The term “midlife crisis” was coined by psychologist Elliot Jacques in 1965 when he was 48 years old. By that age, he had earned two doctorates (medicine and psychology) and worked as both an organizational consultant and psychoanalyst. In the second half of his life, he expanded his work with large governmental and private organizations, wrote 12 books and coined some of his most original ideas into his early eighties. Midlife, Jacques wrote, brings us “face-to-face with our limitations, our restricted possibilities and our mortality.” (The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change, Carlo Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg, Harvard Business Review, Feb. 2008.)
Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow defined stages of growth as evolving from deficiency to growth: “deficiency” stages dictate the necessity of filling what’s lacking, from food to shelter and safety, the essentials; growth stages are motivated by the need for self-actualization and generativity, which we can afford to pursue once our primary needs have been met. Midlife brings the golden opportunity to assess our strengths and limitations, review our life experience as adults, and couple those insights with a sense of choice and freedom that comes with awareness of time passing. One might feel restless or burned out, needing vocational change. Or the parenting nest may empty at this point, providing the opportunity for new experiences not tied to supporting offspring. Watching children grow away from home with seemingly unlimited options can be contagious, stimulating midlifers in new directions yet unsure how to navigate next steps.
For many of us, the pandemic threw our work and life trajectories into question as workplaces closed, daily habits were thrown into disarray, and presumptions both outside in our culture and inside in our psyche were suddenly fractured and open to change. While these implicit structures seemed to blow up, simultaneously, as Albert Einstein famously said, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
Toward that end, we have developed a unique Mid-life Life Review: an oral history process that allows people to revisit their life experience through a targeted interview that is recorded via Zoom and provided to the subject upon completion. It is not intended to be career counseling, or counseling per se, but rather the opportunity to re-view/revisit our life path to date and let it spell out its own conclusions. Rather than reacting to life events, a life review takes a meta-view and allows one to move forward consciously with a clean slate toward one’s second half.