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How come every time a guy turns fifty and buys himself a sports car, it is assumed he must be going through a “midlife Crisis”? Why can’t he finally decide that half his life is over and it’s time to take better care of himself and get his act together. The concept of mortality does appear to carry a lot of weight in terms of helping people finally decide to make some changes, even more so than New year’s Resolutions which repeat year after year. The problem however is that society and stereotypes often turn obvious change into some sort of problem. When people make changes often times the stereotype is that they must be “on drugs” or going through some sort of crisis. Why can’t the change just be part of an awakening or psychological growth?
Take our 50 year-old example, Ray, and a look into why he decided to buy himself a Porsche for his 50th birthday last year. He has done well in his career, has a family, works out, and has also decided to take up the piano at the ripe age of 50. His father died at the early age of 60 and he wants to live a long and happy life. What’s the problem here? Well, to begin with, his closest friends are convinced his must be in some sort of crisis. Why?
A healthy 50 year-old person is one who takes healthy ownership of themselves by taking care of their physical health, their family, their finances, their friendships, and also has some sort of a passion that they can be creative with. If this sounds like a tall order, it is but this is normal healthy development for a person turning 50. However, many observing this in another might conclude something is very wrong if they themselves are not doing the same thing.
How come this happens? People who tend to label others are frequently very unhappy and unfulfilled individuals who may actually be in some sort of developmental arrest. These are the same dynamics we see in bullies. Because of their unhappiness, they make others unhappy and cannot wish another well. Envy is at the base and a tendency to criticize others as a means of making themselves feel less vulnerable.
If each person turning 50 could just strive to be healthy, maybe what has been mis-named as a crisis could be seen in the positive light of healthy growth. Wouldn’t that be nice? So, the next time you see Ray behind the wheel of his shiny red Porsche, remember that maybe he has actually found happiness and is not some sort of unhappy middle-aged man.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.