Midlife Crises. When? Where?

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I admit it. I am in the midst of one. For me, it is simple. I have worked hard, and I would like to have a bit of autonomy and flexibility in my professional life. My current situation limits that considerably, and the future is cloudy as hell. However, it is true that a good share of my angst is due to my emotional responses to my situation. So, the internal element is very real.

I must say, coming from my position on the job market, for instance, I was put off by the narcissistic thread about getting tenure and feeling depressed. Sheesh, how self-indulgent! But, now I can see exactly what the author was feeling. It is like when you hit a milestone, you hope you will feel satisfied. Instead, you feel lost. Without a lodestar. Can you feel content without a goal and professional momentum? Of course you can, but along with the victory there is a loss.

I'd be interested in hearing if others have struggled through this phase. What did they do internally or externally to deal with it? When did it occur? How did it manifest? Did it go on or end abruptly? What growth did it precipitate?

For me, it is just easing gradually. Partially, it is acceptance (the bureaucracy, job market, economy, bad leadership are not out to GET ME [except the house Republicans-THEY ARE out to get me!], but neither can I change them, and no I will not achieve all my life goals) and gradual recalibration of what I can hope to accomplish, coupled with a conscious effort to be more thankful for many blessings in my life.

I don't know if I had a midlife crisis, but here are some things I did when I felt that way:

- Go on the job market to find a better job, either academic or private sector, in a better location for my family
- Spend more time with my family, specifically planning more events with my family
- Start consulting, primarily in the summer
- Look for business opportunities and in the process have enjoyable conversations with folks working in the corporate world
- Lift weights
- Change things in my job so that I could spend more time on the things I liked doing. Markus Buckingham's Now, Discover Your Strengths helped.

I felt stuck in a crappy job with a low salary, not able to provide for my family the way I wanted, with a body falling apart from sitting at a desk day after day. One thing I've learned is that there are those that like having the security of a TT job, and there are those that can't handle the limited upside and near impossibility of failing as a tenured academic. I'm in the latter group.

Yep, a bit of fear sometimes is a good thing. I think achievement-oriented folks need a goal to navigate toward or they feel lost, even when they have a good situation. A blessing and a curse really.

Asking "is this all there is" seems good to me because it

1) asks you to clarify what you actually want


2) makes you confront the fact that everything one does, no matter how amazing, will produce some measure of disappointment or regret.  There's no magic key that saves one from mixed feelings.

I felt great when I got tenure, but thats because I was originally told I wasn't going to get it, then I did, so I felt like I did when I was a kid and found a 10 dollar bill flying around in the street (comic books and bazooka gum forever!!!!). I have to say, I very much
appreciate the stability. Theres nothing I hate more than a job interview, save for maybe a date, and I solved these problems by getting married and getting tenure (now, I have to work and keeping both stable and enjoyable).

Nonetheless, usually about this point in the semester, I wonder if its really what I want out of life. I like the job for the most part.
I no longer yearn to be doing all that much more research, for instance. However, I think I'd like to do something different. Part of what I want to be doing differently, I just do on my own time (like writing that isn't 100% scholarly, though it would probably count for scholarship here). What I particularly like is that most aspects of my teaching and research and some of my service are fairly flexible.
Its easy to change many things and still be thought of as a reasonable scholar and teacher.

Anyway, I wouldn't call it a midlife crisis exactly (although, if that means I am guaranteed to live to 2x my current age, I'll take it).
I guess, because we no longer commonly die at a young-ish age, we have the luxury around age 40 to 50 of wondering what to do for
the next 40 or so. Also, much of the first 20-40 is growth: physical, mental, emotional and intellectual. After that, there is no set framework for growth as especially there is for academic types in their first 30 ish years on the planet. So, you have to find your own path.


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