midlife crisis in men

Midlife Crisis in Men: The Definitive Survival Guide

A midlife crisis feels like getting hit by a ton of bricks.

One day, you get up from your desk and look out of the windows of your work. And, just like that, you realize that you are stuck with your life, years have gone by and you don’t have a purpose that calls you.

You still work a mundane job in a faceless corporation. Your relationship is stagnant. Your kids are becoming teenagers and seem disconnected from you. And really, the only thing you look forward to every morning is sitting alone with your coffee and scrolling through social media.

Every single one of these realizations hit you in the face like a punch by Muhammad Ali, and they just keep coming and coming.

For others, it feels more like you’re stuck in the bottom part of an oversized hourglass.

Sand in the form of small annoying issues just keeps drizzling down on you. It’s never a big deal as it happens, but slowly, it’s starting to build up. It reaches your knees, then your waist, then your neck – until it covers your face, slowly suffocating you.

There you are, unable to move, desperately gasping for the little air that’s left in your life.

Whether it’s a rapid succession of punches or the slow dribble of sand, the result is the same: You have now officially arrived in your midlife crisis.

What even is a midlife crisis?

He wasn’t the first guy to experience it. But he coined the term: Canadian psychologist Elliot Jacques went through a rough period of hopelessness and questions himself at the tender age of 36.

Since then, the concept has gained traction, and in essence, describes a period roughly in the middle of a guy’s life – that can be anywhere between 35 and 55 – that is marked by existential questions and doubts.

Merriam Webster defines a midlife crisis with the following words:

“A period of emotional turmoil in middle age characterized especially by a strong desire for change.”

There are a few things worth picking apart in that definition.

First off, that “period” can be quite long. Experts place the duration of a midlife crisis anywhere between 3 and 10 years – that’s a long time. Those are statistical averages – and the mere fact that you’ve made it here means you’re willing to be better than average.

Then there’s the ominous “emotional turmoil.” That’s likely not how we’d word it, and it’s certainly not something the average guy thought he’d find himself in. Ever.

In our constant battle to keep up with life and our role as men, being in emotional turmoil for years stifles a man’s ability to create, lead and become the strongest version of himself. 

Next, there’s a big one: Middle age.

Getting there is not something most guys look forward to, and chances are you simply woke up one day and realized you had arrived.

Perhaps it’s because your hairline is receding. Or you’re starting to squint when reading small letters. Or dealing with chronic knee or back pain. Whatever the trigger – it turns out you’re officially not young anymore.

And last but not least, the “strong desire for change.” We’ve all seen the picture of the 50-year old dude with long hair and tatoos riding his Harley Davidson with some skinny young girl on the backseat. And guess what? Both the Harley and the young girl are typical results of that desire for change.

But before we get to the Harley, let’s look at what causes this thing called midlife crisis.

What causes a midlife crisis?

It’s something that makes you look at your life and ask:

“Is that all there is?”

What triggers a midlife crisis can be one or a combination of multiple realizations or events in your life typically falling into three categories.

1. Physical change you’re not ready for

You’re going to the gym twice a week. You’re working hard, trying to stay fit – but more and more, it feels like you’re treading water and not making progress. You’re not getting stronger. In fact, it sometimes feels like you’re getting weaker.

And if you push yourself just a little bit harder even once, you feel sore for days after. Something that never happened to you before: In your 20s, you smashed out five workouts a week with what seemed like overnight recovery.

Or maybe you haven’t hit the gym ever. Perhaps you struggle to exercise at all, and it’s never been an issue so far: Your metabolism took care of itself. But as you age, your body becomes less forgiving. You start feeling heavier, more tired, and wait – are those man boobs?

Or even if you manage to keep semi-fit, you get injured a lot more often. Things you weren’t even aware of now cause injuries to your body and take ages to heal, putting you in a constant state of semi-repair.

Do any of those sound familiar?

As we age, our bodies change. There’s no denying or preventing that. Men achieve peak strength somewhere between 25 and 35 years of age.

Our society idolizes young, trim bodies. Older bodies are not sexy. Realizing that the old injured body is now yours can be a major trigger for a midlife crisis.

2. Emotional despair and lofty goals you gave up on

What did you answer when your primary school teacher asked what you wanted to be later in life? A rockstar? Astronaut? President?

If you’re anything like the majority of guys, what you do for a living now is not the answer you gave back then.

And it’s not only your job: Maybe you wanted to learn another language. Maybe you wanted to spend more time helping people rather than just making more money. Maybe you swore never to be that “busy dad” to your kids, but between work and family duties, there’s barely any time left to enjoy with them. Or maybe you wanted to enjoy life before you had kids, travel the world, and be crazy, and that train has left the station long ago.

Whatever the lofty goal or plan for your life was, chances are you have not achieved it or came up short. And now you see life running through your hands like fine sand, at an ever-increasing speed, and you see all your dreams and goals slowly evaporating in front of your eyes.

Life rarely happens according to our plans. In fact, it never does. But once we realize that, between paying a mortgage and getting kids through school, we’re getting boxed in more and more, there sometimes comes a point in time where we blow a fuse.

Emotional triggers are by far the most common cause of a midlife crisis.

3. The male comparison game that makes you feel less

This one can be a combination of the two above – you likely know guys with better bodies, as well as guys who seem to have accomplished everything they set out to do. At like age 31.

We all know them. And sometimes, it feels like we’re surrounded by them especially in our hyperconnected social media world.

Most of us operate in a society where we’re in constant touch with other people. And since it’s much easier to show the good things than to admit to the struggles we’re all having, that’s often all we see and compare ourselves to.

That dude ten years your junior just got promoted and is now your boss. Your neighbor and his partner both drive late-model European sports cars. The guy with the grey beard at the gym is clearly older than you, yet he regularly reps twice your max weight.

And these are only the people you know personally. Then one quick scroll through social media – and boom, you’re now officially a failure compared to the rest of society.

Once we start comparing, our self-esteem is under fire. Combined with the unstoppable advance of our age, that’s often all that is needed to spiral us into a midlife crisis.

When you feel like your life is in a rut or you aren’t where you expected to be at this age, it may be time for some professional help. Do you want my help with your specific situation? Let’s hop on a call and I can share how my coaching program helps men become the strongest version of themselves, live their best life, and overcome obstacles that are holding them back in their life and relationships.

How to tell if you’re in a midlife crisis?

men suffering from midlife crisis

We all have our struggles. Every guy fights his own battle, on whatever front that is. Therefore, many of us have probably experienced one or more of the symptoms that typically indicate a midlife crisis.

  • Exhaustion to the point where hobbies and passions take a backseat
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Boredom with things that previously brought joy and fulfillment
  • Questioning the meaning and purpose of life, money and relationships
  • Confusion of what matters in life
  • Daydreaming what life could have been
  • Dramatic changes in sleep habits
  • Persistent sadness in the present and about the future
  • Increase in compulsions such as drinking, drugs and emotional eating
  • Increase or decrease in sexual desire as an escape or lack of energy
  • Decreased ambition
  • Affairs, especially with someone way younger

However, the one big difference is the desire to make a drastic change.

And we’re not talking picking toast over cereal for breakfast all of a sudden – we’re talking abruptly resigning your job, starting a new relationship, selling the home, moving to a new city or country or spontaneously buying things you never thought you would like a Harley.

Minor hiccups are common for all of us. They can usually be dealt with by implementing small changes. But if you feel the urge to squash the entire issue by making radical changes right now – that’s the most reliable indicator you’re in a midlife crisis.

It’s worth noting that many of the signs listed above can also be indicators for or a result of depression.

While there are similarities, depression is not limited to any specific age or stage in life and does not usually manifest in the urge to change things dramatically.

The stages of a midlife crisis

No two midlife crises are the same, just like no two lives are the same. What you experience may vary.

Having said that, there are some established stages of the typical midlife crisis, and knowing them might help you figure out where you stand.

1. Denial

The signs are there, but you ignore them.

No – you’re not taking longer to recover after a session. No – you’re not more tired every morning when you get up. No – there’s no way you’re the old guy with teenage kids who does not even get their jokes anymore.

This stage typically manifests in either shutting out the facts that prove you’re getting older, like simply not looking at your body anymore, or pretending you’re younger – maybe by starting to dress like guys in their early 20s again.

Denial is usually internal, although it may manifest itself externally. 

2. Anger

That’s when it becomes external. Anger has been building up even in the denial stage, as you realize you can only fool yourself for so long.

In the anger stage, guys are short-tempered and lash out quickly at others. They feel like life’s been treating them unfairly, and they let others know and feel that.

In the anger stage, guys are highly self-centered and don’t care about the feelings of others and have a no f*cks given attitude about life where they can find a sense of freedom.

3. Replay

Here, it’s all about making up for a lost time.

It’s about going back and doing those things you wanted to do and you were supposed to do in the first place.

Party. Go out late. Drink. Have an affair. Travel.

This is the stage when people around you start noticing if they haven’t already been a target of your anger stage.

Spouses are often shocked to find their partners in this stage all of a sudden, with all the implications that bring for the relationship.

4. Depression

Then, reality hits: You’re not going back in time.

There is no way to catch up for what seems lost. Life won’t allow you to relive better times no matter what you throw at it. 

You may give up – or try even harder.

In either scenario, you eventually realize you can’t force your way out of this. This stage is the tipping point and the most critical one where many guys think about the most drastic actions to achieve their freedom.

5. Withdrawal

Nothing worked, and what’s here is not worth engaging with. This stage often mixes with the previous one, where you get so depressed the only way to deal with it is by shutting everyone and everything out.

You focus on yourself. You ignore others and don’t let anyone come into the true darkness of your life.

Often, big life decisions are made in withdrawal – decisions that can swing the course of your life one way or the other. Positively or negatively.

6. Acceptance

The final stage is where you accept what is happening to you – you come to terms with the fact that you’re aging, that you’re in a mid life crisis.

This is the start of something new: The next stage in your life and if you play your cards right, it can be the best stage yet.

What happens to guys who go through a midlife crisis?

sad man in midlife crisis

Just as the underlying causes are complex, the typical action taken to cope with a midlife crisis varies.

A change in relationship, often resulting in a breakup and engaging with a younger partner, is a typical knee-jerk reaction.

Rekindling those butterflies when you first fell in love and generally feeling younger when dating someone half your age is quite a typical attempt to make up for lost times.

While still not as high as the younger age brackets, divorce rates in the age groups considered typical for a midlife crisis have risen dramatically.

A dramatic change in appearance is another common attempt to relive the glorious past: Dressing like guys 20 years younger, dying your hair to cover any grey, or even drastic measures like hair transplants to overcome male pattern baldness are all quite common results of a midlife crisis.

And then there’s the classic: The red convertible. Models may vary, but impetuous financial decisions like buying a sports car or a big motorcycle can be a clear indicator of a midlife crisis.

Purchasing an object of usually high value that symbolizes freedom is a common reaction.

It can be one of the above or a combination of all of them. And the list of reactions is just as long as the list of reasons.

But all of them have one thing in common: They’re drastic, mostly unexpected knee-jerk reactions in an attempt to yank around the steering wheel and reclaim lost time.

Not all is lost: How do deal with a midlife crisis?

If you’ve come this far, you’re likely experiencing a midlife crisis. Or someone close to you is. And while certainly an intense experience for most guys who go through it, luckily, there are ways to deal with it – and possibly prevent the worst of it.

Change your perspective and be hopeful

Author Bob Buford calls the turning point “Halftime”.

In it, he argues that reflecting on life and often wanting to change focus for the second half is not only a good thing but also a huge chance to use the lessons learned in your first half to make your second half better than you ever hoped for.

You may be experiencing what’s technically called a midlife crisis.

But focusing on that term and its many extreme outcomes is the last thing you should do; instead, assume this is your halftime – and the better half is yet to come. Many sports teams lose the first half turn everything around in the 2nd half to win the game.

Take a step back and reflect on your best moments

No matter how bad your situation – zooming out usually helps.

Instead of focusing on the month, week, or every day you’re in right now, which might not feel like a very satisfying place to be, look at the big picture of your life.

What are some of the things you have achieved? What are you proud of? What are you on track to achieve, even if nothing changes?

And if you feel that those achievements are marginal compared with all the things you have not accomplished, read up on the biggest regrets dying people have.

The things you might feel you’re missing out on, like driving that red Porsche and having that big corner office, designer clothes, a big house are conspicuously absent from those lists.

But they do contain items that you’ve likely achieved already, or at least can achieve with relative ease: Spend more time with people you care about. Do more of what you love and less of what drains you. Allow yourself to be happy. Speak your truth. Life a life true to yourself, not the lives of others.

Get things out of your head and avoid negativity

Often, we end up going down a rabbit hole of negativity, adding item after item to our mental list of failures until the weight of that list threatens to break our backs. Even worst, it can prevent you from taking any action to create change.

And sometimes, getting everything out of our heads and onto paper helps alleviate this pressure.

There is ample evidence about the therapeutic benefits of simply journaling and getting thoughts of your head and onto paper. If you can, use old-school paper and a pen instead of your phone or computer.

You’ll be slower, the movements are different, and it’ll give you more time to reflect on what you’re writing.

Talk to a close friend and overcome stress

“The burden becomes light that is shared by love.” – Ovid

Our sorrows can crush us if we face them alone.

According to surveys, almost one out of every four men experiences a midlife crisis.

Unfortunately, discussing personal issues with anyone is something guys notoriously struggle with, with also only one out of every four men experiencing stress willing to talk about it.

It’s on you to be that one of four. So get onto it, call up a close friend who you trust: Chances are they’ve either experienced a crisis themselves, or they know someone who has. You’ll be surprised to learn that you are not alone on this journey.

And even if not – listening and being there in need is what good friends are for.

Even if your friend does not offer any advice and maybe does not even say a single word – simply sharing our concerns with someone we trust is helpful on the path to overcoming our challenges.

Start doing exciting stuff and take your mind off your current issues

Research has found that people who experience a midlife crisis show increased curiosity about themselves and the wider world around them.

Be curious: There are tons of activities that will not only take your mind off your current issues but also provide physical or mental benefits – or both.

  • Join a club or meetup group or start one
  • Start a hobby, explore your passions and curiosity
  • Try out a new sport or activity that makes you come alive
  • Learn to play an instrument or learn a new language
  • Do something that scares you weekly or monthly

The world is full of exciting stuff to do. Just start, get in motion and you’ll find yourself finding peace in these new activities.

Contribute to a greater cause and spread your positive energy

When life kicks us in the guts, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves and live in our heads.

Focusing on everything that’s wrong, on every single area where we have not achieved what we set out to do in youth.

One of the best ways to prevent getting stuck in that deep dark place of self-pity is focusing on a greater cause bigger than yourself.

Finding more meaning in your daily life even if it’s small can help shift you out of a negative spiral and feeling more fulfilled.

Often, having a stronger “why” for why we are going to get out of bed is enough to make us feel more driven and alive.

Find a strong group of men to help you kick ass

“No one succeeds alone. No one.” – Gary Keller

When life gets tough, we need strong people by our side.

We need guys around us who understand what we’re going through and who’ll listen to us without judgment.

A safe space to share our truth and receive feedback from men who have been there and done that.

You can start being a leader in your social life and organizing events and gatherings weekly, bi-monthly where you bring together the strong men you know. Then simply ask those men to invite someone who would be a good fit for the group too and it can slowly start from there. You can also meetup virtually for ease. If there is value and camaraderie it’s easy to get people out.

The bottom line

It turns out happiness across our lives is a funny thing.

Happiness is U-shaped. It does not flatline, and it does not increase exponentially or even linearly as we get older. 

It’s scientifically proven that we start life happy (or maybe ignorant) and then enter a slump at some stage.

That slump is more pronounced in certain societies than others, with some of the most modern and wealthy countries featuring the deepest dips.

You might not be able to avoid the U altogether. But just how deep that bottom of the shape takes and how far up it can go is up to you. Your thoughts and actions are what will dictate the outcome of your second half.

It all starts with awareness. Regularly evaluate yourself and the place you’re at in life – don’t let your perceived shortcomings build up and crush you.

Instead, be aware of the U-shape. Start making small but consistent changes in the areas you see yourself falling short. Use the strategies above to get out of your crisis – or use them to prevent getting into it in the first place.

Don’t risk getting drowned by the wave, but instead watch the horizon, see it coming, and learn to ride it. It’s going to be the ride of a lifetime.

Do you want my help?

Whether you’re already in the U or simply want to be prepared to soften the blow, I’d like to invite you to join my coaching program and meet guys learning how to be stronger, Grounded Men and create epic lives and relationships together led by a team of expert men’s coaches.

You’ll be part of a men’s group, all aiming to be stronger, more aware of their needs, and better equipped to deal with the things modern life throws at us. This is a group for the men willing to stand up and make a change – the men who embrace life with all its challenges, are ready to be the best version of themselves, ready to quit settling and make the most of life of their midlife crisis.

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