The Upside of the Midlife Crisis

“Seriously, Peter, I will take a massive paycut right now for the opportunity to get to do work that is meaningful”

“I’ve been dragging myself to work for years. I feel hopeless and trapped”

The other week I was having lunch with yet another person sharing with me his dissatisfaction with work. And it’s not just your typical had-a-bad-day-at-work chat. This was deeper. Teary-eyed-grown-men deep.

The funny thing is, ever since the start of this year, I’ve easily had more than 25 chats with people experiencing some deep existential angst.

There are clear common threads:

  • Almost everyone is at 40 or near 40
  • There is a clear dissatisfaction (and being stuck) not only with work, but with their careers
  • Everyone mentions the longing to do something meaningful
  • A lot of people mention the willingness to sacrifice: getting “massive” paycuts
  • A good number of them are externally successful in what they do: a couple are CEO’s and a lot of high level executives, a couple are successful entrepreneurs

Mind you, this isn’t a norm for me. I don’t go around looking to talk to mid-lifers. It usually just starts with a catch-up over coffee, and then it goes deeper, and deeper.

I told my wife Pauline I think God is telling me something. I also figured, perhaps my friends and natural network know me as the guy who quit corporate work to on a startup very early on (mid 2000’s), and perhaps they want to explore what that’s like.

For whatever reason, logical or otherwise, I’ve had the privilege and honor of hearing the stories of a lot of people undergoing midlife crises. I find myself arriving at one conclusion:

All midlife crises are spiritual.

Hear me out.

In all my chats, I’ve asked the person to “go back” and recall their entire careers with me, asking them to look for clues with me as to where this dissatisfaction could’ve come from.

In ALL cases, there are compromises involved:

  • A practical decision to stay in a situation they knew sucked their souls.
  • Conforming to the expectations of someone who influences them greatly. Very typically parents.
  • The feeling of giving up trying to change a situation because they feel it’s too late now, they’ve invested so much in one path.

My own spiritual-influenced definition of the midlife crisis is this:

It’s when there’s a growing gap between who we are and who God wants us to be, and our souls are crying out that we need to do something about it.

I guess this also applies to the quarter-life variety, the midlife version just cuts deeper – because the dissatisfaction has been there longer, and because we already can feel a bit of our mortality.

The type of job does not matter.

I tell the people I talk to that as an entrepreneur who’s basically designed his job, I’ve felt this dissatisfaction too. And it’s because I’ve also made haphazard choices without the benefit of deeper discernment.

It’s very obvious the money doesn’t matter as well. I’ve heard enough “I’ll take a paycut to do something meaningful.” to reach this conclusion.

What matters then?

That term: meaning, is an often-used term in my conversations. The problem starts methinks when this is ignored.

There was one person I talked to who was shocked by the question, “what activity or work gives you meaning?”

He muttered the question several times, and couldn’t give a ready answer. It appeared to me that he had a hard time even processing the question, because all his life, work has been “just work.”

But work is never just work. For a lot of us it occupies most of our waking hours. We typically define ourselves first by our jobs. I’m a doctor. A lawyer. A brand manager. An entrepreneur.

Okay, so what’s the upside?

I always tell the person I’m talking to: you know, it feels sucky, but this is actually a very Blessed time.

That gnawing feeling? That restlessness of the soul? You know what that is?

God is calling you to act, He is trying to lead and nudge you into what can truly make you joyful.

Don’t waste it. Listen to it. Use it.

What to do?

Do not ignore it. The very LAST thing you should do it to ignore the crisis you’re feeling. Believe me, it’s a GOOD thing. Face and process it.

I remember talking to someone a couple of years ago. She wanted to leave her longtime career in HR to pursue something that would tap into her creative side. At one point, she said, “I think I’m good. Let me stay where I am for another year or two and see if this feeling is still there.”

Recently we met and yes, it’s the same old feelings back. With a vengeance.

Again, I think it’s an opportunity. Don’t spend the rest of your life ignoring it. It is disturbing to think of how many people are in their graves now who spent their entire lives not fulfilling the promise of who they were meant to be.

Talk to someone about it. I think


Stop compromising.