There are so many misconceptions and stigmas around midlife & quarter-life crises, we all experience them and yet many people still have an overwhelming sense that something must be wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with you! At its heart, a crisis is a gateway to getting closer to who you really are and is therefore a wonderful opportunity for growth. It is a mistake to attribute them only to specific ages because the truth is they can happen any time.

At its heart a crisis is always a doorway to awakening to who you really are.

It is normal to feel that level of confusion and disorientation as we shake off the old cocoon of who we once were to whatever we are becoming next. It’s the natural unfolding of you. You wouldn’t wear a shoe when it doesn’t fit you anymore, so it’s the same with our identities.

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We might often have a sneaking suspicion that there is more to who we are than just the labels and masks we wear in the world. But during a crisis, it’s as though our souls start crying out for our attention, trying to remind us that we are so much more than that. If you don’t listen, you might start find that your emotions start behaving like a baby throwing their toys out of their pram. You can begin to feel such inner turmoil that you cannot quite explain, especially if to all outward appearances, you have everything that one might expect to have to be happy. You might be successful in your career and have all the things one might strive to attain in one’s lifetime and yet feel totally empty.

If there is nothing external in your life that has caused this inner turmoil and confusion, it’s quite possible you have no idea that this is what you are going through.

Possible symptoms of a crisis/awakening:

  • Feelings of deep frustration, anger, confusion, emptiness, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, anxiety and/or longing
  • A sense that something is missing in your life
  • Sensing there must be a greater meaning or purpose to your life
  • Wanting to make big changes in your life but not knowing what
  • Feeling trapped by your circumstances
  • Seeking constant distraction
  • Restlessness
  • Becoming ungrounded
  • Feeling like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you and questioning everything that has been, and is, important to you
  • Feeling conflicted between heart and mind, stuck or lost
  • A potential sense of urgency to get on with things
  • Trying to understand who you really are
  • Losing interest in certain areas of your life while taking a sudden interest in new things that might surprise yourself and others

What you are probably really feeling underneath it all:

  • The feeling that you’ve never really been seen before
  • That no-one really knows the true you
  • Feeling that you have so much more to offer the world
  • Knowing that you are not your status or outward identity or material possessions
  • A longing to live more authentically and wholeheartedly
  • A longing to be true to yourself

First of all, there is nothing wrong with you! You are not going crazy, even if that’s what it might feel like. Secondly, you are not alone. Most of us go through these times at least once in our life and yet we might suffer it all in silence and therefore not be able to support each other in the ways we should. In all honesty, if you’ve come to the point that you realise you are starting to awaken to the real you, the fabulous you underneath all the labels and stuff, then this is cause for celebration. Have a party!

This kind of crisis is your heart’s way of trying to re-align you who you are on the inside with what your life is on the outside.

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What so many people are frightened to accept is that our hearts are our inner compass, designed to guide us through life. Many of us spend most of our lives ignoring our hearts, instead listening to what everyone tells us what we should do and think. We will use reason and logic to the detriment of finding true meaning and fulfilment. When we don’t listen to our hearts, sometimes they have to kick up a right old fuss to get our attention. That’s when we find ourselves in turmoil.

There has been such a stigma for a long time about mid-life crises. When I was young I used to hear adults around me make disparaging remarks about people who hit their 40s and 50s and go do seemingly wild and crazy things. But it’s wonderful when people realise there is more to life that the status quo and that life is also to be lived joyously. We associate mid-life crises with the stereotypical story we hear, of a middle-aged man buying a red sports car, running off with a younger woman, acting recklessly and just having a good time. You hear less about it happening to women, but it happens to us to!

The sudden changes in someones life that reflect a storyline like this stems from the same desire to shed all the burdensome identities and expectations that others have of us that we carry all our lives, as well as the longing to live authentically. As we get older, the sense of our mortality reminds us we ought to make the most of things NOW as time is so precious. But without understanding what it is we are going through, we may not realise how to achieve that.

It doesn’t matter how you find ultimate fulfilment, but you can only make the best decisions around change if you are conscious of what is really driving the desire for it. It’s easy to realise you need a change, shed all things you don’t like about your life and just replace it with other meaningless stuff. This route is just escapism and your frustration and unhappiness will follow you wherever you go. If you spend time looking at why you want to change and not seek to replace things, but move towards living wholeheartedly, your decisions will be so much better.

Photo by Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

So having tried the escapist route whenever I hit my quarter life crises (and the only reason I had several quarter life crises is because I believe I was just repeating the same patterns and not truly addressing the underlying issues), I thankfully took a different approach when I start to question things at mid-life.

In the years leading up to my 40th birthday I had external life crises that compounded the internal changes within me. When I got to the big 40 I was excited and I decided to take the opportunity to re-create my life. This time I had a partner to collaborate with on the decision-making, which added another level of excitement and creativity to it. I have made very dramatic life changes, I left my long & respectable corporate career behind, became self-employed (some of it worked well, some of it didn’t), took up new or dormant interests, got rid of most of my possessions, moved to a tropical island with my partner from where I am writing this and became a cat lover having been a dog-person all my life.

It might sound sensational but it is not a happiness formula. Each of the decisions I have made was based on authentic soul-searching and thought. For me, being able to live authentically and wholeheartedly involves a much simpler lifestyle and feeling more connected with nature. It just so happened that my partner had reasons to want to move here and that suited my needs perfectly. I didn’t come here based on instagram fantasies. I have not attached to the idea that anything about my life right now is permanent or will give me permanent happiness. I connect with my heart for that feeling.

Because when we are driven by our heart’s deepest longing, this is the greatest act of authenticity and the only true way we can ever experience authentic happiness.

We are constantly evolving. I’m several years into my awakening and for me personally it’s gradual, ongoing and fascinating.

It’s only ever painful when we try to hold onto what is falling away, rather than leap into the unknown potential of now.

So when you find yourself at a crossroads in this big, exciting, joyous, sometimes wobbly adventure of life, just remember not to take yourself too seriously. Don’t attach yourself to all the things you think you are and what others think of you. Ask yourself how you can live more authentically and true to yourself, let this be the basis of every decision you make. It won’t always be easy, sometimes it will be really hard. Letting go of old identities and attachments might be painful at times. It takes a whole heap of vulnerability. But welcome to the gateway of joyous wholehearted living.

Photos by Brooke Cagle (Left) and Huyen Nguyen (Right) via Unsplash