Sensing at age 44 that she was approaching ‘the age of dissatisfaction,’ Katie Smith Milway declared to a friend, ‘I want to have a positive midlife crisis.’
She went on to do exactly that. On advice from her friend, publisher Valerie Hussey, Ms. Milway revived her old passion for public service, swapped her corporate consulting job for a post advising nonprofits, and wrote a book for children on helping people in developing lands.
The outcome, says the Wellesley, Mass., mother of three, has been ‘uplifting, and gives me more time for family and community-based work.’
A new age group is entering midlife — and some members are tackling it differently than those in generations past. Historically, the excuse, ‘I’m having a midlife crisis,’ was often used to justify reckless, self-indulgent behavior, from infidelity to splurging on sports cars. But now, some Generation Xers and younger baby boomers are quietly refusing to have their midlife crises the old-fashioned way. More mindful than their parents about the psychological perils of middle age, they are anticipating midlife unrest and trying to turn it to positive ends.
A growing number of researchers are defining middle age more broadly and in positive terms, as a good time to reassess life goals and chart a new course. ‘Midlife is your best and last chance to become the real you,’ declared an article on the topic last year in the Harvard Business Review, which drew thousands of emails in response, says co-author Carlos Strenger, an associate professor of psychology at Tel Aviv University in Israel and a researcher and consultant on midlife change. As Generation X moves into middle age, ‘the old idea that midlife is the onset of decline seems to be rejected by most, in favor of the notion that life can be creative and innovative until much later,’ Dr. Strenger says.
Such optimism isn’t universal by any means. For every Gen-Xer or young boomer who is trying to turn middle age into a positive experience, there is probably still at least one other who follows the stereotypical path toward excess and self-indulgence.
For some insights on having a positive midlife crisis, here are a few examples:
Plan a step-by-step transition: Rather than tearing his life apart when discontent crept up in his mid-30s, Mike Jaffe transformed it gradually in a series of steps. While he had a successful career in marketing, he felt he had drifted into it and resented the long hours away from his family; ‘I let my path choose me,’ he says. He fantasized about quitting his job, but reasoned with himself, as a husband and father of a 1-year-old daughter at the time, that ‘I can’t just leave; that would be irresponsible and reckless.’ In one decisive lunch hour, he committed to a first step: to delay his commute to work a bit each day, to enjoy breakfast with his family.
As a result, he was still on a commuter train the next morning when an airliner crashed into his World Trade Center office — a tragedy he terms ‘a wake-up call’ to the transience of life. Over several years, he pondered new career possibilities; explored a suggestion from a friend that he look into coaching; took training in the field; and finally quit his job to run his own Westport, Conn., life and business coaching concern. Now 42, Mr. Jaffe helps others through midlife transitions. A midlife course correction ‘isn’t a little pill you can take and have instant change. It’s a process,’ he says.
Integrate old passions: Ms. Milway had shelved her past love of public service and international development work to raise her three children, now 10, 11 and 14, and immerse herself in a mainstream consulting job. In the conversation a few years ago with Ms. Hussey, who had worked with Ms. Milway previously on a children’s picture book, her friend urged her to hark back to her earlier work in Africa and Latin America; ‘go back to your core’ and write a children’s book about helping entrepreneurs in developing nations, Ms. Hussey says she advised Ms. Milway.
Tapping those old passions enabled Ms. Milway to produce a successful 2008 kids’ book ‘One Hen,’ published by Kids Can Press, Toronto, about how a small loan enabled a man in Ghana to build a successful farm and help others. The book gave rise to a nonprofit organization, One Hen Inc., which involves children in raising money for microloans to entrepreneurs in poor nations. She also took a new job consulting for nonprofits. Integrating her old passions with her new skills has produced a life blend Ms. Milway, now 49, describes as ‘joyful.’
Assert yourself: Midlife transitions aren’t always so smooth. Beth Punzi, 45, of Little Silver, N.J., wanted a higher-earning, higher-profile career after working in several fundraising jobs while raising her three children, now 5, 12 and 14. She had built a portfolio of skills, and ‘wanted to be taken more seriously,’ she says. Amid skepticism from friends, she retrained for a career as a personal financial adviser. Because of the financial crisis, she was laid off 11 months into her first job.
Still determined, Ms. Punzi is sticking to her goals, and she has landed a new position starting in January. Regardless of the recession, Ms. Punzi says, she believes ‘this is exactly what I was meant to do. I feel like everything in my life has led up to this.’ she says.
Professionals who lose their sense of direction or purpose mid-career do best when they admit to their dissatisfaction and take responsibility for changing course, says Kathy Caprino, author of ‘Breakdown, Breakthrough,’ a book on professional women at midlife.
Honor your creative side: Although Beth Carrillo Thomas, 47, of Wellesley, Mass., had a successful career in commercial real-estate sales, she couldn’t stop thinking about music. She had long performed part-time in a band with friends and in choirs. But she became increasingly distracted in her 40s by her desire to research artists and new songs. ‘Music was eclipsing everything else,’ she says. ‘I wanted to become a better musician, and I didn’t want to wait until I was 65 and retired to do it.’
As a downturn began in the real-estate market last year, she decided, at age 45, to return to college and study music full-time; her husband is continuing to work as a physician. For now, ‘I’m working hard on something that I’m really interested in,’ she says. To resume earning an income, she doesn’t know whether she will return to real estate after she graduates in a year, or perhaps start a booking agency. But ‘I know that I always want to be writing and performing’ music, she says. ‘That is just going to be part of my life.’
当44岁的凯蒂•史密斯•米尔威(Katie Smith Milway)感到自己正滑向“失望之年”，她对一个朋友说，我希望以一种积极的姿态度过中年危机。
Channing Johnson for The Wall Street Journal
越来越多的研究人员放宽了对中年的定义，并用一些正面词汇加以描述，诸如中年是调整自己生活目标、开始新航程的良机等。《哈佛商业评论》(Harvard Business Review)去年一篇关于中年生活的文章吸引了数千读者回信。文章作者之一、以色列特拉维夫大学(Tel Aviv University)心理学副教授、研究中年生活变化的研究员及顾问卡萝斯•斯特兰泽(Carlo Strenger)说，这篇文章开宗明义地讲到如果你想成为真正的自己，那么中年是最好也是最后的机会。斯特兰泽博士说，随着X一代步入中年，他们当中绝大多数人都不认同中年是人生滑坡开始的旧观念，他们相信自己在变得垂垂老矣之前，可以一直把日子过得很有创造性、很有新滋味。
Channing Johnson for The Wall Street Journal
对往日热情的重温使得米尔威写出了一本在2008年大获成功的儿童读物《一只母鸡》(One Hen)。这本书由多伦多Kids Can Press出版社出版，描述了一笔小额贷款如何让一位加纳男子建立了高产农田并帮助他人的故事。一家名为One Hen Inc.的非营利机构因为这本书而得以创立，其中就包括让孩子参与帮助贫穷国家企业家获得小额贷款的融资过程。米尔威自己则从事了新的工作，即为非营利机构担当顾问。49岁的米尔威说，往日爱好与新技能的结合让自己生活非常快乐。
凯西•卡普里诺(Kathy Caprino)说，当那些在职业生涯中期失去了方向感和目标的专业人士承认自己的不满并为转变过程采取负责任的态度时，他们就能做到最好。卡普里诺为人到中年的职业女性写了一本名为《崩溃之后是突破》(Breakdown, Breakthrough)的书。
别小看你的创造力。虽然47岁的贝丝•卡瑞里奥•托马斯(Beth Carrillo Thomas)曾经是商业地产领域的一名成功销售，但她满脑子想的都是音乐。她长时间和朋友们以一种玩票的形式在乐团演出，并参加唱诗班活动。但她在40多岁时越发因为渴望研究艺术家以及新歌而感到分心。她说，那时候音乐是压倒一切的，我希望成为一个更好的音乐人，我不想等到65岁退休时再这样做。