Midlife Crisis (as defined in Wikipedia) “describes a period of dramatic self-doubt” when persons reach their forties. It signifies a passing of their youth and the imminence of old age, augmented by physical incapabilities, deaths in the previous generation and other such reminders of mortality. There are self-assessing questions on career, work-life balance, relationships, expenses and physical appearance.
Are these questions relevant only after we cross 40? Do we not have similar questions when we cross 20? Do we not think of career, study-life balance, relationships, expenses and physical appearance.
So if we consider a life span of 80 years (arguable with medical advances, but do consider the balancing act of environmental contamination and genetic manipulation) we will have the following:
- At the start of our career, a quarter life crisis (Q1C),
- In the middle of our career, a mid life (Q2C) and
- At the end of our career, a three-quarter life crisis (Q3C).
The topics remain the same: career, work-life balance, relationships, major expenses and physical appearance.
During college (Q1C), we are concerned about our career, how much to study and how much to enjoy life, our relationships at the peer level and with our parents, the expense and repayment of loans, and how we look. This quarter-life crisis is as painful as a mid-life crisis. Although I have not been though a Q3C, I am sure, the questions would be similar but more introspective – about things that we could have done and things that we have achieved.
The difference between the three crises is in terms of possibilities and choices – which narrow down over time. The difference is possibly between optimism and realism. We are more optimistic and hopeful when younger. Maybe those of us who retain our optimism and hope remain younger for a longer time. But we do become more realistic about possibilities and capabilities.
There is an increased angst of unfulfilled desires versus capability. When we are younger, we believe that the whole life in there in front of us to fulfil our desires. However, we are impatient to get our desires fulfilled. This impatience drives us, but also creates stress, and makes us take a short-term perspective. By the time we learn patience and a long-term perspective, we are no longer young, and maybe our desires have changed. We also learn that desire and capability are distinct, and we start accepting our limits in capability.
This acceptance also helps in handling peer comparison. Earlier, we are concerned about what anyone thinks of us. Later, we are concerned about the thoughts of only those who matter to us. Even later, no peer evaluation matters. It is about what we leave behind us. Whose opinion matters, in fact, even who matters – also changes over time.
When we are young, we are overconfident and, I dare say, brash. This drives us to do things, which in the cold light of day, would make us exclaim, “What were we thinking?” But these actions creates consequences that make changes happen. As we grow old, we think (twice?) before we act, we think of longer-term implications, and therefore do not contribute too much to change. But we have the confidence of experience. People who have this confidence and still desire to make a difference are the persons who impact this world.
It is paradoxical that when we have the experience to do things right and we are not so concerned about peer approval, we lose the desire to do so.
Would it not make sense to inculcate the advantages of each stage of life in the first quarter. Suppose we have the desire and the experience and the disregard of peer approval, we could do wonders. In fact, people who do not shy away from experiences (good or bad), who maintain their desire, and care only of the opinions of people they trust are the ones who get ahead in life.
We all need to examine ourselves with respect to these three characteristics:
- get hands dirty,
- remain motivated despite failures and
- high self esteem.