Navigating a 'midlife crisis'

First aired on Tapestry (23/10/11)

Although the "midlife crisis" is a frequently used plot device in television sitcoms and Hollywood movies (often starring Paul Giamatti), there has always been some debate in professional circles about whether it actually exists. Some may argue that it's an excuse for bored adults to behave impulsively. Some academics say that "midlife turning point" would be a more accurate description.

james-hollis-200.jpgJames Hollis, however, one of the world's leading Jungian analysts, firmly believes that, however you label it, many people enter a serious period of confusion and inner tumult during their mid-30s to mid-40s.

Hollis himself experienced a deep depression at age 35. He had achieved all the major goals he had set for himself at that point in his life, but found himself seeing a psychiatrist and going on medication.

"Frankly, nothing changed except I felt a little fuzzier perhaps," he told Tapestry in a recent interview. "Then I started into a serious therapy and began to realize that a lot of the assumptions and...plans that I had in mind perhaps were not in accord with the life of the psyche."

In other words, Hollis faced a series of serious questions that many middle-aged people face: What are your values? Why aren't things feeling right? Are you living your own life or one someone else wanted for you?

These confusing questions arise when "we feel our roadmap [is] no longer applicable to the terrain we travel through," Hollis said.

"It often happens around midlife chronologically we set off from our parents' world into our own sort of proto-adulthood — with a big body and big decisions to make about relationships, career and so forth — we always assume we're making the right choices, we won't repeat the mistakes of our ancestors and that, by and large, the choices we're making will hold for the rest of our lives."

Hollis, who was written several books about midlife passage, including Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, offers more insight in the audio clip below.

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Writing Gordon Lightfoot

Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up

by James Hollis

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From the publisher:

"What does it really mean to be a grown up in today's world? We assume that once we 'get it together' with the right job, marry the right person, have children, and buy a home, all is settled and well. But adulthood presents varying levels of growth, and is rarely the respite of stability we expected. Turbulent emotional shifts can take place anywhere between the age of thirty-five and seventy when we question the choices we've made, realize our limitations, and feel stuck — commonly known as the 'midlife crisis.' Jungian psycho-analyst James Hollis believes it is only in the second half of life that we can truly come to know who we are and thus create a life that has meaning."

Read more at Gotham Books.

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