How to turn a midlife crisis into a midlife pivot

Feeling the strain of a midlife crisis? You’re not alone. The good news is it’s possible to turn this tricky life period around and find fulfilment.

Middle age is a stage in life that brings many challenges.

There’s the busyness, work demands and family commitments, not to mention weight gain and a lack of sleep.

So, unsurprisingly, it is a time when a lot of people start questioning what they’re doing with their life.

For some, this may lead to a full-blown midlife crisis; for others, it’s an opportunity to reimagine their whole life.

So, what exactly is a midlife crisis?

The phrase “midlife crisis” was first coined by Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in a speech to the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1957 to describe a certain period in life.

“It’s actually very common, but a lot of people might not always identify it’s what they’re going through,” Geelong psychologist Chris Mackey says.

“The stereotype of a midlife crisis is that someone does something impulsive like buy a sports car or have an extramarital affair – but, quite often, it might be someone feeling stuck in a rut, unsure of life direction, anxious or depressed.”

It can strike any time between 40 and 65, although Chris says he most commonly sees it in his patients in their early 40s.

Can men and women experience a midlife crisis?

Midlife turmoil affects all genders, but men and women tend to exhibit different behaviours, according to Chris.

“Quite often, women have spent their whole lives focusing on relationships and they think, ‘Hang on, I’m going to do something for myself’,” Chris says, adding that women often reach for more creative things, or do more adventurous things.

“Dare I say, they develop what is seen as more masculine characteristics, like asserting themselves,” he says.

“Men, on the other hand, have typically been focused on things like external achievement, so relationships often become their focus.”

Chris says midlife can be a tough time, and many people will benefit from therapy or reaching out to an expert.

Suddenly feeling stuck in midlife

In 2018, Melbourne mum Kate Holmes was a respected architect at the top of her field, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was no longer fulfilled.

“I had come out of my university degree, started an architectural practice and essentially worked in that for 30-odd years, and I suddenly just didn’t want to be an architect anymore,” Kate explains.

With the support of her partner, she embarked on a stint of long-service leave, planning to open up a dance fitness studio, Glow Dance.

“I just wanted to find something to do that brought positivity to the world,” she says.

“I realised that many of my friends didn’t exercise or dance anymore; I’d always complained about the fitness industry being too focused on the young, and it was a light bulb moment that came to me within the first couple of weeks.”

In Melbourne, Kate found a space, renovated it and opened her doors in January 2020, right before Covid hit.

“We’d only been open for a few months before we had to shut down,” she says.

It’s a point Kate believes people need to know – that life transformation is not meant to be easy.

“You’ve got to be prepared for what rocks and turns and obstacles are in the way, and you’ve just got to navigate through them,” she says.

These days, Kate operates the studio while continuing architectural work on the side – a mix she says is “working perfectly”.

External changes can be to blame

In some cases, rather than being internal, the midlife crisis is caused by external factors.

That is what happened to author and writing coach Jane Turner.

“I spent my whole working life in the public service up to the age of 51, when I was made redundant,” Jane says.

To make things worse, Jane was going through menopause while competing against younger candidates for jobs.

“I couldn’t get another job for love nor money, so I decided I needed to look after myself and change my mindset,” she says.

Jane overhauled her diet, got a personal trainer and started focusing on getting enough sleep.

“I was feeling so much better by just looking after myself, and then I started tinkering with the idea of a book,” she says.

Jane ended up publishing Thrive in Midlife – something she would never have done without a midlife crisis.

“I’ve got to be grateful for being made redundant, not only because I have healthier habits now, but also because writing the book completely changed the trajectory of my life,” Jane says.

“It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it; you just have to keep an upbeat view and look out for the opportunities.”

How to turn a midlife crisis into a midlife pivot

If you think you’re ready for a midlife refresh, here are some tips to help:

1. Be willing to adapt

The first step to turning your midlife crisis into a midlife pivot is to embrace change – learning to adapt instead of resisting will help you better identify doors to opportunity.

2. Reassess your life

Take time to look at your life and determine what is important to you.

Identify the things that bring you joy and fulfilment, then consider what changes you can make to improve your life.

3. Explore new opportunities

A midlife pivot is an excellent opportunity to explore new things.

Consider taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill or travelling to a new place – stepping outside your comfort zone will help you discover new passions and interests.

4. Take care of your health

Midlife is a crucial time to take care of your health.

Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, visit your GP and the dentist for recommended health checks, and get enough sleep.

5. Seek support

Midlife pivot points are not easy to navigate on your own.

Talk to your friends and family about your goals and aspirations, or consider seeking professional help from a therapist or life coach to guide you through the transition

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