated in our fields and the wisdom we have gained through the challenges of life. We have the ability to solve problems with dexterity, and if we focus on our strengths and maximize them, we are generally happier because we enter more often into what is commonly known as flow, or a zone where we can do something for hours and achieve success because we have ability and desire to do it. This produces greater happiness and contentment that spills over into other areas of our lives.
Becoming self-aware is the foundation for success in middle adulthood. Self reflection, and the desire to understand yourself is innate to the human condition.
To do this, look inside yourself to identify the strongest aspects of your true nature from your childhood and young adult years.
Getting factual knowledge is a part of midlife transformation. For midlifers, education and spiritual development become goals in the afternoon of life.
Experiential knowledge seasons factual knowledge to make the ideas resonate in our hearts. When we can apply what we know to what we have learned, we have a better chance of understanding how things work.
Creativity spurs forth our transformation in the afternoon of life.
Transformation is not always a move forward… Sometimes it is revealing of ones and truth and then a process by which someone strengthens themselves in it. Transformation may include the acceptance of our innate strengths and talents. There is no need to change them, necessarily. Instead, we can accept our strengths and talents and add greater focus and creativity in those areas so that we can experience more satisfaction and “flow”.