Thoughts from the middle of mid-life transits

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
The above is a quote from the movie “Into the Wild” starring Emile Hersch, written/directed by Sean Penn and based on the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer.
The story is about Christopher McCandless (who was a real person and the story is based on his true experiences as documented in his journals) who was a 1990 honors graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, GA. After his graduation, instead of entering into the corporate world or something similar as expected by his friends and family, McCandless takes off on a cross country adventure having destroyed his credit cards, donating his savings and ridding himself of any personal identification documents.
Sounds pretty drastic. And, it was. SPOILER ALERT McCandless eventually dies in a VW bus he had been camping in the wilderness of Alaska. After his travels across country, down to Mexico and up the California coast by various means, McCandless does find himself in the Alaska wild and decides that there is no joy in life no matter how adventurous if it cannot be shared with people you love. His efforts to return to his home were thwarted. He tried to survive the wilderness by eating what was available in nature but accidentally ingested poison that would in the end, as I said, kill him. However, the journals of his adventures, travels and thoughts remained and were used in producing both the book and movie.
McCandless resorted to extreme measures to find himself. And, sometimes, that is what it takes. Sometimes we do have a need to isolate ourselves from all outside influence and “noise” in order to hear our innermost truthful voice. However, we really don't need to go all the way to Alaska to do that. You can, I suppose, but in case you don't know, it's gets cold up there.
What he says in the above quote is very true though. Sometimes our very idea of freedom and security becomes our prison in which we are afraid to foster any type of change out of fear of losing some type of stability. Comfort becomes a rut. Fear becomes bondage. And, in both of these, we may find some type of lack even though to the outside world we should be counting our blessings because it appears we have captured “the dream.” We may question, “What is wrong with me? I have all 'this' but I'm still not happy?”
Usually this comes up years after we have entered the adult world and done all we thought we should do in order to be what we thought “grown up” was. You know, the responsible thing..job, house, spouse, children—yada yada. Then, one day we wake up and feel like something is missing.
I think McCandless may have been afraid to wake up like that one day and in his efforts he might have missed what was already right in front of him—a family that did love and support him and the grand opportunity to do exactly whatever it was he wanted to do with his life.
However, I just turned 41 and I'm noticing that some of my peers are waking up just like this. Hello. Midlife crisis anyone? I laugh every time someone tells me, “Oh, you aren't middle-aged” or “You are too young to be thinking about stuff like that.” Because, apparently my brain, body and heart just beg to differ. I'm seeing it happen around me; I'm feeling it happen to me. Why try to soothe that with denial. Why not just accept it and move forward from there?
My oldest son tried teasing me about my age on my birthday and I laughed at him saying, “You know what? Forty is brilliant. I know you don't get that now. But, hang in there. You will.” And, I absolutely meant that. I feel like I have so much more freedom of thought and movement at this age and I was pretty wild and uninhibited in my 20's. You know? But, this is different and I'm not going allow anyone to tell me I'm not where I'm at and I shouldn't be considering the things I'm considering. That thought in and of itself is part of the brilliance of my age and I've an inkling it only gets better from here. Though, I do suspect that we should still keep a bit of forethought as far as action and consequence goes. If we are lucky enough to make it to double 40 we may be approaching a time when we are more dependent on others and need their help. So, burning bridges at this age becomes more and more dangerous.
However, back to the original quote and the point here, it is also an age where we can find that the very things we strived for, the very stability that we've now found and obtained has become a prison of sorts. And, usually, what is missing is a self nurturing spiritual element and something that allows us to start contributing to our “community” (however you personally define that term) as a whole. People do wild and crazy things when faced with this. They run off and join the circus. They buy new shiny things and have plastic surgery to regain part of their youth. They run off to Alaska and live in a bus. When, really, all you have to do is realize, “Ok, something is missing. Maybe I need to do a little self-exploration to figure out exactly what that is.” Maybe it is a career switch that is in order. Maybe it is taking those first steps toward doing something that seems off beat with what everyone expects. Maybe it is as simple as trying something new. The point is don't let your current stability stop you from rocking the boat a little in an effort to 1) try to find and express a more true and authentic version of you (afterall, no one else can do that as well as you) and 2) be happy.
There's a unique kind of self-authority that comes in this age. And while I do not suggest burning bridges, abandoning your family or, in essence, completely blowing up your life, it is ok to foster change and do things that may be considered out of the norm. It is YOUR midlife crisis, right? And, it most certainly is your life and future.