Unlike a midlife crisis, this one has its roots in discrimination. By Roger A. Reid, PhD
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash
Remember when the term Midlife Crisis was the most popular phrase in water cooler conversations?
It referred to the inevitable questions that emerge as we approach the mid-point of our lives : what purpose do I serve, and how do I find meaning in my life?
A midlife crisis was purported to be a time for introspection, for exploring the self -- self-interests, self-motivations, and self-fulfillment. In short, it was a culturally-approved timeout to consider alternatives to our everyday routines — because we’d been there, done that, and it was no longer satisfying.
These revelations often led us to the conclusion that our current journey didn’t seem to be taking us anywhere, and if repeated for another thirty years, would produce the same disappointing results we were currently experiencing.
For many, it was a wake-up call. As a result, the majority of self-respecting, enlightened forty-year-olds were either fully engaged in their own personal meltdown and reconstruction, or in full recovery as a born-again existentialist. Most important, participation was voluntary, and it was assumed that anyone going through the process would emerge a better person — someone more likely to reach their full potential. It became such an important credential, that several of my friends pretended to be knee-deep in their own midlife crisis as a proclamation of their higher level of awareness and discovery , giving them the right to wear a badge of transitional accomplishment.
Personally, I was the exception. While I certainly felt the frustrations of working in a corporate world — too conservative, placating, and political — I had a regular paycheck and the freedom of pursuing my own interests after work and on weekends. And I used that freedom to learn the skills I needed to eventually start my own business.
In short, I was too damn busy for a crisis. I was doing what I wanted to do, pursuing the goals that were important to me. And while not everything turned out the way I’d hoped — there were plenty of failures along the way.
I learned that these too, were part of the bigger plan, providing feedback and prompting me to tweak my efforts, even when the final outcome was the decision to cut my losses and strike out in a completely new direction.
Let’s fast forward thirty years. Now things are different. Really different. I have a lot more time under my belt. Hopefully, that means more skill, experience, and a better understanding of what’s important to me, common characteristics of the sixty-plus crowd.
So why would we “elders” be having a late-life crisis? Especially after developing the fortitude, experience, and perspective to deal with the constant ups-and-downs of life. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again — and we’ve got the battle scars to prove it.
Because the challenges and difficulties that confused and worried us thirty years ago aren’t the issue.
The late-life crisis originates from cultural bias. It’s reflected by younger generations who are quick to tell us our bodies are crapping out, and we’re no longer that dashing figure in a three-piece suit radiating success and power. They point out the obvious fact that the majority of our life is behind us.
Society has done the math and come to a decision: We’re past our prime.And that’s the essence of the late-life crisis — Discrimination.
People, organizations, and society in general have conveniently labeled us as “old.” And with that comes a host of generalizations that, for the most part, are not only wrong, they erroneously justify how we’re treated.
Sometimes it means reduced status or summary rejection for employment. It can also mean being overlooked or outright ignored, because we’re deemed less capable than we were just a few years ago. Our opinions, thoughts, and ideas are automatically discounted because we come from the “previous” generation , too old to make a timely, contemporaneous contribution.
Even our culture’s current vocabulary reflects an ageist mindset, with the word “senior” attached to everything from restaurant discounts to momentary lapses of memory.
That’s the difference between the crisis of thirty years ago and the one that is undeservedly thrust upon us the moment our hair waxes predominantly gray and the twinkle in our eye is replaced with well-focused scrutiny and a dash of healthy skepticism.
The midlife crisis was a concept. It was a social construct that, for the most part, was accepted as a positive transition based on a self-generated search for something better. But a late-life crises is external. It comes from a culture that praises disposability , a notion that unfortunately also includes its seniors.
And the most unsettling part? It gets worse as we get older. Every day brings us a step closer to exhausting our limited longevity. And because our remaining lifespan is only a fraction of our detractors, they no longer feel we’re deserving of their attention or respect.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Well, before you discount my rant as overly dramatic or emotional, I’ll assure you, I experience it daily. I’m telling you exactly how it is for me. And it’s ugly.
A late-life crisis is about the daily struggle to be recognized, to be thought of as worthwhile and still contributing. It’s a personal battle to be seen, heard, and appreciated. In short, it’s a fight against involuntary invisibility.
And here’s the irony: I’m ashamed to admit it, but it wasn’t too many years ago that I too, often dismissed the majority of the older generation as stogy, behind the times, and stuck in the past.
But now, I’m using those memories to formulate a defense. As a twenty-something corporate employee, most of my customers were sixty-plus-year-old business owners. And while it’s true that a large majority were simply waiting it out — looking forward to retirement and traveling the country in a new Winnebago — there were exceptions.
A few of those sixty-plus men and women demonstrated their age to be a non-issue. Formidable negotiators, they brought their experience, vision, and perspective to everything they did. Not only did their subordinates recognize their ability and knowledge, they respected them for it.
As a result, it wasn’t unusual for me to ask one of them to accompany me on a challenging product presentation, knowing that a typically older purchasing agent could easily wipe the table with a business neophyte like me.
As I entered my thirties, I often asked my “elder” business associates for advice. They had weathered the storm of professional competition, cronyism, and politics, and I knew their counsel originated from time-tested experience.
What made these folks seemingly impervious to age-related discrimination and prejudice?I ’ve listed their main characteristics — the ones that validated their personal influence and authority — and reformatted them into suggestions that directly relate to recapturing and retaining your personal sovereignty.
Think of them as recommendations to offset cultural ageism by presenting the image of someone who is vital, involved, and engaged — regardless of your age.
Don’t give up on starting new adventures. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean your desire to do something different or explore new options aren’t important. In fact, they’re more important now than they’ve ever been. Knowing what you want is half the battle, the other half is creating a plan to bring it into reality and taking action. Even if you don’t have a special ambition to pursue, get up and do something. Moping around and feeling sorry for yourself won’t cut it. You’re throwing away valuable time. Get up, get out, and get busy.
Get healthy. Exercise every day, give up the junk food, and cut back on the drinking. Hopefully, I don’t need to mention the dangers of smoking, but if you’re still puffing away on a pack or more a day, you’ve got a death wish, and you’ll soon get exactly what you want.
Get involved with others who share common interests. This includes everything from a book club to learning to play a musical instrument. Do you enjoy collecting coins or stamps? How about photography, or writing, or gardening, or some other pastime? Not ready to disengage from the mainstream? Offer your expertise in the form of consulting services to young entrepreneurs. Or maybe you’d enjoy teaching a class at the local adult education annex or junior college.
Maintain your perspective. That means socializing with people of all ages. Isolation plays havoc with your mind. Depression and thoughts of being useless and abandoned are common to those who sequester themselves in seclusion. Disconnected from life, they wither away from loneliness and frustration.
Don’t follow the crowd unless you know exactly where they’re going. Protect your individuality and make intelligent choices by staying aware of current events. Yes, I know this is just the opposite of what motivational gurus have preached for years — because the news can be depressing and demotivating. But today, being uninformed makes us vulnerable to the lies and propaganda of self-interests. Over the last few years, we’ve been bombarded with false and inflammatory rhetoric meant to divide us into hard-line factions. We’re repeatedly told, it’s us against them, and winning — at any cost — is a necessary strategy. But knowing the facts of what’s really happening around us provides a defense against those who want to hijack our brains, our money, and our vote. Above all, ignore the million-dollar-a-year celebrity commentators who pander to the idiocracy of the herd, most of whom are ready to believe the worst about everyone.
I’ll leave you with this: Retaining your identity as a useful and contributing member of society doesn’t mean trying to keep up with the thirty-somethings who are quick to dismiss anyone who grew up using a phone tethered to the wall by wire. You don’t need their approval or endorsement — only their respect. And respect must be earned.