Broken Boys to Whole Men: #14 – Midlife Crisis: From Success to Significance
January 7, 2020
Most of us can envision the stereotypical mid-life crisis for men: A middle-aged guy driving a sports car or motorcycle for the first time, or one with a much younger woman on his arm, developing a substance abuse problem, or having suddenly taken up skydiving.
But the reality is often more subtle and leads a man to a period of confusion and searching, initiated or accompanied by some tailspin that forces a change in his life and priorities.
My own mid-life crisis began in the early 2010s: our kids were old enough that the intensity of parenting had given way to an ease of family life that left me bored and wondering what my life's purpose was.
At work, that meant an ennui and a restlessness, going through the motions and wishing I was elsewhere, doing other work. But I didn’t know what that might be.
A forced change of workplace in 2016 led me to wonder if I belonged in local church ministry at all or whether I should be doing non-profit work or chaplaincy. I felt both freedom and anxiety, and as I took time off to decide what my next move should be, I realized that the crisis didn’t begin with that job-loss but rather a few years before.
I discovered that the need to provide an income and health insurance for my family when our kids were young short-circuited questions of what I really enjoyed and was meaningful to me. So during the in-between-jobs time, I worked in the bulk section of a grocery store, tried hospice chaplaincy, and searched for an interim pastorate.
I opted for the interim, because I love work in the church so much and, as my wife said at the time, I needed to get back on the horse that had so recently bucked me off. That eleven months in the mountains of Western North Carolina was a time of solitude (my family stayed back in Colorado), prayer, discernment, and discovering what I really wanted. I began this blog during that time, and writing is one of the things that gives me a sense of purpose.
Yes, at times my mid-life crisis felt cataclysmic, but much more of it has been a period of learning and growth, developing a deeper inner life, learning better self-care, a clearer vision of my life's next chapter, renewed energy and a more balanced life.
I’ve begun a graduate certificate program in spiritual direction/companionship at a local university, preparing for the next chapter of ministry. I’m building peer relationships with colleagues and developing close friendships with other men as I've never done before, and mentoring others.
Is my mid-life crisis over? I don’t know. But I believe my experience of a slow process of searching, discovering, and re/affirmation is not unique. Far more men experience their transition at mid-life in more subtle, nuanced ways, and my advice to other men is, live your own story, and don’t be shaped by the stereotype of a mid-life crisis. The fast cars, younger women, or risky behaviors are really things men use to fill the void they discover at mid-life that’s been there all along.
Only by embracing the emptiness without having to fill it do we hold a space open for transformation to happen.