We all know about the male midlife crisis, a turbulent time of questioning lifelong values and goals. But slightly more women than men report going through a stressful midlife transition by age 50, according to a Cornell University study.
Whereas a man's midlife turmoil is more likely to be driven by work or career issues, a woman's more often begins because of family events or problems, such as divorce, a parent's death or difficulties with children.
I interviewed women around the country who have gone through a midlife crisis. I found that although the process was difficult and painful, most came to view it as a positive experience. They emerged with a greater sense of personal control and freedom...a fulfilling new sense of direction...a deeper connection to family and friends. ..and a richer, more creative life.
If you are a woman facing a midlife transition, watch out for these traps...
Trap: Avoiding risk. Midlife is a time when long-buried desires resurface and just won't go away. A successful manager longs to quit her job at a big corporation and start her own business. A woman who always prided herself on being diplomatic wants to speak more directly Pay attention to these urges, no matter how awkward or frightening. Ask yourself what risks you need to take to honor the parts of yourself that you have been ignoring.
Example: A woman who has a life long fear of heights heard about a friend who had gone bungee jumping. At age 48, she decided to try it herself. She was absolutely terrified, but when the jump was over, she felt profound relief at having faced her fear. She then decided to confront her fear of failure by pursuing her lifelong dream of running for political office.
The women I spoke with who had the most regrets were those who were too afraid to try anything new Even those who did make changes wished that they had taken still more risk.
Not all midlife changes are dramatic. Some women discovered their adventurous side by traveling. Some tested themselves physically by participating in sports. Some took up artistic pursuits, such as photography. Others found ways to enrich existing parts of their lives, from planting a lush garden to training the family dog to being a hospice visitor.
Trap: Not setting limits. During turbulent times, strong feelings can obscure good judgment. As you take risks, be realistic about your physical and financial boundaries. Instead of taking out a second mortgage to fund a Ferrari, buy a snazzy Volkswagen that doesn't jeopardize your financial security. If you want to try snowboarding, get an instructor until you are ready to go out on your own.
One of my midlife passions was driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). During one reckless ride, I flipped the vehicle and nearly died. Now I have a permanently dislocated collarbone.
If I had it to do over again, I would still get the ATV, but I would take a safety course first.
Trap: Scapegoating. The feeling that every thing you have done up until now is wrong is a common symptom of midlife. You may be tempted to blame your unhappiness and confusion on your spouse or your employer.
Some couples do outgrow their marriages, just as some workers outgrow their jobs. Yet in my interviews, I found that many marriages emerged stronger from the crisis. A number of women regretted making impulsive choices that damaged their relationships, such as having affairs. Before plunging into an affair or quitting your job, look for less drastic ways to "gel away."
Examples: See if your best friend wants to join you on a trip to Europe. Research the steps involved in starting a part-time business. Seek the advice of a counselor or clergy member.
Trap: Going it alone. Support is crucial to successfully navigating a midlife crisis. 'Women who didn't tell friends about the "crazy" feelings they were experiencing lacked valuable perspective and support.
Families can be powerful sources of encouragement. However, not all family members have the sensitivity and confidence to play this role. Recognize that your spouse and children may be puzzled and unnerved by the changes that they're seeing in you. Explain what you are going through as best you can and ask for their patience and forbearance.
Some of the best support comes from people who are experiencing similar crises. If you're part of a book club, investment club or other group, devote a few meetings to midlife issues.
Or form your own group. Nine years ago, a dozen Manhattan friends in their 40s and 40s started a "Dream Salon." At twice-monthly meetings, each participant has 20 minutes to talk about something she dreams of doing, no matter how outlandish. Then the other women respond by offering encouragement and help. Members have started businesses, earned degrees and exhibited artwork, thanks to the group's support.
One of the greatest rewards of successfully navigating a midlife crisis is the opportunity to support those who come after you. Look for ways to pass on what you have learned. when you mentor younger colleagues, volunteer in the community or act as a role model for your children, you demonstrate that a passionate second half of life is something to look forward to.