OK, so we’ve heard of the quarter-life crisis. That’s the, “what am I going to do with my life?” question we ask ourselves when we turn a quarter-century… like we’re just supposed to somehow have everything figured out by 25. I never had a quarter-life crisis. There was no existential question I was asking myself. Basically, I didn’t give a shit. I was excited to turn 25. I was excited that I had disposable income. I was working at a job that I didn’t particularly like (FYI, I was working in accounting), but I liked that I was making money and that I was able to go out with my friends or treat myself to mini shopping sprees.
The mid-life crisis is what we all know to be the middle-aged guy in the shiny new sports car (I’m not actually sure what the stereotype for a middle-aged woman is). But it’s the, “what have I done with my life?” question people of that age-range ask themselves if their life hasn’t panned out the way they thought it would.
But what about the people in between? The ones who feel stuck.
It started about eight months ago. I would get home from work and have zero motivation to do anything but park my ass on the couch and watch TV all night. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped going to yoga. I wasn’t active at all on social media. I felt like I was just going through the motions, like there was no thought into my routine; I was on auto-pilot. But I was also feeling overwhelmed. I remember taking a “mental health month” during the summer. I thought that if I limited my social engagements, caught up on my sleep, focus on me, etc. I would get some calmness back, but it didn’t help. I still couldn’t shake this feeling that something was up, but what was it?
I jokingly said to myself one afternoon, “I’m in my 30s, so I guess I’m having a third-life crisis.” I immediately stopped and Googled, and that was it. The third-life crisis. It’s the, “what am I doing with my life?” question we ask ourselves when we think we’ve taken the wrong path at the fork in the road. I’m assuming we reach the fork in the road at 25, but I never paid enough attention. This was probably part of the problem.
So, at 34 years old (gearing up to turn 35 in a few months), I took a hard look at the different aspects of my life: career/work, marriage, friends/family. Only one was out of whack: my career, or lack thereof. I work in insurance, an industry that most people fall into by accident (mainly because they don’t know what else to do). This was me 100%. This wasn’t the career I had pictured for myself, but that was also part of the problem… I hadn’t actually pictured any career for myself. I never had a quarter-life crisis because I was never concerned about what I was going to do with my life. But did that mean I was destined for this? An existential crisis at 35? Ugh!!
So how do you fix it? The easy and bullshit answer would be: figure out what aspect of your life is not quite up to par, and change it. Easier said than done. Personally, I’m not about to quit my job and travel Europe for six weeks hoping to really “find my purpose in life.” Truth is, I went backpacking around Europe after graduating university. Clearly it didn’t help me figure out who I was. The only things I brought back from my Euro trip were 20 additional pounds and a fractured left foot (and, of course, a couple good stories). So, if you can’t change the one aspect that’s out what whack what the hell do you do?
This is what I’ve figured out: if one part of your life hasn’t gone as planned, focus on the ones that have. What I do for a living doesn’t define me. It’s what pays my bills, and I’ll leave it at that. What does define, however, are the relationships I cultivate with friends and family. That’s what is important to me and what I choose to focus on. As it goes, admitting there’s a problem is the first step. Once I addressed my third-life crisis it was easier to deal with. I no longer feel like I’m on auto-pilot. I am present and aware of what’s going on around me.
The third-life crisis is real and it’s a bitch because it comes at a time when you’re supposed to have everything figured out. It can sneak up on you and disguise itself. I guess when they say 30 is the new 20 they really mean it. All the shit you thought you left behind in your awkward 20s comes knocking eventually. Don’t get discouraged, though. Work through it. You’ve got this!