While in academia, fresh after tenure, I remember walking with my dad and asking the question, "What is a mid-life crisis, really? What's it about?" He responded that as people reach middle age it's natural to reflect on life; to notice if their lives are meaningful and fulfilling. I paused, then blurted: "But if your career and your values are inline, then everything should be okay, right?" In hindsight, I felt defensive when I spoke these words, as if making the case to myself. Indeed, my core values—then and now—are to teach, express, connect, learn, grow, help, and serve. Ostensibly, my career and values were inline.
Years later, I sat with my husband in our favorite Mexican restaurant. It was the first week of classes and I felt soul-tired. I described my feelings in raw detail. He looked at me and asked, "Is this your mid-life crisis?" Again, I felt defensive: "No. It's more like mid-life deep reflection." He looked at me in that knowing way, and I smiled even through my tears.
In the ensuing weeks, as I made the decision to resign, Mark stressed to me, "You're getting caught on the wrong detail. Within the phrase 'mid-life crisis' the most important word is not 'mid-life,' it's 'crisis.' You are in crisis." I opened (again and again) to my vulnerability and realized his words were true. I was in crisis. My inner and outer lives were severed. I was trying to "solve" a puzzle by re-arranging pieces within my career. But this wasn't a puzzle to solve, it was a life to live, with intention and care.
I no longer react defensively to the phrase "mid-life crisis." (In fact, it makes me smile.) After dropping my identity as an academic, I let go of many limiting beliefs that stunted my growth and narrowed my view. And I see this as an important, life-long process.
To learn more about my transition from statistics professor to mindfulness teacher, you can read this interview in River + Bay: "Dispatch from Midlife." (Deep thanks to my friend, Joanna, who saw me as an interesting subject. Thanks also to River + Bay, which is a beautiful place to connect with community.)