It's complicated. I'll say right from the start, don't expect a tidy discourse on the subject, because I certainly don't have it all figured out.
You just can't be the same person you were at 20. It's easy to be optimistic when you're young. But now you find yourself in an odd place in society — maybe an unknown place, or even an invisible one. Maybe if I had kids, I would just be in the "parent" role, and that would define everything. But this is sort of like a nowhere zone. It includes this vague sensation that there's absolutely nothing bright or interesting in my future, assuming I were to maintain the present course. Maybe that's the whole crux of the "mid-life crisis" thing — the feeling that the course needs to be changed, somehow, and not knowing what that change needs to be.
I suppose the first logical question is, what is it that makes it seem like the course needs changing? Three things come to mind:
- unmet needs,
- unhealed wounds, and
- the degree to which you feel you are fulfilling your purpose in life.
Forgive me, first of all, if I speak too much in generalities; naturally, these are all personal observations and private opinions. If they resonate with you, fine; if not, please disregard. It is a blog, after all.
In any case, unmet needs certainly cause one to feel restless. I would divide this into 2 categories: emotional and social; of course there may be others. On the first point, I would say that everyone needs to feel loved, accepted, and valued. I think one can start to feel a bit of a strain in this area, in the absence of strong, well-established relationships, due to the fact that we live in a culture that puts all its value on youth, beauty, and financial success, and if you're over 40, you know you're really not even in the game. Under the second point I would include the need for affection, fellowship and intimacy — the need for deep, meaningful relationships.
Unhealed wounds would include the disappointments and emotional injuries that have accumulated over the past couple decades. Pain of any kind tends to motivate a person to seek a state of relative comfort, whether or not such a state can reasonably be achieved. So, while these may not be easily resolved, or whether they can be resolved at all, still I think they contribute to that restless desire to bring about change in one's life.
Finally, I believe that we were all created for a purpose, and because of this, we all have a need to feel useful, and to feel that we are doing something that matters. I don't know what it is about this phase of life that causes one to reflect on such things, but I do think it natural to evaluate this issue, and consider to what degree one is fulfilling one's purpose in life — or to discover that purpose if it is not yet known. This again can motivate one to contemplate various changes.
One other thing that comes to mind (I said this wasn't going to be a tidy discourse), is the desire to broaden one's experiences. We're rich, complex people, and perhaps most of us have not had sufficient opportunities to fully develop our potential as human beings. The natural desire, then, is to seek out experiences that will cause us to continue to grow and mature.
Well, so. This is probably a good place to take a break. Now that we've got some of these issues more or less defined, next time I'll take a look at the tricky question of what to do next.