Down…Set…Hike! Smoke from the homecoming bonfire rises on that crisp autumn night; the crowd rushes to its feet as #23 takes the snap, scrambles, and throws. As the girls in the crowd swoon and the guys gasp in anticipation, he launches the football. It glides into the hands of the wide receiver. He bobbles it for what seems like an hour, but gains control. Fighting off the oncoming defenders, he runs it in for a touchdown. Everyone screams. Green Valley won its homecoming football game!
Number 23 looked like you. He talked like you. Hell, he was you. But that was twenty years ago. The guy in your memories, and in the memories of your classmates at Green Valley, doesn’t exist anymore. The fit body has been replaced by a beer gut. The guy that could run 100 yards in 11 seconds can barely walk to his car in the morning without getting out of breath. The screams of fans have been replaced by the screams of kids (and a wife). The guy that could charm everybody in 1992 regularly gets yelled at by angry customers at the local cable company call center where he works.
All of us wake up at one point and evaluate our present in light of the past. For many people, things were better when we were younger. Most people had more friends, more hopes, and more ambition. It is easy to understand why males go through a mid-life crisis. Some people even suggest the “mid” life crisis is happening earlier and earlier, so maybe you are feeling this way even though you are only thirty!
Fortunately, you can face the feelings head on, and create a new “you” that can effectively combat that crisis. Below are five tips that work.
Many people remember the “glory days” and this creates “relative deprivation.” This means that a person’s current life might be good when it is evaluated on its own, but when compared to some other achievement (like a great past), it pales in comparison. For example, making $70,000 a year would be great for a lot of people, but if you used to be a millionaire, it might seem like total defeat.
The good news is that while you cannot always relive past glory, you can be excellent at something at any age. While I don’t play football anymore, I participate in extreme races like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder. So, while I telegraphed excellence by playing football in high school, at my age (34), I can’t do that anymore. So I replaced it with excellence in another form.
You can be excellent at anything really. You can start a business, learn racquetball, run a 5k, write a book, start a rock band, etc. While you may not regain the same type of excellence you used to have, you can become (and show off) your excellence at something new. I find that as I get older, I get better at most things, and you will find that as well.
Think Young, But Not Immature
One problem with a mid-life crisis is that guys often try to recapture youth by being immature and irresponsible. A guy I knew when I was younger was going through his mid-life crisis by calling 900 number sex lines, and squealing his tires when he pulled out of parking lots. As we watched him squeal out on one summer day, most of us just rolled our eyes at a 40-year old that did such ridiculous stuff.
However, I highly suggest thinking youthfully. This means staying in shape, caring about your appearance, keeping up on fashion trends (although look good for your age; don’t dress like a teen), staying well-groomed, having fun, and just generally taking a younger perspective on life.
I am often mistaken for being younger because I do a lot of things that younger people generally do. I go out a lot, run in extreme races, wear trendy clothes, and have a lot of energy. I am not trying to recapture my youth; my point is that I still have the energy, excitement, and vibrancy of youth.
Again, I am not saying you should be immature, especially in a way that might hurt others or be dumb. To think young means to capture all the good things related to being young and discard all the awkward, dumb, and harmful stuff!
Meet New People
Many people find that as they age, their social circles dramatically shrink. In high school and college, people are interacting with hundreds, and even thousands, of potential friends and dates. As we age, the ability to interact with such a large number of people goes down significantly, which makes meeting new people difficult.
While most of us could make friends with little effort in high school because of the sheer number of people around us, to deal with that male mid-life crisis, you will want to consciously focus on meeting people. There are a variety of ways to expand your social network. Get involved in clubs and organizations. Go to networking events. Talk to new people every chance you get. This site (and our forthcoming book) has some great tips for meeting people. If it is a skill you lack, then practice it and learn about it!
The Internet has allowed us to re-connect with virtually everyone from our pasts. Personally, I am glad to leave some of my acquaintances in the past, but in general, re-connecting via social media has been good for me. I rekindled an old friendship through Facebook in 2010. Even though both of us kind of got sucked into work and family duties (see below), Facebook helped us break that and re-connect. Be careful about rekindling too much; people change over time, and they may not even want to connect with you again.
Reevaluate your priorities
The friend I reconnected with gradually stopped having time to hang out back in 2001. So, eventually I just stopped calling. I went to graduate school 600 miles away, so it wasn’t like I could hang out anyway. Over the next nine years, we let virtually everything else take priority over our friendship. Work. Family. You name it! He was working 70 hours a week, and developed anxiety from the time spent there. I didn’t get anxious, but I was adrift, with no direction.
Throughout our lives, most of us do things because they are expected. And once we start, we just keep doing them. And things just kind of slowly pile on, until we are kind of like the proverbial frog that slowly gets boiled to death without knowing it. Did my friend wake up one morning and declare he wanted to give his life to his job and live a life of anxiety and depression? No. It just kind of happened. Did I wake up one morning and wish for a directionless existence? No, but it happened.
That is why a regular re-evaluation of priorities is a good idea. My friend realized that he was giving his work way too much power in his life, and he was spending too much time there. Fortunately, he worked some things out with his boss to make things less stressful. I decided that even though I love teaching, I needed to start a business on the side to truly do the things I needed to do, and to earn the money I wanted to earn.
You may do this, and realize your priorities are all jacked up. Be honest, but don’t panic. Also, I am not saying you give up all responsibilities and sneak off to Jamaica with the company’s funds. Making major changes should be gradual so you or your family aren’t out of money! However, it is always a good idea to regularly evaluate your present situation, and if it is not making your life filled with joy and meaning, make changes.