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.’

Sue Shellenbarger

将中年危机化为人生转机

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。

她的确办到了。根据从事出版业的朋友瓦拉里•哈斯(Valerie Hussey)所提出的建议,米尔威重新拾起了对公众服务的热情,辞去了原先的公司顾问之职,改作非营利机构的顾问,还就如何帮助发展中国家的人们而给孩子们写了一本书。

米尔威这位三个孩子的妈妈在谈到这么做的结果时说,这振奋了我的情绪,并让我有了更多的时间来服务家庭和社区。

Channing Johnson for The Wall Street Journal
米尔威以一种积极的姿态迎接“中年危机”,她写了一本儿童读物,还和其他人共同创立了一家非营利机构。
新的一代人正在步入中年,他们当中有些人正用不同于前人的方式来应对这个局面。过去,所谓“我正在经历中年危机”的说法常常被用做借口,给从背叛家庭到砸大钱买跑车等种种不计后果、自我放纵的做法披上合理的外衣。但如今,部分“X一代”及婴儿潮中晚些出生的人都在默默拒绝让自己的中年危机重蹈前人覆辙。这些人比自己的父母更清楚中年时面对的心理危险,他们预料到自己的中年将会有波折,并希望能努力营造出一个好的结局。

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。

也不是所有人都怀有这种乐观情绪的。在X一代和婴儿潮后期出生的人当中,每出现一个试着将中年危机转化为正面经历的人,就会有至少一个他或她的同龄人走上过度自我放纵的老路。

至于如何积极度过中年危机的问题上,以下是几个例子:

制定一个分步骤的转变计划。迈克•加夫(Mike Jaffe)出现不满情绪是在35岁左右的时候,加夫没有让自己的生活发生翻天覆地的变化,而是通过一系列改变逐步扭转了局面。他原本是市场营销领域的一位成功人士,但他感觉自己已经是身不由己,而且太长时间不能陪伴家人。他说,是道路选择了我。那段日子里,他一边幻想着能够辞职,一边对自己“晓之以理”,那就是作为一个丈夫和一个1岁女儿的爸爸,怎么能够一走了之,那样太不负责太不顾一切。然后在那个具有决定性意义的中午,他制定了自己的第一步计划:每天晚一点出发上班,和家人在一起享受早餐。

第二天是2001年9月11日。当飞机撞上他办公室所在的世贸中心大楼时,加夫还坐在通勤的火车里时。他说那幕惨剧提醒了我人生是多么短促。他用了几年的时间来思考开创全新职业的可能、仔细研究一个朋友关于他应该去做辅导师的建议、并接受现场培训;他最终辞去了工作,在康涅狄格州韦斯特波特市开设了属于自己的生活及事业辅导公司。现年42岁的加夫帮助其他人度过中年时期的转变。他说,中年时的人生修正并不是一片吃下去就能立即带来改变的小药片,它是一个过程。

重拾昨日激情。为了抚养三个孩子(现在分别是10岁、11岁和14岁),米尔威暂时抛开了自己对公共服务以及国际开发工作的热爱,从事了一份主流咨询业的工作。几年前,米尔威的朋友哈斯在和她聊天时敦促她重拾早年间在非洲和拉丁美洲的工作。哈斯是位出版商,因为合作一本儿童图画书而与米尔威结缘。哈斯回忆道,我要她回归真正的自己,写一本关于帮助发展中国家企业家的儿童书籍。

Channing Johnson for The Wall Street Journal
米尔威用自己的书告诉孩子向非洲创业者发放小额贷款的益处。
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。

坚定信心。人未必总是能够顺利度过中年时的转变。家住新泽西州、现年45岁的贝丝•庞兹(Beth Punzi)为了抚养三个孩子(现年5岁、12岁和14岁)从事了几年为机构融资的工作,她希望能得到更高薪、级别更高的工作。她说自己已经积累了很多专业技巧,希望能被更认真的对待。在朋友的一片质疑声中,她接受了成为个人金融理财师的再培训。由于受到金融危机的影响,她在开始工作11个月后被解雇了。

庞兹依然非常坚定,坚持自己的目标,并在1月份时找到了新的工作。尽管经济衰退,庞兹说坚信这就是自己要做的事情,我感觉自己生命中每一件事情都是为了实现它。

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。

去年,当地产行业陷入低迷时,45岁的她下定决心,回炉到大学里专门学习音乐,而她的丈夫将继续当他的医生。现在托马斯说我正在为自己真正喜欢的东西而努力奋斗。为了挣钱,她说自己也拿不准要不要在1年后毕业时重回地产行业,或开一个预定代理行。不过,她说,我清楚自己总是希望能够谱写和表演音乐,这已经成为了我生活的一部分。

Sue Shellenbarger

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