I don’t believe in the idea of a midlife crisis. Instead, let’s call it a midlife awakening. That moment in your life when you might feel stuck and question some big issues, like: Am I in the right profession or did I get derailed from my purpose? Has my grip on my fitness and my health loosened? Am I happy with my family life? Sure, it’s sobering, but also exhilarating.
After 30 years in the publishing business, I felt stuck. I came to the realization that I had accomplished all that I could. As I stepped back to assess the situation, what I recognized was that the digital revolution was coming fast and all those zeros and ones would disrupt my world in a big way. Rather than quit, I decided to dive in headfirst to try to understand this fast-evolving digital space. It gave me a whole new impetus moving me out of the inertia that had trapped me. Sometimes we just have to look around ourselves to discover how to reboot.
It takes time to get unstuck. For my book ROAR Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late), I interviewed more than 40 individuals—reimagineers—who’d all made meaningful changes at midlife. What they had in common was that they did the work to go deep inside themselves to understand what was bothering them so they could figure out how to escape. Most of them reported that it took a year or more to find their solution. These are some of the mental tools that helped me (and the reimagineers) get unstuck.
1. Do A Skills Audit
If you are in business, you know about the SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Do your own SWOT analysis: Write down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. While I am proficient at reading financial statements, I know I’m not great at math. As a result, I steer away from projects that require deep number skills. However, I’m strong at identifying market trends. If your company is going through a reorganization, that might give you an opportunity to present your accomplishments. As for threats, are you happy with your health and weight? There are also digital tools, at sites like UnderstandMyself.com and RichardStep.com, that can help you identify your best traits. Some of them may validate what you already know, but you may also uncover hidden talents and skills.
2. Tap Your Family and Friends
Brace yourself—this next task may make you feel vulnerable because it explores whether how you see yourself is similar to how other people see you. Write down the five words that you think best describe you. Then ask ten of your closest family members and friends to give you five words that they would use to describe you. Take those 50 words and look for the ones that show up most often. Are they on your own list of five? When I did this, the top word that came from my squad was generous. It’s a self-identifier for me, so it validated how I view myself. Now begin to mine your top words. How do you turn them into action? It will give you the fuel to move from being stuck to deciding what’s next. For me, it included launching a foundation that was based in generosity, as well as getting involved with philanthropy, mentoring, and several nonprofits. While I didn’t ask everyone to give me five negative things, that’s a good exercise, too. I would have to include impatient, rigid at times, and possessive. Having insights on how to move forward from those traits has also helped me get unstuck, particularly in my personal relationships.
3. Picture It. Plan It. Do It.
My grandmother always taught me to dream big and envision what I wanted my life to look like in the future. If you don’t know what you want and who you want to be, how can you get there? Every January, I create my yearlong journal plan, identifying what I hope to accomplish that year across all of life’s areas. You can do it anytime, but by thinking about the next 12 months, you’re giving yourself a chance to focus on long-term plans when so often we’re just looking at our smartphone screens and thinking about the next five minutes. My 12-month plan includes relationships, career, health and fitness, passions, and more. This “vision board” also includes pictures, inspirational ideas, and even phrases. Earlier in my adult life, I was a marathon runner but ultimately switched to triathlons. What I realized one year was that I felt stuck in my fitness regimen. I missed the simple pleasure of long-distance running. In my mid-50s, I returned to marathoning! Running puts me in a Zen state, a sort of moving meditation that allows me to get rid of my anxieties, sort out problems, and find clarity on what’s important to me. At ten miles, the endorphins are working big-time and my mind and body are in lockstep. I make most of my big life decisions during a run. Figure out what physical activities work for you and use them to help you get unstuck with whatever issue you face.
4. Excavate Your Younger Self
Journeying back to my younger self to find direction for my future path has really helped me. What did you leave behind that brought you joy and excitement? We all know the story of the person who wanted to be an archaeologist but became an accountant because it was the more practical choice. How do you reengage with your younger self and reclaim what turned you on? Spend the time to find at least one thing that you gave up and dedicate yourself to embracing it again. I began my career as a journalist but moved to the business side of publishing, where the compensation was better. In my 50s, I started writing again. It made me realize how much I loved the process of sitting down to compose a story on a topic that interested me. It also stoked my inherent curiosity, which had led me to journalism in the first place. I plan to keep writing as my creative passion. What did you leave behind that you can go back to as a way to move yourself forward?
This story appears in the September 2022 issue of Men’s Health.