Aren’t I Too Young to Have a Mid-life Crisis?

It has been a fascinating last 48 hours. Yesterday, I turned 38. Thirty-eight. Three decades plus eight years. Nearly forty. Four zero. Forty.

Now, normally I wouldn’t say this is a big deal — in the past, whenever people asked me, “It’s your birthday! How do you feel?” I would always say, “One day older,” because really, I’m only one day older than the day before. But this year felt different. This year felt — heavy.

Back in April, I hired a coach from my coaching cohort and have been actively working toward removing my resistances to the life of my dreams. I have had multiple breakthroughs since then, realizing deep-seated patterns, old emotional habits, and those little gremlins that needle anyone and everyone alive. And three days ago, I had one such epiphany. After months and months (truly years and years) of thinking/fearing that I didn’t have what it takes to succeed, all at once it hit me: every day, in almost every way, I have demonstrated that I can succeed at whatever I put my mind to. I am methodical, analytical, intuitive, caring, compassionate, empathetic (even empathic) — I have a unique set of skills that give me a leg up, both with tasks and with people. It even shows up in my gaming. I have a close group of friends that I “see” online almost every day. Of the group, I am the strategist — persistence, dedication, planning. I am the guy of whom everyone says, “Dude! I never would have thought of that. Let’s do it THAT way!” I make menial tasks fun, and related tasks more simple.

So why was I struggling so much? I flashed to a speech that Chael Sonnen gave to his team on a season of The Ultimate Fighter. He described an experience between a facilitator in a study and a group of participants. They ran a drill, walking heel to toe across a 2×4 plank. After multiple drills and signs that no one was struggling, the facilitator raised the board between two step ladders and asked them to run the drill again. Suddenly, the participants froze. To them, the whole game had changed, but really, they had all the skills necessary to cross the plank. The environment had changed, but everything else was the same. They were perfectly capable, but were convinced they couldn’t do it. Fear.

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the tiny death that brings total obliteration” (Dune, 1976). You’ll notice that Dune comes up a lot with me in general, and The Litany Against Fear in particular. More on that later.

My situation was no different. In games, the risk is virtual. I can fail soon and fail often and learn learn learn. But I feel different about my life. I’ve grown risk averse. The idea of failing now and failing often terrifies me. The truth is, though, that I am perfectly capable of succeeding, in life and in business. But two nights ago, that meant nothing…

You see, against the scope of my life, the progress I have made, the breakthroughs I have had, the time I have spent working on myself — reflecting on the eve of my birthday, against the scope of my life, I felt I had achieved NOTHING. Like weighing a handful of dust against a boulder of expectations, I was a failure. And not the kind to celebrate, someone who tries and fails, gets back up and tries again. No, I was a failure, someone who doesn’t try hard enough or often enough, never gets off the bench on game day. Suddenly, the previous day’s triumph was a mote among other motes that fit all too comfortably in one hand. How could I have done so little in my life?, I moaned in my brittle thoughts. How could I have so little of what I dreamed of as a child? No house, no kids… How could I have so little of what I have dreamed of in the last ten years? No autonomy from a boss, no freedom from someone else’s idea of what I should be doing with my time…

I plunged head-first into a deep pool of remorse, regret, and self-loathing. Thank fill in your deity of choice for one of my coworkers. We had an appointment for lunch which just happened to fall on my birthday (I had forgotten it was my birthday when we scheduled it). She was kind enough to let me unburden myself of these terrible feelings over a bowl of pho. After some probative questions through my slog of sorrow, she said to me, “It sounds like you had some kind of mid-life crisis.” I could have died on the spot. Now I REALLY feel old! But dear deity if she wasn’t right. I had fallen into the classic trap, looking at all I hadn’t accomplished instead of all that I had — fear and lack, not love and light. As we talked some more, I realized just how much I was not applying self-compassion.

Later that day, as I relayed this experience to my partner, she said, “OK, so what do you think you should have that you don’t?” Right on the nose with that one. No room to wiggle away. F^#%… “A house and kids?” G_d damn, she knows me… “Is that really what you want?”

The illusion melted. If I haven’t prioritized it, do I really want it? Yes, I do. Hmmm… “Time to change priorities?” Maybe, babe… Just maybe. G_d damn, she knows me…

So I sit here thinking,
“What do I want? Has it changed?”
No, not really, but I haven’t been working toward it.
“What have I been doing?”
Being comfortable, mostly — doing what makes me feel good for now, pushing myself to be a better person, but not pushing myself to have what I want.
“Harmony/stability outside and challenges/disruption within?”
Yup, constantly.
“So, what do you want now?”
Disruption outside and peace within.
“And…?”
And I have all the tools to make that real.
“And…?”
And what is more disruptive than risk?
“That’s a good question. And…?”
And what is more stabilizing than love?
“Wow… How do you feel now?”
Like I could take on the world.

G_d damn if I don’t have tears in my eyes right now.

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