For those of you that follow this blog you know I am a huge fan of Dr. Brene Brown, especially her Ted Talks. I’m currently listening to her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. The book, as the title says, is about finding your authentic self and living your life that way. In the book she talks about her experience of what she alternately describes as a breakdown or spiritual awakening. It is when her research about whole-hearted living led her to realize that the way she had been living was more about being who she was supposed to be instead of who she wanted to be.
This type of shift after 35 or 40 tends to be called a mid-life crisis, especially in men. I think it got that name because without a healthy way to deal with it many people did some drastic things. They may not have been healthier, just different.
I really enjoy the way Dr. Brown conceptualizes the process. She suggests that instead of a crisis it is more of an unraveling. Unraveling the pieces of how we live our lives because of family upbringing, peer pressure, social pressure, religion, cultural, etc. She suggests this is a natural process and I tend to agree. I believe one factor is that as we get older we start recognizing we have less time to be who we want to be and to accomplish what we want to accomplish than we did when we were 20. There becomes a sense of urgency to re-evaluate our lives.
There are a lot of forces at work in our lives that tell us who we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to act, what we should believe, what is right and what is wrong. But the truth is that not everyone has to choose the same path to happiness and/or success. In fact, we don’t even have to have the same definition of happiness and/or success.
Let me give you an example. Some years ago I served on an advisory board of a small college. One of the questions we faced was how to measure the success of the MBA program. One of the board members wanted to use a very traditional measure of comparing average salaries of graduates with a comparable group that didn’t have MBAs. Another person suggested that there were other ways to measure program success. That person had gotten their MBA to become self-employed and have more flexibility and to be their own boss. The first board member essentially told the second that they didn’t get my MBA for the right reasons!
The second board member could have leveraged an MBA into continually higher paying jobs, meaning more dollars. But they chose to do what made them happy. They wanted part of their compensation to be the ability to take off work on a beautiful summer day without having to answer to a boss. They chose to define success differently.
The fact is there is nothing wrong with either objective. Each one is valid in its own right. It is when we get caught up in believing that there is right way and try to force ourselves to behave that way that we start being unhappy. What you really want to do is find the right way for you and then embrace it. Embrace it in the choices you make about how you spend your time. Embrace it in the way you interact in relationships. Embrace it in what you choose for a career. In other words, live your life more authentically.
So start unraveling your life. It doesn’t need to be a crisis. It doesn’t have to mean huge, dramatic changes. Just start asking yourself, what am I doing because I’ve been told to do it and what am I doing because I chose to do it for me? As you re-knit the threads you’ve unraveled I’m willing to bet you’ll find yourself happier. You’ll find the nature of your relationships changing. You’ll experience the more authentic you.