Sunday, May 27, 2007

I'm Either in my Midlife Crisis or Just Cranky

I recently read "Midlife Crisis at 30: How the Stakes Have Changed for a New Generation -- and What to Do About It" by Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin. My friends reading this post might wonder if I'm trying to fool someone into thinking I am still 30 myself. Now, when I got the call from my high school classmate to invite me to our 20th reunion this summer, I wondered how she ever made it through math (because that CAN'T be 20 years ago -- can it?) but I have to admit that I am well past 30 myself.

So what made me read this book? Because I am at a place in my life where I sometimes question the choices I have made and wonder where I am going from here. Because I have another year until my youngest child starts kindergarten, and I sometimes feel like that is a deadline for me to get back to work and do "grown-up" things with my life. Because I wonder why I spent so much money and effort on graduate school, then only used that degree for three years. Because sometimes I feel like I'm not very good at my current job (housewife & stay-at-home mom) and wonder if I should quit, or at least cut back on my hours. This is my "mid-life crisis".

Sure, these are the complaints of an over privileged person. Lots of people would love to be in my shoes, having so many choices. But this book points out that having seemingly unlimited choices is one of the reasons that many well-educated and successful women are anxious, questioning, and even unhappy. As thirty-ish women grew up, we were the first generation to be told, as a group, that we could do anything and everything. We could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and seduce our man (hopefully not while holding that pan of sizzling lard). And when we can't meet our high expectations, we blame ourselves.

The authors want to help women realize that their problems and situations are not individual, but actually common to their generation. The first part of this book features vignettes of women in their late twenties and early thirties. Some women wonder why they are thirty and still don't have a job with a high enough salary to pay off their student loans. Others have a great career, but worry that it will be destroyed if they take time to have children. Others identify so much with their jobs that they have no social life outside of work, and wonder if they will ever get married. Thirty is a difficult age for many women.

So what's the solution? The second part of the book consists of interviews with women well over 30, mostly baby boomers, talking about the difficulties they faced and how they addressed them. They are meant to be mentors for the younger generation. These women talk about the risks they took, the mistakes they made, and how they dealt with sexism, work/family balance, parenting, not being a parent, being fired, and changing careers. All these mentors have had successes, and provide reassuring stories about how they weathered the storms.

One flaw of the book is that these "mentors" are all conventionally successful: high-level executives, published authors, even a three-star general. There are very few examples of women who left the workforce completely, as I have done for the last four years. And yet I found it reassuring to read so many stories of women who faced many difficulties in their thirties, but can now look back years later and be proud of what they have made of their lives. There's hope still that someday I too will figure out who I want to be when I grow up.

And we can all start working on getting other women in this world into the envious position of wondering how they can do it all, rather than knowing they have no choices at all. But that is another book.

Thanks to Jennifer for lending me her book!


Kim said...

Well as you know I have already had a midlife crisis recently. It was my third. According to Gail Sheehy(SP) in the book "Passages" you will continue to have midlife crisis' until your 50s or 60s until (my theory) you are too old and tired to care. So hang in there, your time of worry will be over soon. In the meantime, be creative and have a positive attitude until the next one arrives. I have created a dart board with all the most interesting twists and turns that I think would add spice to my life. When my fourth crisis arrives I plan to be prepared. With a throw of a dart I can determine the next crazy direction that my life will go next. Hope this helps. I know I have never been an executive, but I like to think I have a lot of nifty advice that someone out there could use.

Rhea said...

I've been having midlife crises all my life. I am now in my 40s and am doing fine! I just call it being restless.