The day I quit my job I never planned to do it. I went to work like it was any other day. Then something happened that I can’t explain, and before I knew it I was handing over a letter of resignation to my boss.
I’d been in the corporate world for 15 years and had nothing else lined up, no escape route or grand plan. I just realised that today was the day, and I quit.
As I arrived home that day I was thinking, what the f*ck happened there?
When I retell that story to people it sounds funny, and they wonder what happened that day to make me do it.
After all, I’d recently turned 40 years old and was soon to be voluntarily unemployed. I felt a little predictable and imagined everyone thinking this was a classic case of mid-life crisis.
The truth is that it wasn’t what happened that day that is important, it was the build up of years and years of pain and frustration that led to it.
I’ been stuck in a rut and unfulfilled in my life for a long time and I’d become very skilled at papering over the cracks. For a long time I’d defined myself by the things I didn’t have. I didn’t have a job I loved, I didn’t have a partner, I didn’t have a deeper sense of purpose in life.
I’d told myself that if I continued to numb the pain and distract myself from the feelings, then maybe everything would be ok. Those feelings didn’t go away though, and eventually, something had to give.
It’s such a cliche to suggest it was a mid-life crisis. To me it felt like I was exploring, getting unstuck and moving to the next stage of my life. When I finally made the decision to leave it felt tremendously liberating, and I’ve never regretted it for a single moment since.
But the outside world loves to label us as if they need to understand where everyone is relative to themselves. Desperate to make it mean something about them.
“Mike’s left a job he doesn’t like to follow his dreams!! Oh, it’s fine, he’s having a mid-life crisis. That’s ok, I feel better now!”
The term mid-life crisis was created back in 1965 by Canadian psychologist Elliott Jaques and so is a relatively recent concept. It’s as if the condition didn’t exist prior to then, and that’s because on one level it doesn’t exist. Or at least not at mid-life.
There is a new term for Millenials called the Quarter Life Crisis which is a crisis that hits you in your 20s. This is because the “crisis” you’re experiencing is an accumulation of a lack of expression of your true self. The time in your life that it presents itself is therefore specific to each individual.
There are various moments that can trigger it like the passing from one stage of life to another. Examples are leaving university, starting a family, kids leaving home, retirement. These moments all represent the death of something from which new things can grow, as you transition from one stage to another.
The stage of life I was denying was around commitment. Commitment to a partner, to my passion, to my purpose, to myself. I wasn’t fully committing to anything and it was killing me and presented itself as some kind of existential crisis.
The resolution and path for me to more express this commitment was to leave my job. There’s been lots of ups and downs since then and this decision wasn’t the panacea for all of my problems but it provided a gateway to the next stage of life that I had been denying.
To deny this transition is to repress your evolution to the next stage of your life. You start to feel like something is missing and without realising the real reason you start to paper over the cracks with various behaviours to numb the feelings, or overcompensate for whatever you’re feeling a lack of.
The feeling of “crisis” represents an awareness of our own mortality and a realisation that we may never achieve our true potential in life. With a slight reframe you can instead see this an incredible insight, and a gift.
However if we deny it and don’t learn from it then we instead experience them as crises, and all the baggage that comes with that. This is when we get into the tailspin and begin to lose ourselves.
Therefore noticing the signs is key to ensure you can see them for what they are, and take action to do something about it.
Here are 6 signs to look out for:
#1. You’re asking yourself lots of questions about life
Life has caught up with you and something doesn’t feel right. You feel trapped as if there’s no way out. Happiness is freedom, and right now you feel stuck on the wrong side of it.
When you were younger you had all this hope, all these dreams of what you were going to do and who you were going to be. And now look at yourself.
This presents itself with a string of questions and thoughts like:
There’s got to be more to life than this.
Is this it?
How did I end up here?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
The questions come from a frustration between where you are and where you think you should be. You want to be more, you want to do more, and you want to have more, but you don’t.
What we have in our lives doesn’t seem to matter. It’s not enough and we want something more or something else.
#2. You often feel drained, bored or irritable
You’re irritable and your moods swing wildly from moment to moment. The slightest thing distracts you and can set you off into a spiral as things annoy you now that you never even noticed before.
You feel unsettled and bored of your job, your relationship and where you live.
Chances are you’ve secretly started checking out ex-partners on Facebook wondering if they’ve been checking you out.
Maybe you’ve started looking for a new job, a new house or considering the 4th house extension in 5 years. Because you believe that then everything will be ok, then you will be enough and these feelings will go away.
A lot of our lives are spent on autopilot if we don’t regularly check in with ourselves and ask ourselves how things are going.
How do I feel?
What drains me of energy?
What fills me with energy?
Feeling irritable and bored is normal some of the time but not all of the time. If it continues then chances are there is something deeper and more fundamental that needs addressing.
If we aren’t connected to our aspirations in life, and living them, then we aren’t sourcing and feeding ourselves. Before we know it we are like a car driving on empty as we attempt to floor it. Then wonder why nothing happens.
#3. You’re taking more risks as you want to feel alive
You feel as if something is missing and are just going through the motions. You want to fill that gap and shake things up so you start to take more risks to feel alive again.
This could be having an affair (or just considering it), extreme sports, gambling or obsessing with a hobby. Aerobic activity such as running helps to produce the hormone serotonin which studies show can improve our levels of happiness and well-being.
This is great obviously but not as an answer to a deeper and more fundamental pain in your life.
Anything that takes you away from who you are in this moment and fills the space with something more exciting, is worth looking out for. During this period of stimulation, you feel momentary relief that things might be ok after all. Only to fall back later to where you were at the beginning. So you take another hit and another and another.
Being impulsive and reckless helps us to feel life, to feel alive and in the moment when nothing else will do.
When we lose track of ourselves in life and aren’t living to our potential we want that high that the usual things don’t provide. So we go looking for something extreme to fill the gap.
#4. You’re in your head a lot
If you’re not being nostalgic about the past you’re dreaming of a beautiful future. Either way, you aren’t present to this moment and want to avoid it at all costs.
You’re spending a lot of your time reminiscing about the past as if it was some kind of Utopian age. You get back in touch with old school or university friends to relive the old times and are left wondering why it doesn’t feel the same.
You find yourself daydreaming a lot, lost in a fantasy of how things used to be, wishing you were there now.
Nothing is as good as it was in your day, and you love telling people about it.
The tendency is towards comparison. Comparing now with then, now with the future you’ve created in your mind, or now with someone else’s life. Each time your current life comes up short of what you’re expecting.
You want to reconnect with a part of you that you liked and respected. A version of you that was living to your potential and when you felt alive and in line with your values.
#5. You regularly numb your experience
You excessively numb your life in some way with alcohol, pornography, drugs, work, the internet, TV or computer games. You’ve choosen to escape reality in some way because the feelings you experience overwhelm you.
All of the questions, thoughts, and dreams frustrate you so you avoid them as best you can by checking out.
You get the new car, nice holiday, prettier girlfriend but it’s never enough.
If you have kids then you live for them, forgetting your own needs believing them not to be important. Everything you do you do for the kids, forgetting about yourself and your needs.
You live for the weekend so you can disappear for a few hours into a different world where you’re a king again.
You isolate yourself from friends as they all remind you of everything you don’t have. Better to avoid them than to answer their difficult questions.
#6. You realise you haven’t got time
You’ve started doing the “death maths”.
“When my son is 20, I’ll be 63!!”
“When I finally pay off my mortgage I’ll be 72”
You realise that life is short and you haven’t even started to do all the things you said you would.
You might have lost a loved one and this has brought it into stark reality for you that we haven’t got long to make a difference in the world.
We’re all getting older every second and ultimately we have two options. We can either embrace it or we can chase it. Some chase their youthful appearance, unprepared for the changes that present themselves.
Hair transplants, face creams, super food smoothies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chasing the woman half your age, sure that she likes you too.
You realise that the temp job you started all those years ago is what still pays the bills today. You promised yourself this was only a short-term thing, but here you are.
Realising and embracing your own mortality is one of the hardest but most life changing things you’ll ever do. If you fear death you forget to live and instead try and maintain today’s version of life forever.
Your mortality is a gift to remind you to live. It’s a constant reminder that you aren’t getting any younger and are running out of time.
If you fail to see it this way you’ll chase your youth forever still forgetting to live the life you said you would.
If any of these signs sound familiar to you then please know that you’re not alone. Many of us go through these periods of transition and you have a choice as to whether you choose to navigate it alone or ask for help.
Reaching out to family, friends or other support networks can help take the burden off of your shoulders sufficient to assist us in seeing things with some new clarity and insight.
Name what you’re experiencing and learn to slow things down. Start to reframe it as a transition in your life and therefore a gift that is here to teach you something and you will have taken the important first steps in working your way through it.
I hope this post was helpful. Do you have any other signs you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. For regular content like this just fill in the box below.
To your success