Maggie was interstate, the kids were staying with friends and I was home alone.
Goes without saying, the first thing I did was several run-and-slides, Risky Business-style, down the hall in my jocks (Bob Seger swapped out for The Smith Street Band).
After one too many overshoots into the front door, I reclothed and eased into a more age-appropriate activity – some light reading on the causes of WWII (these days, it seems prudent to re-learn about great power wars).
Then the scraping noise began.
My primal brain awoke and clambered out of its cave, wary and agitated. It pushed aside my rational brain, which was busy trying to not appease Nazi Germany. That shit will not help you now, thought monkey brain, a little too happily.
Book down, senses sharp, I was suddenly intimately aware I was alone and the world was quiet – except for the scraping sound.
It was coming from the upstairs guest room. The one right above me.
Armed and Dangerous
Alert with adrenaline, I armed myself with the only weapon I could find in our painfully suburban bedroom, Maggie’s hair straightener.
I crept upstairs, now convinced a serial killer awaited. And that he would take one look at my regularly moisturised skin and instantly fillet it off and fashion it into a dude suit.
Scrape, scrape, scrape, again. Louder now. The sound of filleting knives being sharpened, no doubt.
I gripped the door handle.
Sucked in a deep (my last?) breath.
My jaw clenched tight.
I felt one, maybe both of my balls disappear into my stomach cavity.
Then it was on.
I crashed through the door, raising the hair straightener ready to strike (or at least uncrimp some problem hair). I barked as menacing as I could the first thing that came into my head, which unfortunately was, “Hello, can I help you?”.
Then I saw him, staring at me, wild eyed.
A crazy man – in a Chilli Peppers T-shirt, cargo pants and black hoodie. Arm raised above his head, about to strike.
My heart stopped as he threatened to slash at me with a… Huh?
And then it hit me.
The Man in the Mirror
My rational brain immediately got all uppity and condescending.
“Ok, monkey brain, I got this from here. That there, your ‘serial killer’, is clearly you. That there’s a mirror. That’s your reflection.”
I was shocked at how quickly monkey brain abandoned me, skulking back into its cave, leaving me to deal with the embarrassment.
It wasn’t long before I realised the episode had left behind more than just humiliation.
I sat there, on the guest room bed, for a long while. Staring at the man in the mirror.
Who was this person? He looked more like my son than the mortgage-owning, middle-aged parent I was.
Why was I dressed like a 20-something in cargos and converse?
Did part of me not grow up?
Generation X Midlife
At the end of this year, the first Gen Xers (born 1965) will hit 55 years old. The youngest (born 1980) will hit 40. Generation X will be officially, entirely middle-aged.
While we have dominated the age group, it’s pretty clear we haven’t owned it.
Many of us are reluctant middle-agers.
Or worse, flat-out deniers.
Like their cousins, climate change deniers and their even wackier uncles holocaust and moon landing deniers, age deniers create their own facts and reject awkward or inconvenient truths.
You may be an age denier yourself (I suffered this affliction for many years).
How do you know if you’re an age denier?
Symptoms for 40+ year-olds, include:
- wearing skinny jeans;
- rocking out at Splendour in the Grass with people half your age;
- trying to make it big on Youtube;
- using acronyms like YOYO; and
- being an active and enthusiastic participant on Snapchat.
If you show any of these signs, this is your official diagnosis: You’re old.
And here’s your prescription: Hang up your Vans.
Age denial tends to abate as we move through our 40s, but a less severe condition can persist:
Reluctant Midlife Syndrome
This condition can persist well into the 50s and beyond.
- sports car ownership;
- refusal to throw out T-shirts promo’ing long-disbanded 90s rock groups;
- a delusional feeling of comfort and peer-group acceptance in nightclubs with people young enough to be your children; and
- extreme competitiveness with other reluctant middle-agers on typically younger activities like drinking games or go-cart racing or (and this one didn’t end well for us) both…
Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste
If you show any of these symptoms, don’t panic. The solution is simple: a midlife crisis.
For many, this comes naturally enough. It feels like this:
A life-thumping realisation you’re old, closely followed by the conclusion you’ve wasted your life.
Now, these thoughts are a little uncomfortable, but you can’t dismiss them. You have to work through them.
I’ve been going through it for two years and are coming out the other side now. It’s not as hard-work as it sounds. It just takes time.
Surviving a Midlife Crisis
All the usual mental health tools will help:
- understand what’s happening to you;
- be aware of your feelings (moodiness, frustration, etc) and their effects on others;
- talk it through with a pro or someone you trust; and
- watch for craziness! (midlife crises can involve increased risk taking – don’t go banging your secretary or the pool boy ‘cause you want to feel young again).
The Secret to Midlife
A midlife crisis is a time of much-needed transition.
Our ‘20-something’ mindset can last right through our 30s and 40s. But as we hit 50, there’s no denying we are physically getting old, our careers are slowing and our life options are narrowing.
While not everyone will have a midlife crisis, almost everyone will reflect deeply on their life path, changing identity and values.
Inevitably, we arrive at the conclusion our ‘20-something’ mind-set is ill equipped for midlife and old age. What happens next is the secret to being middle aged.
If we accept midlife is not going away, and its wrinkly cousin old age will come for us soon enough, we can begin to reframe our lives and avoid the farce of age denial.
This doesn’t mean giving up on life! You can still change careers or start a business or move to Peru or run marathons or have that sex change or become a buddhist after you’re 50.
You just shouldn’t do those things to prove you’re still 20. Do them as a kick-ass mid-lifer.
Once you accept you’re not 20 anymore, you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy mid-life’s simple pleasures too. Stuff like:
- properly-fitting clothes;
- conversations using commonly understood words from a dictionary;
- pastimes that don’t involve staring into your phone;
- socialising with people that exist outside of social media feeds; and
- music played at decibel levels that are not regulated by police.
And then there’s the real midlife gold:
Happily, midlife is when you’re at peak earnings. As the kids grow up and fly the coup (or are unceremoniously pushed out), your earnings will go further.
It’s a good time to think about how you’ll spend your retirement (here’s some help) or whether you can retire early (some advice here).
Reframed and thriving in midlife, you’ll find yourself in peak life-balance.
In your late 40s and 50s, you’re still young at heart, can be sporty, fairly risk tolerant and not too afraid of new things.
You’re also more patient, life experienced and Yoda-like than your younger balls-(or labia)-to-the-wall self.
Between careers and interests, mortgages and finances, sports and hobbies, holidays and social life, and the ever-increasing complications of raising modern kids, there is no doubt Gen X mid-lifers get shit done.
You may not have noticed, but over the years you have developed high-level decision-making skills, sound judgement, finely-honed planning abilities and are an expert risk manager.
These skills are perfect for midlife challenges like self improvement, passion projects or sea-changes. You’re in peak condition to climb those metaphorical mountains.
Or even some literal ones.
So what’s my point?
Midlife is when you’re most able to achieve amazing things.
It’s time to take advantage of peak earnings, peak balance and peak get-shit-done to do those things we put off while we raised our kids or were building a business or a career.
Maggie has just finished a Master Degree (while working and mum-ing) and I started this blog and FIRE‘d us up to retire 10 years earlier than normal.
Don’t Fight It
Middle age is an amazing phase of life. Don’t fight it. We’re smarter, wiser and more capable than ever before.
We worry less about what people think.
We’re more focused on the pointy bit of Maslow’s Hierarchy where life’s real treasures are buried.
So get going.
Get into shape with these tips on firing up your fitness.
Or try this 6-Point Checklist to see if your life is still on track.
Sign up to get great content right to your inbox.
“Peak Life” – I love that!
But what was the scraping noise?!
Oh, I forgot to say what the scraping noise was! It was the cat. He’d been accidentally locked in the guest room by one of the kids before they left the house.