Feeling Fabulous at Fifth(ish): Midlife Doesn’t Have to be a Crisis

Ask anyone to paint a picture of the male mid-life crisis, and it will include a paunchy man with a ponytail, a sports car and a waitress from Hooters. We laugh it off, even expect it as a sort of male rite of passage. What about female mid-life crisis? THAT canvas would be blank, because ‘denial’ is not just a river in Egypt. We don’t do that! Or do we? Being Fabulous at Fifty-ish means we can face it and, dare I say, even EMBRACE it!

Today, mid-life for women could happen in our 40s or 50s. It is less about our age and more about the stage of life we’re in. Sometimes called a ‘Midlife Crisis,’ or ‘Midlife Transition,’ or ‘Midlife Malaise,’ any way you slice it, this is uncharted territory filled with emotional landmines. The trick is in knowing what to look for and how to get through it WITHOUT casualties.

Some women describe it as a vague sense of uncertainty, sadness, and insecurity. Other women feel lost and begin to question everything, including their sense of self. For those we love, our midlife turmoil is just as surprising and unsettling. Patience, kindness, and reassurance are going to be important to remember for everyone. This is normal, it is a phase, and it will pass.

Not everyone will experience a midlife crisis. Midlife becomes a crisis when events occur that, to an individual, are emotionally overwhelming. And there are many life changing events that are specific to our stage in life. These might include: empty nest, hormonal changes, decreased libido, returning to the workforce, recognizing changes in our appearance, physical condition or limitations, our changing roles and responsibilities, the increased needs of our aging parents, and facing our mortality. This results in an all-consuming critical accounting of our life thus far.

This self-reflection takes the form of tough (often impossible) questions. Is this all there is? Have I made mistakes? Am I still viable? We may begin to compare ourselves to others, feeling inferior or envious. We feel anxious and may consider reckless behaviors or purchases. One friend told me “I’ve spent 25 years taking care of my family, building a home, being needed. Now everything has changed, and I’m lost.” The inclination, she said, was to “get off the merry-go-round and do something dramatic.” It was at that moment she decided to stop, consider the consequences, and take a breath. Which, as it turns out, was a great idea. Together she and I compiled a list of ways to get through it:

  1. Stop obsessing over physical changes and join a gym or yoga class.
  2. Be bold – become immersed in a creative hobby like painting, landscaping, anything DIY.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others. You don’t need to look like Taylor Swift, but you can feel like a better you. When you feel beautiful, you are perceived as beautiful.
  4. Keep moving forward, smile at the memories you’ve made and make new ones.
  5. Don’t project what you should have done onto your kids – let them blaze their own trail.
  6. Get your team in on it, talk to friends or get counseling. There are no trophies for this event.
  7. Avoid overspending, body modification, thrill seeking, or risky behaviors.
  8. Try having an affair with your spouse – re-kindle the romance and spice it up.
  9. Go back to school or get new career training.

Most importantly, remember to leave no casualties. Talk to your family. This is as unsettling and frightening to them as it is to you. They will need your reassurance that you are still you, you love them and appreciate their support. After all, when this midlife has run its course, you’re going to want them at the finish line cheering you on.