This post is part of a Series.
In Part 1, I discussed the phases of adult life according to Levinson, and ‘revealed’ that I am in a mild but real mid-life crisis. In these adult transitions, we are essentially redefining ourselves – what we believe, what we think will make us happy, and what we plan to do.
But before I get to a plan (Part 3), I would like to rant to express the thoughts and feelings that myself and many men have at mid life, esp. after a financial or health crisis. That is, I would like to express the dissatisfaction that arises in mid life.
Now, I know that no one likes to hear complaining. In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “Don’t complain, take action!”
But sometimes, before you can change or plan, you need to get the ‘yuck’ out onto the table. Hey, if you want something positive out of this post, check out Jones’ thoughtful and helpful book on midlife, In the Middle of This Road We Call Our Life: The Courage to Search for Something More. Then read on.
1. Dissatisfaction with my Finances
Three years ago, we lost our house in the housing collapse. And by the way, no, we were not just stupid greedy people who over-borrowed on ARMs – we were people who wanted to get a home before even the homes 60 miles from decent employment were over $500K here in California. Even now, after some ‘recovery,’ if I want to own a modest 4br home within 30 minutes of work, I need to spend about $550K. And I don’t get paid enough to afford that on one income (which is why many households here are dual income, and these women are not at home for their children after school or even during pre-school ages – it’s tragic).
So, when we lost our house, we also lost half of our retirment savings, which we borrowed against to get the home in the first place. Then, to get out from almost $1M in loans (we had a second, rental home), I had to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which essentially wiped out the rest of my retirement.
Strangely, I kept my job throughout, so we were not destitute. But where am I now? Almost 50 years old, very little retirement savings, no home or equity, and somehow, even though I’m well paid, we are living paycheck to paycheck. What is wrong with this picture? Where does the money go?
Well, I feed 6 mouths. I spend $25 per day on gas commuting to work. I spend $50 a month for home internet, and $40 for cable TV, $8 for Netflix. $110 for our two smart phones. I don’t have a land line. Or premium channels. I have two cars, one with 160K miles, the other (mine) with 340K miles on it. I am eating out less, only spending $20 a week, and bringing my lunch to work.
I’ve done a budget, but the regular accounting of it is a pain. And I don’t want my wife to return to work, even though the kids are now all in school. Why? Because (a) she leads a powerful MOPS ministry, (b) she is present in the kids’ school, (c) she’s home for the kids, and they get off earlier than I remember (1:30 or 2:30), and (d) she makes our house a home by cooking wonderful meals and just being present.
Now, I hear you severe types volunteering that I could tighten my belt, get rid of cable and netflix, make my wife go back to work, eat more beans and rice (which is delicious), buy a Corolla, and in general live more like my grandparents during the previous depression.
But the question of my finances is actually deeper than that. You see, if I had a choice (and I do), I would take a pay CUT if I could change my vocation. So I’m not just talking about saving money here – I’m talking about wanting changes that might LOWER my income.
2. Dissatisfaction with My Work
Work, like taxes, is a necessary evil. However, “how much” and “what kind” of work (or taxes) is what really makes the difference here. We all have to find the balance between paying the bills and doing what we love for a living.
There is no shortage of books on the subject, and many of them are merely the latest fad. Two books that withstand the scrutiny of time and intellect are Nelson Bolles’ perennial best seller What Color is Your Parachute, as well as the practical but inspiring newer title, Do More Great Work.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s complain. I spend the BEST 10 hours of every weekday doing something I just don’t care about – developing web applications. I USED to like it, but my values have changed as I’ve gotten older. I’m not so enamored with technology as I used to be. I am more enamored with spiritual things now, and more specifically, the spiritual formation and care of other people.
But I have a problem – that work, at least initially, and probably always, pays less than what I am doing. Not only that, after 11 years at the same company, I have 6 weeks of paid vacation a year, maybe more. Can you say ‘golden handcuffs’?
Now, a single person might say ‘just make the sacrifice, don’t be selfish.’ But less money isn’t just about me. It’s about saving for my retirement years with my wife. It’s about kids college education. It’s about actually owning a home. It’s about paying for a late in life college degree now that I have something I really want to study.
But the fact remains – the best hours of my waning time on this earth are spent in half hearted work towards a goal that is not much greater than making money and doing a decent job at it. I get it, I could have no job, or a worse job. But when I get home after a 90 minute commute, do you know how much energy I have for the pursuits I love? Not just that, but when I get home, I only have about 90 minutes to spend with my young children before I put them to bed, then only about an hour with the wife whom I want to know and love. THEN, by 10PM, I get time for myself? You call that a life?
I hear you practical people saying “that’s life, learn to live with it.” I’m sure they told Edison that too. I want more from life before I die. I don’t want to ‘die with my music in me.”
3. Dissatisfaction with my Health
One of the attributes that distinguishes mid-life from the 30 crisis is that, for the first time, you get a real sense of your closeness to death. You have persistent pains and injuries that you know won’t resolve. Your boobs are sagging, even if you are a man. And you notice that you have less energy and mental clarity than you did in your 30’s.
If, like many men, you gained a permanent injury in your 30’s from overly aggressive athletics, your physical fragility in your late 40’s makes you realize that your best years might be behind you, physically speaking. Time is getting short!
Sure, you could try P90X or start marathoning like your 30-something contemporaries, but you lack the drive to do so. And your joints just can’t take that anymore.
There are lots of solutions and steps you can take, but right now, I’m just venting. Don’t give me answers yet! That’s not how the process works.
4. Dissatisfaction with my Progress
It starts when your doctor is younger than you. Then the President of the US and JJ Abrams is younger than you. And you realize – you’ve been scattered and unfocused, and have hardly accomplished a thing so far. Were all those hours of playing Quake or Candy Crush really worth it?
It’s not that I need to be more accomplished than famous people – I just have this loudly nagging sense that I’ve not nearly developed or applied my potential to life. I haven’t’ nurtured and developed and invested my own self. Time to crap or get off the pot! Time to get serious! Time to stop wasting what I’ve been given.
So all of this dissatisfaction really leads to the ultimate question of mid life. What is worth doing? And THAT is the subject of Part 3.