Inside: Is midlife not quite what you imagined? Or are you going through a midlife crisis? Here are 9 ways to make your midlife transition smoother.
“Well, he’s a senior dog now.” The vet concluded as he finished examining my 7-year-old dog, Vincent. The word “senior” made my heart stop.
Say that again?
It seemed like only yesterday when I brought Vincent home as a puppy. The sudden realization of my dog’s mortality was a sucker punch to the gut.
That night, he got extra attention—and beef liver treats.
There comes a point in our lives when we’re confronted with our mortality (and that of those around us). It may hit us like a ton of bricks, or one gradual brick at a time. And it typically happens during our midlife years.
This transition to the second half of life can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to result in a crisis. Here are 9 ways to make your midlife transition smoother.
What Are the Signs of a Midlife Crisis?
First coined in 1965 by psychologist Elliot Jacques, the term midlife crisis refers to a period of turmoil regarding a person’s mortality, achievements, and identity. Usually occurring between ages 40 to 60, it’s often triggered by a significant life event such as the loss of a job, divorce, death of a parent, or children leaving the home.
During this time, people may question their past and present choices as they look ahead to the second half of life. Signs may include underlying feelings of:
- need for a change
More noticeable, outward symptoms may include:
- lack of motivation
- impulsive decisions
- risky behaviors
Is Midlife Crisis a Real Thing?
Yes, but not for everyone. Contrary to movie-driven stereotypes, studies show equal numbers of men and women go through a midlife crisis. Only 10 to 26% of Americans experience a full-blown one.
What’s more accurate is that more of us will experience a midlife slump instead.
According to one study by David Blanchflower, people worldwide experienced a dip in life satisfaction in midlife, known as the happiness U-curve. Happiness tends to decline in the first couple of decades of adulthood. It bottoms out in the 40s (age 47.2 to be exact) and rises again in the 50s and beyond.
We tend to be more optimistic in our younger years but don’t end up being as satisfied as we thought in midlife after meeting our goals. We then spend these years reconciling our unmet hopes and aspirations with reality.
All the while, we’re juggling heavy responsibilities with work, kids, aging parents, and finances.
Again, not everyone will experience this dip in life satisfaction. But you’re not alone if you have a vague sense of malaise for no justifiable reason.
You may just be riding at the bottom of the happiness U-curve. And the odds are you’ll feel better with time.
Midlife Transition Versus Midlife Crisis
An unhealthy midlife crisis is associated with destructive coping skills and out-of-character behaviors. People in a full-blown crisis fight the realities of getting older. They find desperate ways to turn back the hands of time—even if that costs them what they love most.
In a healthy midlife transition, people might mourn their disappointments but come to terms with where they are in life. They accept the realities of getting older. And they make changes to their goals and values accordingly.
The midlife transition is a normal part of life. We can’t escape it or wish it away. But God isn’t surprised by our doubts and questions during these years. He’s the one who created this phase!
God is the author of each of our seasons, and He has a purpose and intentionality behind each one. So let’s view midlife as a time of expected transition. Contrary to negative stereotypes and fears, it can be a time of unique growth and new opportunities.
Here’s how you can make that happen.
How to Navigate Your Midlife Transition (and Avoid a Midlife Crisis)
1. Stay (extra) close to God
In our midlife years, it feels as if the whole world depends on us. It’s natural to downplay our feelings as we take care of our kids, aging parents, and that major project at work. We look like we’ve got it all together on the outside.
Inside, we’re cracking under the weight—and living a life of quiet desperation.
For some, midlife can be a time when disappointment comes to a head. They’ve hit enough life setbacks that make them reluctant to hope again. Or they’re reeling from immense heartbreak and loss.
Whatever your circumstances, don’t stuff your pain. Go to God regularly about the things weighing on you. Pour your heart out to Him. You might not be able to carry your burdens, but He can.
More than ever before, we need to hear God’s wisdom and assurance. Only He can give us deep peace, comfort, and healing. So don’t forget to prioritize God above all your responsibilities.
2. Find meaning in your daily work
Your current job might seem like an exercise in futility. You might be the emoji banging its head on the wall. You might even have a secret retirement countdown app on your phone.
Even if this is the case, the Bible says that you can still choose to honor God in your work. You can work for Him rather than your boss or even a paycheck.
Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (NIV).
God doesn’t measure our faithfulness on only the external results of our labor. Rather, faithfulness is based on the excellence with which we perform our jobs, the love with which we serve others, and the extent to which we reflect God’s character.
You can have a terrible or wildly unproductive day at work and still be found faithful to God.
So ask God to teach you how to work for His glory. Ask Him to change your heart and attitude if necessary. It’ll go a long way in improving your midlife transition.
3. Nurture your life outside of work
On the flip side, if we let work dominate too much time and energy, we end up neglecting other areas. Or making achievement and success an idol.
According to Arthur Brooks, all of us reach a moment when we discover we’re not as sharp as we used to be. The striver’s curse says the more successful a person is, the harder this professional decline.
In his book From Strength to Strength, Brooks writes that high achievers start “finding their inevitable decline terrifying, their successes unsatisfying, and their relationships lacking.” They crash because they depend on achievement and success to be happy.
So prepare yourself for this evitable professional decline, as difficult as it is to accept right now. Don’t neglect your life outside of work. And if work-life balance has been more elusive than a game of Whac-A-Mole, now’s the time to try again.
Explore your creativity in a new project. Reconnect with an interest you haven’t had time for. Find a way to give back through your church or community.
Any time that we faithfully steward the time, talents, and treasure that God’s given us, we glorify Him.
4. Prioritize people over projects
The best way to nurture your life outside work, however, is to prioritize your relationships over your projects. According to the Bible, relationships are the most important thing in life. It’s not our work, ministry, or favorite hobby.
Jesus says that our relationship with God comes first, and our relationships with others come second (Matthew 22:37-40). Through relationships, we learn to love and be loved. We experience the blessings of companionship and encouragement. And we find the community we long for.
It’s no surprise, then, that one secular study found that the happiest people are those with good relationships. It wasn’t those with stellar jobs or bank accounts.
According to Robert Waldinger’s study, people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were also the happiest (and healthiest) at age 80. He says, “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.”
So deepen your existing friendships. Take the initiative to call an old friend. Get to know your neighbor. Mentor someone younger. Step out of your comfort zone and befriend someone new. Make people your purpose.
5. Beware of the arrival fallacy
Have you ever thought to yourself, “When X happens, then I’ll be happy?” You bet all your happiness on a certain outcome. And you couldn’t be happy until it happened.
According to Tal Ben-Shahar, these when/then statements make up the arrival fallacy. He says, “Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.”
Although we feel happy upon reaching the goal, this feeling is temporary. We return to our original level of happiness, leaving us with a sense of disappointment or emptiness.
Christians aren’t immune from falling into this trap. The when/then statement of our younger years looked like this: “I’ll be happy when I marry the perfect person, have a baby, buy the best house based on current market values, or figure out my life purpose.”
The midlife version looks more like this: “I’ll be happy when I get that senior position at work, take that long-awaited vacation, see my kids get their life together, retire, or figure out my life purpose (again).”
A Christianized version exists, too: “When God answers this prayer, I’ll be happy and content.”
Awareness of the arrival fallacy in our thinking is the first step to avoiding this trap.
6. Ask God to help you be content
The solution to the arrival fallacy is to tie your contentment to God, not your circumstances.
Contentment is a state of being where we’re satisfied in God, even when our hopes and dreams are in shambles. It declares that all we have in God is enough. And it frees us to live for now, not a future goal.
The apostle Paul says contentment can only be learned with God’s empowerment.
Paul writes, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).
If this kind of contentment seems impossible, you’re right. You and I can’t muster contentment in our own strength, but He can make it possible. Ask God to help you be content with your life as it is today.
7. Relish in what gives you joy
If any man were going through a midlife crisis in the Bible, it was King Solomon. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrestles with mankind’s (and his own) mortality. Because life is so short and limited, he concludes that we should enjoy it to the fullest.
Solomon writes, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
Christians can eat and drink with gladness because we know that God has already accepted us. We enjoy the good things in life because of God’s salvation, not despite it. And we rejoice in Him as the giver of all good gifts.
The world chases pleasure-seeking as an ultimate end, but we were set free so that we might enjoy life’s pleasures with God as the source.
As one dying Civil War soldier wrote, “I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life. I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.”
God takes pleasure when you enjoy your daily blessings and small comforts. He’s the one who gave them to you in the first place. This joy will offset the toil and troubles of midlife.
So whether it’s your favorite coffee, food, hike, hobby, or destination spot, relish in what gives you joy. And give God thanks for His good gifts!
8. Create out-of-the-ordinary memories
As we get older, studies show that our perception of time gets faster. This is why time seems like it’s speeding up every year. And why it feels like it was only yesterday that my now senior dog was a puppy.
The human brain lays down stronger memories for new situations. It doesn’t remember routine information like what we ate for breakfast last Friday. The more novel situations we encounter, the longer (and richer) that period will seem afterward.
Time seemed to pass slowly in our childhood because of all the new experiences. The routine of midlife years, however, makes it difficult for our brain to differentiate time passing.
If we only do the same thing day in and day out, time will feel like it’s flying by even faster, worsening potential feelings of regret in midlife.
The key to slowing down time is to create novel memories. So try something new. Learn a new skill. Explore something different. Or do something old in a new place.
Not only will you have more fun, but your perception of time will slow down.
9. Adopt a growth mindset
Another key to navigating the midlife transition successfully is to watch your mindset.
A fixed midlife mindset tells you your abilities are stagnant or even diminishing. So you stop trying. You hit cruise control. And get stuck in a rut.
According to Carol Dweck, we all have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and talent are set. Resisting risks and change, they tend to plateau earlier in life. In the Bible, the servant who buried his one talent rather than investing it had a fixed mindset (Matthew 25:14-30).
People with a growth mindset believe their abilities can improve with effort and persistence. They view failure as a learning opportunity and are more willing to take on new challenges.
Fortunately, Dweck says that anyone can learn to change their mindset. Here’s how you can begin to adopt this attitude shift today:
- View failure as an opportunity for growth and learning
- Focus on the process, rather than the results
- Value progress, not perfection
- Tell yourself you haven’t mastered a skill—yet
- Cultivate a sense of purpose
Wherever you are in your midlife journey, don’t let a fixed mindset hold you back from your greatest potential.
The Great Irony of Midlife
After learning that my dog was now considered a senior dog, I had a deeper fondness for him. We only have a few more years left. It also made me think about my family and friends.
My loved ones won’t always be around, and that makes me even more appreciative of them. I want to spend more time together before their years on earth are up.
Such is the great irony of midlife: Behind every jarring realization lies a deeper lesson.
This is my hope for you. May the lessons you learn in midlife outweigh the realizations that hit you. May you find a renewed sense of meaning and joy.
And walk with God deeper than ever before.
Recap: How to Navigate Your Midlife Transition
1. Stay (extra) close to God.
2. Find meaning in your daily work.
3. Nurture your life outside of work.
4. Prioritize people over projects.
5. Beware of the arrival fallacy.
6. Ask God to help you be content.
7. Relish in what gives you joy.
8. Create out-of-the-ordinary memories.
9. Adopt a growth mindset.
What is the one thing you need to do to have a smoother midlife transition?
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