Ever heard of a midlife crisis? Maybe you’ve joked about it, or maybe you’re going through it right now.
It’s that confusing time in life when you start questioning everything: your job, your relationships, even your hairstyle. It’s like life’s half-time show, except you’re the star and you’re not sure how to play the next half.
I’m there myself and I know what it’s like. That’s why I’m extending the conversation from my YouTube video below exploring the topic to this longer article. It’s important, because knowing what’s going on can help you make sense of it all.
And here’s something else to think about: Why is the midlife crisis more common in some places than in others? I’ve spent a lot of time in Singapore and Thailand, and it’s not as big a deal there. What’s their secret?
I’m going to explore this below. Let’s get started with the first sign someone is going through a midlife crisis.
1. Intense self-examination and questioning decisions
The first, and often most glaring, sign of a midlife crisis is intense self-examination. You start to question every decision you’ve ever made. Suddenly, the career you’ve been building for years feels unfulfilling, the long-term relationship you’re in seems stagnant, and you start wondering if you’ve wasted your years chasing the wrong things.
It’s like waking up one day and looking at your life through a completely different lens, one that highlights all the “what-ifs” and “should-haves.” You start asking questions like, “Is this the life I wanted? Is this the person I envisioned becoming? What is my real purpose?” And no matter how much you try to push these questions away, they keep coming back, haunting your thoughts at every turn.
This phase of self-examination is not just a momentary blip; it’s often a prolonged period where you reassess everything you thought you knew about yourself and your life. While it may seem unsettling, remember, it’s also an opportunity. It’s a chance to reevaluate what truly matters to you and change course if needed.
2. Significant mood swings or emotional instability
Now, this one hits close to home for me. As someone currently navigating the choppy waters of a midlife crisis, I’ve felt my emotions go on a rollercoaster ride like never before.
One minute, I’m buzzing with enthusiasm, convinced that I’ve cracked the code to the second act of my life. The next, I’m plunged into a well of despair, sure that I’ve squandered my years on pursuits that now seem meaningless.
It’s disorienting, to say the least. I’ve always prided myself on being level-headed, someone who could face life’s ups and downs with a measure of calm. But lately, that emotional steadiness has been hard to come by. Whether it’s an unexpected tearful moment while watching a random TV show or an inexplicable irritation over the smallest inconveniences, my moods have been swinging like a pendulum.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the same in yourself or a loved one. Mood swings or emotional instability are not just about being overly sensitive; they’re indicators that your internal world is in a state of flux. This emotional turbulence is often a reaction to the deep questions you’re grappling with, the questions that make you doubt the life you’ve built so far.
If you’re going through something similar, take heart. Emotional instability, while distressing, is often a sign that you’re confronting some hard truths and that your inner self is demanding attention. These mood swings can act as a catalyst, urging you to address the issues you’ve been sweeping under the rug.
3. Dramatic changes in relationships
Here’s something that was challenging: I started looking at my friends and family differently. Out of nowhere, I found myself asking, “Do these people really get me? Do I get them? What are we doing together?”
For me, it was like waking up one day and realizing some of my friendships were more about habit than true connection. I even began pulling back from some get-togethers and dinners. I started wondering if these people added anything meaningful to my life, and if I was doing the same for them.
And it’s not just about friends. Even my closest family relationships started to feel different. All of a sudden, small issues turned into big deals, and things we used to laugh off became serious discussions. It was confusing and made me feel a little lost.
If you find yourself questioning the friends you hang out with or having unusual tension with family, you’re not alone. It’s another sign that you might be going through a midlife crisis. But don’t freak out. This is a chance to make your circle tighter and stronger, focusing on people who really matter to you.
4. Fixating on looks and health
Ever find yourself standing in front of the mirror a bit too long, noticing wrinkles or gray hairs that never seemed to bother you before? I recently caught myself spending way more time than usual researching skincare routines and even contemplating a gym membership—something I’d shrugged off for years.
If you’re suddenly concerned about how you look or worried about your health in a new way, you’re not alone. For me, it was like a wake-up call, a realization that time isn’t going to stand still. This is often the stage where people start buying sports cars, joining gyms, or even getting cosmetic procedures done.
Is it vanity? Maybe a little. But it’s also a sign of wanting to take control of something when other parts of your life feel uncertain. If you can’t control time, at least you can fight some of its effects, right?
5. Taking big risks on a whim
Remember that gym membership I was thinking about? Well, I took it a step further and signed up for a skydiving experience last month—a far cry from my usually cautious self. Why? Because suddenly, doing something a little reckless felt incredibly freeing.
If you or someone you know starts making impulsive decisions—like making big purchases, changing jobs out of the blue, or taking up high-risk hobbies—it might be a red flag. It’s like you’re trying to prove to yourself that you’re still young and adventurous, even if it means stepping way out of your comfort zone.
Taking risks isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can lead to new experiences and open up fresh perspectives. But when it comes out of nowhere and starts to disrupt your life or finances, it’s worth taking a step back to consider what’s really driving you.
6. Seeking a new passion or purpose
Recently, I’ve been drawn to activities and interests I never cared about before. I even started taking guitar lessons, something I had put off for years. If you find yourself exploring new hobbies or even contemplating a career change, it’s another sign that you’re in a midlife phase.
Suddenly, the things that used to excite you don’t seem as appealing, and you’re craving something new. It’s like a second adolescence, where you’re trying to figure out what you want to be when you “grow up,” except you’re already grown up. And this isn’t necessarily bad; it’s often the gateway to discovering something that brings you real joy or even a renewed sense of purpose.
7. Overthinking time and legacy
Lately, I find myself thinking more about what I’m leaving behind. Whether it’s a business, a work of art, or even just the impact I have on people, the concept of legacy has started occupying my thoughts a lot. It’s like there’s a clock ticking, reminding me that time is finite.
You might also find yourself focusing on “bucket list” items, feeling an urgency to accomplish things you’ve always wanted to do. Or perhaps you start worrying about how people will remember you. This heightened awareness of time and legacy isn’t just you being morbid; it’s another key indicator that you’re going through a midlife crisis.
What to do if someone you know is going through a midlife crisis
First off, if you’re seeing someone close to you go through this, it can feel like you’re walking on eggshells. You might not understand why they’re acting the way they are—trust me, they’re probably just as confused. Having lived in Singapore and often traveled to Thailand, I’ve noticed that the concept of a midlife crisis doesn’t seem as prevalent there. Why? The way people view life and community is a bit different.
In these cultures, there’s often less emphasis on individual achievements and materialistic pursuits, especially in the first half of life. People are more integrated into their communities, and there’s a more holistic view of life. It’s not just about what you’ve achieved; it’s about how you fit into the larger picture of your family, community, and even the universe. The focus is often more on inner harmony and less on external markers of success.
So, if you’re trying to support someone in the midst of their own crisis, perhaps try encouraging a shift in perspective. Suggest exploring philosophies or lifestyles that emphasize community, interconnectedness, or spirituality. It could be as simple as recommending a book, attending a community event, or even planning a trip to a place that embodies these values.
Listen to them, but don’t try to solve their problems. Sometimes, just having a non-judgmental ear can do wonders. Encourage them to take their time, to explore this uncomfortable space they’re in, and remind them that it’s okay not to have all the answers right now.
If they’re up for it, engage in deep conversations. Talk about life, purpose, and the big questions that are often easier to ignore. Sometimes a good chat can provide a little clarity, or at least make the confusion more bearable.
Don’t be pushy, though. Remember, this is their journey, not yours. You can offer a map, but you can’t walk the path for them. It’s their route to navigate, their life to rediscover.
So, whether you’re the one going through this, or you’re watching someone else struggle, remember: a midlife crisis isn’t a dead-end. It’s a crossroad, one that offers a chance for real growth and deeper understanding, if we’re brave enough to take it.