I recently read a sad article about a ridiculous number of women my age who are going through a sort of mid-life crisis. The part that caught my attention first was this:
"Hey," I said, happy to have caught her on a break from her job, "do you know anyone having a midlife crisis I could talk to?"
The phone was silent for a second.
Finally, she said, "I'm trying to think of any woman I know who's not."
When I read that exchange, I realized that women in my age range are having very similar experiences to current young adults just leaving high school and college.
Our world is so different from what I experienced as I left high school. Career paths were pretty traditional then, though there were some who took different journeys. Most of my friends didn’t think about the next step after high school because the next step was college; most of us never thought about NOT going on for a four year degree. I was surrounded my middle class friends in suburban Colorado neighborhoods, but even my friends outside of that community knew the traditional path and generally followed it.
Those traditional paths still exist, but they’re an awful lot like where Kodak was about 30 years ago; they’re not real anymore.
Some people are seeing this as an exciting opportunity, a chance to do whatever seems right at any given moment. Others are experiencing a kind of agoraphobia, a sense of overwhelming loss and confusion. For them, it’s like being really hungry and going to a restaurant with too many menu options. They get so overwhelmed that they can’t make a decision and walk away starving.
Women who are going through this crisis are facing similarly overwhelming options, but instead of seeing this time as full of opportunity, they’re seeing it as failure, or worse, their lives completely shattered.
I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone likes to be in that “in-between” space, where I live most of the time. People who fit the equation comfort = happiness are overwhelmed by this time in their lives, while others who have consistently shifted gears to find the next adventure see this time as exciting and full of opportunity.
It’s hard to know what to do to help friends going through this phase of self-discovery and change; after all, their world is unbalanced and full of uncertainty. I’ve written about strategies for helping a person who is grieving, and they apply here, too. Remember that your friends are grieving. They’re grieving the loss of what they thought they wanted in life, the loss of their certainty, and potentially the loss of the foundation of their marriage and parents as their health deteriorates.
A good coach can help define the questions that need to be addressed, and will help clarify what the answers mean in terms of action steps and opportunities. Coaching is well worth the investment, and in combination with a counselor, can turn things around significantly. Not every counselor or coach is the same, so if you find one you don’t work well with, keep looking. Don’t stick with one you don’t feel excited to share with, but don’t give up on coaching or counseling if you have one negative or ineffective experience!
Listening is a huge part of allowing a person to grieve. If you are a good listener, that may be your primary role in helping your friends.
Being a positive force of encouragement and support is absolutely the best thing you can do for people. Make sure you have a small group that meets regularly to talk about the challenges and questions you’re all facing. More importantly, make sure the energy in that group remains positive. Each person in your group must have the ability and comfort level to intervene when a meeting turns into a rant session. A complaint-filled hour will only drag you down; when anyone in the group senses that things are going south in a conversation, they must know how to carefully switch gears and talk about actions people can take to move forward.
Are you going through a time of uncertainty? Are you feeling off-balance and lost? No one can solve your problems for you, but reaching out to encouraging, supportive, engaged friends will definitely help. I have what I call my N.A.G. group, Nudge – Advise – Guide, and we meet once each month to help us stay accountable to ourselves with our goals, to encourage and advise us when we have crazy ideas, and to guide us to make the best choices.
How you perceive this time in your life is YOUR CHOICE. You can wallow in sadness over the loss of what you thought you had, what you thought you wanted, or you can step up and live out the dreams you’ve dismissed while you were developing yourself to be who you are right now.