It can start from the inside, a deep rumbling that seems to say "Is that all there is?" Or it may come from the outside in the form of a crisis such as a health challenge, a death in the family, the loss of a job or relationship. Either way we end up feeling as if a hurricane has blasted through our lives and torn it wide open. Suddenly faced with our own mortality we are forced to examine who we are and what we want. Whether we call it midlife crisis, identity crisis or deadline decade, this is life's most dramatic turning point.
"Somewhere between 35 and 45 if we let ourselves, most of us will have a full-out
authenticity crisis." -- Gail Sheehy Passages
In astrology midlife is a complex period orchestrated by several planets and spread over a decade, from our mid-30s to mid-40s, but peaks around 42, thanks to change-at-all-costs Uranus, the planet of freedom, rebellion and individuation. Called the Great Awakener, Uranus is associated with breakdowns, breakthroughs and discoveries of all kinds: political, technical, creative and personal. This maverick takes roughly 84 years to return to the position it occupied at birth. Between ages 41 and 42 it reaches the halfway point -- an old life is over and a new one is about to begin.
"At midlife, the name of the game is change." -- Marianne Williamson
Around 40, we begin to question everything we've been doing, whatever we're put on the back burner during our 30s, while we were building a career or raising a family begins to call to us -- sometimes quite loudly. The person who married early and never dated may suddenly crave freedom. The playboy (or playgirl) finally settles down. At 41 Brad Pitt left his storybook marriage to Jennifer Aniston. At her midlife (in 2008) Carla Bruni, famous for her jet-set life, married President Nicolas Sarkozy and became the first lady of France. For many women it is suddenly essential to get pregnant: Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman and Mariah Carey all gave birth for the first time between 40 and 42. Other women decide to go back to school or return to the work place. For all of us there is a powerful desire to break free of some situation and find more meaning in our lives. At midlife we change our life, our "brand," sometimes even our sexual orientation.
"Midlife is when you reach the top of the ladder and find that it was against the wrong wall." -- Joseph Campbell
During her Uranus opposition, in 1994, Oprah took a big chance. She changed her television format and moved from being just another tabloid TV talk show to one that inspired and uplifted. Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly as a lesbian. In 1996 (at age forty-one) Steve Jobs returned to Apple, took control of the company, and brought it back from bankruptcy to profitability. Chaz Bono underwent female-to-male gender transition. Jay-Z became a father. Clearly not everyone will have a major crisis but if there's something that isn't working in our life or something we haven't explored or experienced, then we can no longer ignore it. Secrets are told, the truth comes out and lives are altered for better or worse.
Between 1999 and 2005 cyclist Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times. In 2012 (at age forty-one) he was exposed for having used illicit performance-enhancing drugs and was banned from competition. It's no accident that now, at age forty-two, the new documentary, The Armstrong Lie, has just been released putting him and his story back in the spotlight. Former child actor and teen idol Corey Feldman (age forty-two) has used his midlife to expel his own demons. In his riveting new book, Coreyography: A Memoir, he bravely reveals the details of his childhood sexual abuse and subsequent drug addiction as well as bring attention to what he calls Hollywood's biggest secret. Recently there's been a flurry of articles hinting at problems in Gwyneth Paltrow's marriage. It may turn out to be pure gossip, but what is certain is that at age 41, she could be in the midst of her own midlife crisis. What's essential for Gwyneth (or anyone in their early 40s) is to have the courage to confront whatever isn't working, take responsibility and make the necessary changes.
Since how we navigate this period will determine the second half of life, the stakes at midlife are high. Get it wrong and either we act out some adolescent fantasy and run the risk of throwing away a marriage or career, or else do nothing and resign ourselves to a life that's no longer relevant. Get it right and we're not so much running away from something, but going towards it. We break out of a rut, go for something we really want, and we're rejuvenated in the process. If we've made the right choices, then ultimately we're not different from who we once were -- we're more authentic and real. Or as they used to say in est (Erhard Seminar Training) in the 70s, "I used to be different; now I'm the same."