Photo credit: Andy Dean Photography

Being an adult is weird. Although my son reminds me regularly (and morbidly) that I am really, really old, I feel like I am still figuring out many of the basics of adulthood. The art of juggling family, work, finances, health, friendships, home repairs and the voice in my own head is a struggle that I manage with varying degrees of success, depending on the week. No matter how organized and well-intentioned I may be, it feels like something in my life is always being neglected. And I hate that feeling.

For better or worse, adulthood requires choices. We cannot do everything, and we certainly can’t do it all at the same time. In order to keep life moving forward, some things must be ignored.

Some things are easy to ignore because they don’t really matter. At the end of life, few will regret having skipped The Bachelor or not having bought the newest Apple product the day it came out.

Unfortunately, it is also easy to ignore things that are important-but-not-urgent, particularly when it comes to our inner lives. Certain thoughts, feelings, questions and longings are inconvenient to a busy life. So we deal with them by pretending they aren’t there.

Fears about aging and death

Religious doubts

Anger, disappointment or resentment in a committed relationship

Inauthentic patterns of relating

Unaddressed trauma

Repressed individuality or creativity  

Regrets over paths not taken

Remorse for goals not accomplished

Resentment towards commitments

Over time, the long-term neglect of inconvenient thoughts and feelings cultivates feelings of exhaustion, deadness, boredom and stagnation. Life slowly becomes a joyless drag.

The things we avoid within ourselves don’t go away. Like warning lights on the dashboard of a car, they are signaling that something inside needs attention.

Eventually, the important-but-not-urgent has a way of becoming very-important-and-extremely-urgent. This is what we commonly refer to as a midlife crisis. A midlife crisis begins when the long-avoided parts of ourselves erupt like a volcano into our consciousness.

No one begins their adult life with the hope of having a midlife crisis. Affairs, convertibles, comb-overs, and dressing half one’s age have created an almost entirely negative reputation for this phase of life. These choices are not at the heart of the crisis. They are attempts to manage and avoid deep pain.

The midlife crisis is an important, necessary and even sacred rite of passage. It represents a transition in identity from phase one of life to phase two. Although it can be scary and uncomfortable, it is an impulse towards aliveness that can be embraced and explored.

Navigated successfully, a midlife crisis will provide a new set of the things to be ignored for the second phase of life.

We ignore…

…the illusion that our days will be endless.

…our fear of conflict.

…the pressure to conform to social, family and religious views without asking questions.

…the voice in our head that says we must feel guilty forever for our mistakes.

…perfectionism.

…the idea that we are not allowed to change.

With reflection, patience, conversation and exploration we can move through the crisis and finally connect with the vitality that has been trying to capture our attention.

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David Clinton

David Clinton

David works with adolescents as well as adults. His clients deal with a wide range of challenges including anxiety, depression, relationship and family conflicts, trauma, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and spiritual struggles related to mental health.

David and his wife live in the western suburbs on Chicago with their two children, who David says “fill my days with laughter, excitement and a significant amount of property damage.”

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David Clinton
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