Monday, April 18, 2011

Mid-life: Crisis or Celebration?


            While watching the Today Show this morning, I saw a story about mid-life crisis.  My attention was instantly glued to the tube because I have unexpectedly been suffering from such a malady.  Before a few months ago, I never really understood what that was all about.  I had this vague idea that it was something men went through in their late 40’s or so.  They would often dump their high-school sweetheart wife for a newer, younger version.  Or they would trade in their practical sedan for a brand new Corvette or Porsche.  I believed it was about their fear of stagnation.  Had they accomplished what they thought they would by that age?  If not, well then they would shake up their lives in an effort to feel better about themselves.    
            I never really worried about aging too much myself.  I never saw anything wrong or unattractive about a man going bald or a few wrinkles around a woman’s eyes or mouth.  I thought it created more character in a person.  I know a lot of folks are obsessed with their looks and how age is progressing across their face and bodies.  I guess I don’t worry about it too much because I have pretty good genes and have aged rather well, at least on my face.  No wrinkles yet though I am forty-seven years old.  Most people cannot believe how old I really am.  I can mostly thank my parents for that.  And while I think I have more than my fair share of age spots on my face, it doesn’t bother me too much.  I’d love to be thin again, of course, but I enjoy life too much on a day to day basis to put too much effort into losing weight when it is a battle waged against a chronic metabolic disorder.  It’s futile war I will likely never win.  So why try too hard.  I’m healthy regardless.
            So it came as a great surprise a few months ago when I started to have these feelings of inadequacy.  Now, like a lot of people these days, my job has been greatly affected by the terrible economy.  I work in the new home building industry, and in California no less.  I consider my industry to be the canary in the coal mine.  The first indicator of a downturn is often felt in new home construction.  So it’s been a great setback for me since not many new homes have been built in California over the last 3+ years.  I suppose my lack of work has considerably chipped away at my sense of usefulness and self-esteem.  But a year ago, I decided to try something new, something I’ve never done before.  I decided to write a novel. 
            I love writing in general and I loved writing that novel in particular.  It was so exciting to live vicariously through my characters, experience their heartaches and loss, their joys and triumphs.  And when it was complete, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.  Not a lot of people can say they’ve written a book.  But then came the hard part, trying to find an agent for my novel.  When I started researching for this stage, I found I was competing with mostly young people, people in their mid to late twenties.  The older folks had already had years of experience and several published books beneath their belts.  I was a newcomer at forty-seven, with no experience, and no other product but the one I had just finished.  I felt like a mother who had spent the last twenty years at home with the kids and was now trying to re-enter the work force.  Who is going to consider me when there are so many bright, young, fresh faces out there, faces with creative writing degrees behind them, not a twenty-some year old design degree?  That’s been a rather cold, wet slap in the face, a sour dose of reality I had not foreseen.  How do I compete?
            Apparently, only ten to twenty percent of the population experiences a mid-life crisis.  They often try to spice up their lives by doing something they’ve never done before, like climbing a mountain or, as one woman in the Today Show piece said, write a book.  Funny that she would turn her crisis around by writing a book while it’s been writing my book that has turned my life into a crisis.  So even while residing in the minority, that ten to twenty percent, I’m still in an even greater minority, someone whose mid-life crisis is caused by spicing up my life.  Great.  Perfect.  How typical of me. 
            I must admit, I have been asking myself those questions so many other mid-life crisis sufferers ask:  Who am I?  What am I besides a wife?  A mother?  It was that “ah-ha moment” of profound discovery that led me into crisis instead of out of it.  So what to do, what to do?  Most of the time, that “ah-ha moment” is one in which we wonder how much time we have left and what we are going to do with that time.  How do I adjust my life to make my remaining years more fulfilling?  I can only come up with one answer since, apparently, I have been going about this all backwards:  keep trying.  Keep moving forward.  Keep reaching for that dream no matter how far out of reach it may seem.  I think the longer I have to wait and the harder I work to attain that dream, the sweeter the payoff will be.  The more rewarding it will feel. 
            As we get older, our dreams and aspirations change.  They evolve.  When we are young, we want to get into the best college so we can get the best job.  When we get that job, we aspire to meet the love of our life and have the perfect family.  We hope our children will reach their full potential, providing proof that we were successful at the most difficult job on earth:  parenting.  Then we send them off on their own path of dreams.  But who are we at that point?  With all the big dreams behind us, what new dreams will we reach for?  I suppose it doesn’t really matter exactly what those dreams are, as long as we know what direction we want to go in.  Having a dream pushes us forward, keeps us motivated to get out of bed each day.  The road to our dream is often difficult and full of potholes and roadblocks, but if it was smooth and clear all the time, perhaps we would not find as much fulfillment in the accomplishment. 
            So I know when I finally reach my goal of being published, whether it’s with my current book or the next one I will write or the one thereafter, I can look back and say it was all worth it.  I will get over that hump of mid-life crisis and the downhill ride will be fun rather than anticlimactic because the battle to make it over the crest was hard won.  And the pot of gold at the end very shiny.  

4 comments:

Laila Knight said...

I think you look terrific. I also believe that we set ourselves goals. Once we reach those goal, they just change into new ones. It's human nature to try and advance and keep on climbing.

Bryce Daniels said...

Don't get so caught up with the ages of other writers, Nancy. Because in the end, it all comes down to the words. People don't buy books from a jacket photo or biography. They want to be carried away, they want to be thrilled, they want to know they are in the hands of someone who can take them places they have never been before.

And THAT, I think, gives the edge to oldies like me. I don't say "YOU" cuz YOU should be celebrating the prime of your life.

Wisdom comes from experience, and it is wisdom that determines if a writer can impart true, lasting, and resounding themes to his or her readers.

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ADL said...

Statistics are dreamt up by researchers so that they can write articles slanted towards one outcome of the other. I don't believe in mid-life crises, they are an excuse for not engaging with the world... That being said, there are always phases in life!