What happens when you’ve achieved the goals of your twenties and early thirties? You found ‘the one’, had the big wedding, bought the three bed semi-detached in suburbia close to good schools. The joy and upheaval of having babies is behind you, and the kids, now safely deposited at school for most of the day need you less and less. You’ve probably reached middle management status at work. You’re a regular at the local Chinese takeaway/place of worship/pub/doctor’s surgery/school gates- a real bona fide community member.
What’s next to be done? Join the PTA? Save up for new double glazing? Erm, well no offense to anyone on our school’s PTA, (they do a great job) but I’d rather take out my own eyeballs.
Those heady days of taking big strides into adulthood: getting married, getting pregnant, getting a mortgage, getting children into good schools are over. I feel like a grown up. I’ve arrived. But with that comes the slightly terrifying thought that the best is over. I don’t want to join the PTA. I don’t want to save up for a new kitchen. There has to be something more exciting on the horizon for me? Isn’t there?
If I was a guy, and followed the stereotype, would I buy a sports car and have an affair with someone younger? (what’s the female, mid life crisis equivalent in popular culture? Becoming a cougar? Get a boob job and leave my husband for a younger man like Ashton Kutcher?)According to a survey published a couple of years ago, we are having our midlife crises younger and younger. As couples start families later and their careers peak earlier, many men and women are already feeling anxious, stressed, lonely, generally useless and washed up by their late 30s and early 40s, rather than in their 50s.
For many of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s under a Conservative government, there was a huge emphasis in the education system on going to university and aiming for professional careers. Grants for tuition fees still existed. For my generation this meant that many of us aimed high, perhaps were pushed into being over-achievers. We did peak early in our careers and often personal lives, and by 35 it really feels like the best is behind us. The big dreams are done and actually the phrase “washed up” does worryingly crop up now and then.
In an article published in GQ earlier this month entitled: “The secret of success? Epic Fail”, best selling author Tony Parsons talks about reinventing oneself, “re-booting” he calls it. He makes the point that no career, (and I would argue life,) ever simply goes from strength to strength. There is always a pause, an interruption or as he puts it ” a sense of… failure and the nagging doubt that comes with thinking the best is all behind you.”
He uses the examples of three great icons: Steve Jobs, Frank Sinatra and Muhammed Ali all of whom faced “catastrophic failures” mid career, all of whom were in their mid to late thirties at the time. They all achieved some measure of success quite early on but then faced the challenging prospect of having to reinvent themselves. These men of course went onto become some of the best known figures in history, each defining their respective arena, and changing them forever. (Do read the article, its a fantastically inspiring read not to mention really well written).
The point is that we all face a kind of bend in the road when it feels like we’re done. It takes courage, innovation and perhaps a bit of chutzpah to pick up and do something new. Reinvent yourself. You have a bit of life experience under your belt now and even more valuable, a self-belief that you simply didn’t have in your 20’s. Don’t let the fear of failure, rejection or social acceptance stop you from seeing the excitement that’s on the other side. And if it takes a mid life crisis to get you there? Well I’m ready.