Youth, the Big Decisions, and the "Midlife Crisis"

I know I usually just post about photo and outdoor stuff here, but I need to shift gears here for a bit, write about some other stuff that’s been on my mind lately. To that end…

Youthful Decisions, Mid-life Effects
Not far back, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine, the kind where you talk about stuff you’re going through, stuff other friends/family/coworkers are going though, etc. Being men in our mid-40’s, it centers around a lot of the typical mid-life stuff: work stuff, marriage/relationship issues, various life goals achieved or missed, etc. As I was reflecting back on this conversation, I came to a conclusion…

It’s insane how many life-long decisions we make when we’re still young and stupid! Think about it: marriage, career, kids, perhaps place of residence - how many of these decisions are we making that we tie ourselves to for our ENTIRE LIVES when we’re in our early twenties, when we’re essentially still adolescents?

Many of the marriages that dissolve these days are happening at the mid-life stage and beyond, when couples get into their 40’s or even 50’s. Sometimes it’s because of a dramatic event like infidelity, but often it’s just because the couple “grew apart”. When many of these couples had made the decision to get married back when they were college-age, is it really surprising? How many of us are the same people at 40+ that we were at 20 or 25? Hell, looking at myself, I hardly recognize the guy I was back at the age when I got married. People grow and change; sometimes this growth/change for each member of the marriage happens in a complementary way so that the couple actually grows stronger, but what happens when they grow in divergent ways? Is it surprising that the splits happen then? So then, why do we make it so easy for people at such early ages enter into a legally binding contract that is meant to last FOR LIFE? Then, when it doesn’t work out, we make it incredibly hard to get out of. It seems crazy.

Career choice is another interesting area where we make a seemingly lifelong decision when we’re incredibly young. Is it really expected that we should only have a professional passion for ONE THING for the entirely of our working lives? And that we should really know with certainty what that lifelong passion will be at 22? Now, one can ostensibly change careers at any point during their lives, but let’s admit that it’s not easy, particularly the further along the you get, and especially if you get established in a field that you’re experienced in and pays you well. Money doesn’t equal interest or passion, though. I love tacos, but I wouldn’t want to have tacos for dinner EVERY night for the rest of my life. We make such a decision about our work lives, though, and then we act incredulous when someone complains about their “great career” when they’re seemingly at the height of it: “How can they be burned out? They have everything!” (“they’ve got tacos!”)

I don’t think this issue is quite as prevalent as others, but it definitely comes up for many, and it’s usually tied to the other two issues I mentioned above. Often people have to make a choice on where they live very early on in adulthood, usually tied to the choices they made related to marriage or career, or perhaps just to be close to other family. Then they get tied into a mortgage… Later, perhaps they think, “this place doesn’t work for me anymore,” but then they’re stuck because their employer requires them to stay at their current location, or the spouse doesn’t want to move, etc. Again, tied to the choices of youth…

So the question is, why do we setup our society this way? Why do we suggest to everyone that they should lay out the plan for their entire life at 22, and if they deviate from that, there’s something wrong with them? “How dare you not still be in love with that person you committed to at 22, even though you’re both completely different now?” “No, don’t change careers after 20 years! You’re all set! So stick to that profession that you’re no longer interested in, because you should still be passionate about the same things you were at 22!” Etc., etc…. Does it not seem a bit ridiculous? It’s no wonder so many people have what’s commonly, dismissively referred to as a “mid-life crisis”. It’s no fucking mystery what’s happening with these people: they’re finding themselves stuck in these decisions they made when they were essentially still kids. Maybe the marriage doesn’t work for them anymore, but now they’ve got the kids, mortgage, etc., so it’s not so easy to get out. Maybe they’ve lost all interest in their career, but it pays the salary to support the kids, mortgage, etc. Is it any wonder they feel trapped?

Now, I’m not suggesting any of these things is a problem for all. As I said early on, many people get married young and grow together stronger throughout their marriages, more in love at 80 than they were at 20. Likewise, some people face retirement at 65 and still can’t imagine giving up the careers they’ve been working for over 40 years. However, all I’m suggesting is that, when they don’t, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised or demonize them. People can change a lot over the course of becoming fully realized adults, and if those changes require a change of course, why try to stop it?