In my experience and observation, men often go through two crises:
"Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans." --Thomas La Mance
"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." --Joseph Campbell
The Two Midlife Crises
Both involve much soul-searching , and searching for one's Life Mission.
The first half of our adult life is all about establishing ourselves in a career, getting married, having children, and in general doing the things the 'world' requires.
The second adulthood is where we do our work... the inner work, or soul work that eventually turns outward and sees us offering our gifts to the world, and making a deeper, more meaningful contribution. It is the time between the two adulthoods - the 'midlife transition' - that tries our souls.
The Right Livelihood Crisis
Traditionally, when a man was about thirty five years old, he was at the mid-point of his life. In fact in the early industrial age, and even into the 1920s, the average man's life span was barely over fifty, so 'midlife' was about twenty five. Now the average man lives to be about eighty, and his 'midlife' is around forty.
Most of us take quite a while figuring out what we should do 'when we grow up'. I was in my early forties before I finally clarified a 'life mission' for myself, and then looked around for the right action (work) to carry out the mission.
(When your work is in line with your sense of mission, it is your 'Right Livelihood'.)
I Am Tired of Doing What A Teenager Decided I Should Do!
I have talked to many men who have experienced a similar process. In fact the traditional 'midlife crisis', between ages thirty five and forty five, often involves dissatisfaction with work. It's as though some teenager decided we would be a lawyer (or dentist, or mechanic, or whatever) and we got stuck with that decision.
By the time we are in our mid thirties we often find we don't want to be what our teenage self decided, and we start looking for what we do want. We are also acutely aware of passing time, and realize we are starting the 'downhill run'.
We have a general dissatisfaction with our lives. We don't know what we want, and we usually have a wife and kids and a mortgage by then, which makes things more complicated.
Sometimes our general dissatisfaction leads to marital problems including separation or divorce.
My mission was (and is) simple: "I create a world where the earth is healthy, and people can see their own magnificence". This website is in line with that mission because I know that as we grow as human beings, and bring more peace and harmony into our own lives, we treat everything else with more compassion, including the earth.
I hope this site, plus the books and other resources I recommend, will help you discover your life mission, and bring more harmony into your life.
In fact, in order to directly help you with this process, I’ve written “A Harley or My Wife?”
I encourage you to click here and gain an understanding of how this resource I've developed can help you.
This book isn't about motorcycles. It is about the quandary a man often finds himself in at midlife, where it looks tempting to buy a Harley and hit the road…
Are You Having a Right Livelihood Crisis?
If you are having trouble figuring out what to do 'when you grow up', are feeling depressed or dissatisfied with your life, and you are already over thirty five, you might be having a bit of a 'Right Livelihood' crisis. There are a number of exercises you can do to help you figure out where the 'juice' is in your life... what really turns you on.
I have offered a few 'profound questions', and listed some exercises, as well as a few of the books I found useful below.
In our late forties or early fifties, we men often experience another crisis. The one I call an 'existential crisis'.
Now,instead of having questions about our 'right livelihood', we have questions about who we are, and the meaning of life.
In traditional cultures, this is the transition to Elderhood. In France it is called the 'Third Life', in North America it is referred to as the 'Second Adulthood'. In the Cree First Nation tradition, this is the 'Seventh Stage of Life', and is called the 'Teaching' stage.
For a description of the seven stages of life according to Cree tradition, see my link in the Resources section below.
We have established a household, raised children and learned a vocation, and now it is time to pass our knowledge on to the next generation.
This transitional stage is also often accompanied by a desire to quit the kind of work we are doing. In fact suddenly being sick of our jobs, and barely being able to put in another day is fairly common among men in their fifties I have talked to.
At this stage though, the question is not so much what our right livelihood is, but rather there is a desire not to have to work at all for a while.
But here is the confusing part... we usually do not know at the time that what we really want is a break! It is only in looking back that we can see what we had really been longing for is a rest... time to reflect.
I have heard ranchers describe it as being 'cowed out', where they can barely stand to look after cows for another day, and need a break.
It is wise, if at all possible, to arrange for a sabbatical for as long as possible. At least a month, but several is better, and a year or more is ideal.
I Needed a Break
I experienced the desire for a break in my early fifties. After a number of years of running a successful training program during the 1990s, I suddenly did not want to do it any more. At first I thought it was because any time I get good at a new job or skill, I get bored with it. I have changed jobs a number of times over the years because of getting bored with them. I call it the "entrepreneur's curse".
But this was different. I just couldn't face leading another training workshop.
And another thing happened... the Life Mission I had been so clear about just a few years before got foggy. I wasn't sure whether the mission was still to 'help people look after the earth', or whether now it was to 'help people grow personally and spiritually', or maybe it was something else entirely.
I entered a kind of fog, where I couldn't figure out what to do. At first I did not notice it because I was distracted by my wife and me buying the home farm from my parents (the fulfilment of a 30-year dream). Then, after a year and a half of living on the farm, deciding it did not really fit our lifestyle, and moving to Vancouver where I was to join the management team of a startup company we were partners in.
It was only after we had lived in Vancouver for six months, and I left the startup company as things were not working out the way I had hoped, that I discovered I really had no energy for anything.
The investment in the startup company was a major financial disaster for us. Looking back I can see that I did not do proper due diligence on the people I was partnering with.
Although they had what I thought was a timely idea, I did not know their backgrounds. I also did not know how hard it is to get startup capital. I would be very cautious about investing in another startup company.
I have discovered through my research that bad financial decisions are another common symptom of the midlife passage, especially during our fifties
I enjoy public speaking, and have done a lot of it over the years, aside from my television work, so I decided to see if I could make a career of speaking.
But I couldn't focus on a topic, and I had no confidence that anyone would want to hear anything I had to say!
Again I have learned that a common symptom of the 'Existential Crisis' in our fifties is a loss of confidence in our abilities.
Getting through the 'Existential Crisis' can take weeks, or months, or even years (five years in my case).
It can be a difficult time, and fraught with danger... we may lose our marriage, our job, or even our lives!
Statistics show a man is more likely to die from a heart attack during his fifties, than if he has one during his sixties or seventies.
To complicate matters, our wives or partners are often going through their own midlife crises, including menopause, which can be a major task for them.
My wife, Elizabeth's midlife transition that started with menopause took almost nine years to complete.
Women in menopause are facing their own struggles, and can often be irritable, emotional, lose interest in sex, and be wanting their own sabbaticals.
A man in midlife transition and a woman in menopause is a tough combination, and can be a heavy stress on a marriage. Those that get through this stage report their marriages are better than ever.
My friends Ted and Carol separated for a few years during their fifties, but are back together now, and very contented.
In my Resources section below, I've included a website with information on symptoms of menopause, to give you a better idea of what your wife might be experiencing.
The key strategies for negotiating the Existential Crisis in my experience are:
Know that this stage does end!
I am now through my 'midlife transition', and can feel more energy and passion for my mission, plus I now have a deeper understanding of life, which is helpful in doing my work, and in helping others find their own True Path.
I have talked to many men in their late fifties, sixties and seventies who report similar experiences after struggling in their midlife years. They often feel energetic, confident, wiser, and able to make a contribution meaningful to them.
You may only have one 'midlife crisis' during your life. Maybe you will have two crisis. Maybe none! Each man is unique. What I have presented here is my experience, which has been mirrored in the lives of a number of men I know.
Whatever your situation, if you find yourself in a crisis, look inside.
Try to discover what your life wants you to do. Use some of the exercises I have provided in the Resources section below on Life Mission.
Whatever your situation, if you find yourself in crisis, look inside...
In order to directly help you with this process, I’ve written “A Harley or My Wife?”