The Puzzle: Response to the Thirty-Something Midlife Crisis

Honolulu Rainbow

Last week I published a post on travel and the thirty-something midlife crisis. In the article I discussed the seemingly high level of general dissatisfaction felt by many in Generations X and Y. I then discussed how this same malaise had struck my family, to the point where it was actually causing physical harm to my partner.

Ironically enough, on the day I hit the publish button on the post, my partner had a stress test where it was determined that his heart is not beating regularly and that he would have to start taking medication. He is thirty-one years old and the cardiologist said that his heart issues were entirely due to stress. His JOB has greatly increased his chance of having a heart attack.

In short, last week was the perfect storm of conflicting emotions. What was incredibly helpful to me during the start of this process of self-assessment were the dozens of comments the post received. At the time of writing, I had 44 thoughtful and inspiring responses. I wish I could highlight all of them, but that would make for a novella. Rather, I would like to reprint some of the thoughts.

Avril, from Got Passport:

“ This post literally made me weep as I know exactly, to the letter, what you are referring to…I’m determined not to wake up UNHAPPY at 50. I simply refuse. It is finally happening for us and it’s a painful process (it really is, at least for me it has been)…it’s now time to figure out how you will go about getting that very thing you want.”

Daryle wrote:

“ You put so eloquently into words many of the ideas I have been pondering for the last couple of years! I’m in a very similar situation. I’m nearing 40 and I have a good job, a wonderful partner who also has a career she loves, we own a home, and have a furkid :) I often ask myself if I am just going to continue on this same path for the next 20-30 years until I retire or try to get out and do something more interesting now. While I have not come to a conclusion about that yet, I’m so happy to find others who are questioning it and actually getting out there…”

Finally, Bethany of Beers and Beans:

“Your partner needs to get out. You need to get out. This blog is obviously the beginning of you starting the path. So you have a house and dogs? So what? You can still do it…What is the worst that can happen? The jobs you only half like will still be there when you get back. Maybe not the exact same job but something similar. ..The best that can happen? You both flourish, you spend time together, you learn to really love yourself, you find new ways to make life happen, you live life fully.”

I would also like to give a special acknowledgement to Spencer Spellman (Carolina Nomad), Keith Savage (Traveling Savage) and Adam Seper (Journey of a Travel Writer)  for their inspiration and advice.

The Answer

Everyone who goes through this process must take time to assess where they are in their life and where they want to go. This is necessarily an awkward and deliberate process and is unique to the individual.

Sometimes it will necessitate a drastic change in one’s life and for others it may mean a simple realignment of priorities. What is most important, no matter your ultimate destination, is to be honest and realistic about your life and your goals.

So, what are we going to do? Well, that is the proverbial million dollar question I suppose. While the notion of strapping on a backpack and leaving the real world behind is very attractive, it simply is not the right choice for us at the moment. This process though has helped us communicate better, determine what it is we really want out of life and how to best achieve those goals.

For the moment, I am going to continue growing my blog during the evenings and weekends and work hard at making it as successful as possible. I have some other ideas in the works, but for the moment that is all they are – ideas.

As I wrote in my original post, I firmly believe that I am finally asking the right questions and that through my blog and the people I meet along the way, I will receive the much anticipated answers.

Have you gone through a similar self-assessment? What changes, if any, did you make to your life?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

12 thoughts on “The Puzzle: Response to the Thirty-Something Midlife Crisis”

  1. Yes, I think you’ve got it. The answer is in the asking of this question. It’s the hardest part to come to this realization. What comes next, the answer, is important but different for everyone. It is a special moment when you “wake up” and understand that there could be more to it all.

  2. I just finished reading the article you referred to. It’s a great read. For me, it seems that it is only natural to be at least a little dissatisfied with your job. Even if it is something that you like to do, it takes up so much of your time and it makes me wonder if there is more out there that I could be doing. I don’t think that these questions will ever really go away, but they are definitely worth exploring.

  3. That is what my trip is about. I spent my 20s grasping at the corporate ladder and then once I achieved what I wanted I finally took the time to as myself if it was what I really wanted.

    Now the dreaded question is, if you could do anything, what would it be?

    I have no idea.

  4. TravelDesigned

    Trust me, life is NOT over at 30, 40 or even 50! But life does change and so do your expectations and goals.My advice: Embrace the change. Be happy and committed to being happy. You only have one life and your happiness depends on you.
    2 cents, please :)

  5. This response is more for your partner than for you but since I can’t talk directly to him, I’ll go through you in this comment. Patrick, my husband, was suffering from a bizarre disease before we left related to low blood pressure. The doctors couldn’t understand why a perfectly healthy 30 year old guy who had every other medical test well within limits, was suffering from extreme low blood pressure resulting in dizziness and severe exhaustion. After we left the United States, his medical issues evaporated within about a month and a half on the road. We were doing way more than we had done in the United States —- we were hiking nearly 4-5 miles every day — but Patrick was feeling better. We came back to the U.S. in December and Patrick worked full time for a month and, all of a sudden, his symptoms came back. His job was making him sick. He has a pretty high stress position involving managing dozens of people and negotiating with contractors and the stress was making him feel worse. Plus, when we were in the U.S., we didn’t have time to exercise which greatly improved his health. Once we figured out the correlation, Patrick talked to his company and was able to work out a system so he isn’t on the same high stress jobs he was working on before. His health is much, much better.

    I know what it’s like in Big Law and I won’t say that your partner has to get out because that may not be the only solution. What is clear though is that he needs to talk to someone at his firm about cutting back a little. If he works for a decent place, they should understand.

    I often worry about lawyers because we tend to be so achievement-driven that we forget about being happiness-driven. The legal profession is one of the few that tries so hard to push this “work-life balance” thing which seems insanely idiotic to me —- work is part of your life. They aren’t two separate entities that are each 50% of our beings — as if, the moment we go to work, we forget about our spouses/partners, kids/furkids, and other ambitions and, when we go home, we forget about our work.

    I really feel for your partner because I struggled so hard with all of these issues when I was working at my law firm and, except for one good friend at my law firm, nobody seemed to understand what I was going through. Thank goodness for her and for Patrick because they kept me sane. I hope that your partner has somebody in the legal profession who understands what he is going through but, if not, get in touch with me and I would be happy to talk to him about my experiences, at least.

  6. I have just read the above post and your post from last week. I totally recognise myself in it as far that Generation X has grown up to like what they do and change if they don’t like something. I am now 40 years old and have had many different jobs. I have also had many discussion with my worried father about not having a full-time ‘job for life’. I think by now he has resigned to the fact that I will never be like him, and I am lucky that my parents always just wanted their children to be happy in life. My father can see that I am happy, so he worries less.
    What struck me in you post from last week was your question what would happen if you and your partner travelled for 2 years and then returned. You were worried about your carreers be shot to pieces and not knowing how to handle that.
    I have left and come back three times, most recently two years ago. In my experience a long trip will change you, which means that coming back you will have changed and therefore be open to things that you might not consider before you leave. Don’t be afraid of taking the leap and leave. When you come back things will simply continue and fall into place, opening avenues you never thought there were.

  7. To me the most important thing here is that you are facing the issue head on. So many people ignore what is in front of their faces and “wake up” years down the line wondering how they missed it/ignored it.

    I really have loved this series of posts. It makes me feel less alone (not to mention the fact that so many of us has furkids!)

  8. Thank you all again for your great comments, I really appreciate them. I hear you about Scott (my partner) he works insane hours, but I’m trying to convince him that 12-15 hours a day at the office everyday isn’t a good thing. LOL

    I will continue this series over the next few months as things arise and as decisions are made. But I think we’re making the right decisions to limit the unhealthy aspects of our lives and focus on things that make us happier and healthier.

  9. If I could tell your partner one thing it would be not to wait until you get sick to start the process of making yourself better.

    Once something happens to you it is a lot harder to come back to a healthy state. There will be endless tests, drs appointments, stress of missing work because you are sick and not to mention lots of awesome medical bills and just the mental battle trying to overcome an illness. If I could do things over again I most definitely would have scaled WAY back on my work hours and taken better care of myself. I was in a highly stressful field and I truly believe that was why I got ill. Believe me my life would be a lot easier if I had taken the time out then.

    It may not be best to go backpacking but maybe you guys should take a vacation. It doesn’t have to be a long one, even a week will be fine but make sure it is somewhere far away. No cell, limited or no email – a true getaway. I find that is really hard to disconnect unless I am far away.

    12 – 15 hours isn’t good for anyone.

    Thanks for noting my other comment above :)

  10. I may have already said some of this in my comment on your previous post, but I just wanted to say that I can relate in many ways. While I long for the travel-filled days of my 20’s, it is not realistic for me to leave everything and travel long-term. Like you, I have started asking the questions, and my husband and I have made plans that take into account both our desire to travel and the limitations that our life now has– a small child, our house has decreased in value, 2 dogs, job and school life… For now we plan to travel during our vacations, my husband went back to school so that he can later have more freedom in his work and schedule, and we plan to move overseas in a few years. These things give me plenty to look forward to while still allowing me to take care of the life that we have. Best of luck with finding your way and with helping your partner make a positive change to something much less stressful.

  11. Thank you all once again for the AMAZING comments. You guys rock. :) We are currently trying to figure out ways for him to eliminate stress, but it’s not easy. It will take some work from both of us. I’m not sure exactly how things will shape out, but I am reasonably sure that within a couple of years we will be in a much better place.

  12. You realise that you need to make a change but unsure of what that it or means. I too spent many years doing exactly what you did and started writing…it will take a while but you will eventually come to a cross-roads and the way forward will be clear to you.

    It takes a lot to make changes from that which you have worked to set up but I feel for you it is inevitable.

    I am finally seizing the opportunity to do what I love…travel and give something back. I left behind a career but felt that it was no longer ticking the boxes…what next? Once we came to the decision it all fell into place…the common question we are asked is what will you do when you come back….our answer is frank ‘we don’t know if we are coming back or what the future holds’ but somehow we know that we will survive – what is the alternative? I feel so much different now that I’ve finished work and had a few months just healing my body in the aftermath.

    Given your partners health issues…don’t leave it too late. Life is too short and stress is a killer.

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