Midlife: It’s not a crisis, OK?

I flirted briefly with the idea that I’ve been having a midlife crisis.

It began in June 2008 when, on my first day of unemployment, I took part of my severance and bought a lipstick-red Honda Civic coupe with sunroof and 5-speed manual transmission.

As midlife crises go, this was pretty tame.  I didn’t buy a BMW Z3 or an Audi TT.  Nor did I run off with a 28-year old personal trainer named Chad.  After eight years leading a department whose budget kept getting shaved thinner until it (both the department and the budget) was finally eliminated, and after a daily commute that typically ate up 3.5 hours of my life, I planned to take a stab at consulting.  I would work from home, and,  since Mr. NYer used our one car to commute, we needed another. 

I joked about calling it the midlife-mobile.  Two months later, Soon-to-be-Abandoned (my son) scored a low-paying full time job with health benefits, and moved into his own place in Williamsburg.  The ingredients for a midlife crisis — getting laid off in one’s mid-50s, finding myself the hen of an empty nest, noticing that Mr. NYer didn’t look as young as he used to — were all in place.

But here’s the thing.  That Chinese proverb/cliche is true: Every crisis is an opportunity.  Midlife is the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had, precisely because the illusion of limitless time has vanished.  Starting in my 40s, and continuing now, I’ve become more adventurous, likelier to take risks, and less worried about just about everything. 

Why?  Look, I’m healthy and figure there are a lot of tomorrows ahead, but I also know they are finite.  That’s OK, but it also means that procrastination has to be a thing of the past.  When an opportunity comes up now, I never think “There’s plenty of time to do that.”  Now, if it’s something I want to do, I try to do it  now.   And if it’s something I don’t want to do, I don’t waste my time. 

I’ve lived through the usual things that happen to a person my age, and that provides perspective.  I know my own resilience.  When I was younger I was fearful — of whether I’d weather my parents’ deaths (I did), of making choices I’d regret forever, of being unable to manage against a sea of trouble when it came.  The grand thing about middle age is that life schools you, and for me, that education has opened my mind and spirit.

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