The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the past is a place of learning, not a place of living.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
The term midlife crisis came about by a Canadian Psychoanalyst who had found that at midlife, many face the reality of their limitations and for some, restricted possibilities and their own mortality. However, as we are all living that much longer and a career is no longer for life, midlifers might need to rethink how they view this period. It doesn’t need to be viewed as the move towards decline with the best years gone. I would like to reframe this time as a chance for renewal and rebirth and for some, the last chance to become the real you. I think midlife can be a time that can be incredibly rewarding. The shackles of youth are much looser and knowing you’ve lived more years than maybe what is left, can be an incredible motivator.
Change and Discomfort
Making change is not without it’s challenges and can bring up some uncomfortable feelings, however, these feelings can be a sign that you are growing and so are positive. Curiosity to try on different ways of being can help you to find what resonates now with you in your life. If you’ve been in a career for a long time, it can be easy to think, this is me and this is what I do. However, I would challenge that idea as how do you know what else you would like to do if you’ve never tried to do something different. This approach is the slower and more measured, however, with patience these small steps are bringing you closer to your true self, the self of NOW!
Careers Coaching and Existentialism in practice
Take Anne, (not her real name), she had been working in healthcare for an incredible 35 years. At this stage, she was in her early 50’s and had the option of taking early retirement. Working in healthcare, especially under the current climate of Covid, the realisation that she hadn’t actually enjoyed her work, suddenly became clear. She realised this feeling had been with her for at least the last 5 years. She made the decision to take early retirement. However, now that she had left work she was left with all this free time and this emptiness she felt was something that scared her. She was left feeling confused as work had been such a big part of her life. She had worked at this unfulfilling job to take care of her family, but now she had time for herself, she was lost and confused. At the centre of this confusion, was some deep questions she was asking herself. When she was at work, she identified herself with her job, but now that she was retired, she felt she didn’t know who she was. Some existential questions arose from our sessions together. Am I my job or is this something that I do? Who am I if I am not my job? When does a job become a career and not a job? Who decides this? And does it matter? After many months of confusion and shaky ground, Anne found her centre and realised that this was such an opportunity she had been given, For many of us, we do not get this time to be curious as we are too busy with just getting through month to month, paycheck to paycheck. The time to be curious and explore parts of herself that had laid dormant and which till now had remained hidden, was a gift.
My approach with Anne, was an existential one. To help to increase her awareness of all the challenges she had faced in her life previously and a reminder of all the skills she had acquired up to now. To be curious about her feelings and not be frightened by them. As life changes, so do we, so we need to meet ourselves where we are now, not where we were before. We sometimes forget, that in looking back, we have come an incredibly long way in our journey in life and this journey has given us some incredible experience, skills and most powerful, self -knowledge and we can use this information to help us to move towards a life where we flourish and move away from a life of existence and survival.