Looking at Mid-Life: Crisis or Transition?

Living in a 35-45 year old generation, I see people like President Obama (49) representing hopeful mentors for the future; Tiger Woods (34) as frightful reminders from the past; and Brett Favre (40) caught in  limbo between youth and retirement, yet another sobering reality of the present…

Facing these kinds of signs, I began thinking about who I am, once was, and in what direction I’m headed. One book in particular, called The Seasons of a Man’s Life by Daniel Levinson, help me to start answering these questions. By the way, Levinson wrote another book for women called The Seasons of a Woman’s Life; for my purposes here, I’m offering a private conversation among men, but ladies you’re welcome to listen in… 

The Seasons of a Man’s Life (1978) was based on research in adult development over 30 years ago. Yet some of their findings on mens’ life-cycles are timeless and thought-provoking.  Sure, reaching the age of 40 is just a number, but something truly happens to the male psyche in approaching it. Something that calls for a fresh  look, a reassessment and reflection of life spent and a future to come.

Whatever the condition, every man in their early forties, Levinson says, in approaching this transition from early adulthood (17-45) toward middle adulthood (40-65), must “come to terms” with 3 major tasks:

1. Re-appraising the Past: Review your life during the early adult years and discovering what came out of it.

2. Trying Out a New Life: Start modifying negative parts of your life and take on new choices in preparation for middle adulthood.

3. Confront Contradictions: Dealing with the ‘polarities’ that keeps ‘deep divisions’ in your life.

It is noted that the “special task’ of middle adulthood is to become aware of ‘both the child and elder’ in yourself and others. This period in life can be the best or worst for a man.  Some make significant contributions giving value to politics, community, or philosophy.  Some fall off the radar never to be seen again. While some struggle with the threat to his “narcissistic pride,” hearing knocks of death’s door getting louder in the distance.

What even inspired me to write wasn’t in showing triumph in approaching my own mid-life ‘transition,’ but with the help of Levinson, extend a large manhug to all my 35-45ers to start a strategic and productive task force: Where we look forward to the next level, in what Carl Jung calls the “high noon of life.”  As we already know, during the middle of the day (as should the middle of our lives)  is the time to go out into the world and do something for all to see.

Another reason for writing this comes by a great quote from the book.  It captures what I believe are the thoughts and questions that every man must answer for himself; the good news is that you’re not alone. It’s a long quote, but well worth it:

“Every life structure necessarily gives high priority to certain aspects of the self and neglects or minimizes other aspects… In the Mid-Life Transition these neglected parts of the self urgently seek expression…Internal voices that have been muted for years now clamor to be heard. At times they are heard as a vague whispering, the content unclear but the tone indicating grief over lost opportunities, outrage over betrayal by others, or guilt over betrayal by oneself.  At other times they come through as a thunderous roar, the content all too clear, stating names and times and places and demanding that something be done to right the balance. A man hears the voice of an identity prematurely rejected; of a love lost or not pursued; of a valued interest or relationship given up in acquiescence to parental or other authority; of an internal figure who wants to be an athlete or nomad or artist, to marry for love or remain a bachelor, to get rich or enter the clergy or live a sensual carefree life—possibilities set aside earlier to become what he now is…he must learn to listen more attentively to these voices and decide consciously what part he will give them in his life.” (p.200)


One response to “Looking at Mid-Life: Crisis or Transition?

  1. Mid-life transition is something that happens to many of us at some point during life. It is a natural process and is a normal part of maturing. So don’t be afraid of mid-life. Just enjoy ride and you’ll learn to cope with it in time.

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