Today I took one of those Buzzfeed-like quizzes to determine whether or not I am having a midlife crisis. I know what you're thinking. How can 29 be considered mid-life? God bless you, but I'm actually 35. Fine, 41. The Buzzfeed results — granted, we're not talking a true clinical assessment here — implied that I am, in fact, showing symptoms of a midlife crisis. But instead of shopping for a new sports car, I'm looking around for something else.
Problem is, I don't quite know what that is yet.
The quiz asked me questions like, "Do you ever feel anxious about your life and the direction it's taken?" I mean, duh. "Do you feel cheated or let down by life?" Sometimes. And "Do you ever fantasize about ways your life could have been different or better?" Sure, who hasn't dreamed of becoming Mr. Shawn Mendez.
Don't get me wrong. I know on paper I've got it pretty good. A successful career I worked really hard for. A handsome, kind and funny husband who really gets me. An amazingly awesome kid that keeps me smiling. And some truly remarkable friends. So what do I have to complain about? Nothing, that's the strange part. I'm blessed with all that I have. I just don't always feel that way. Instead, I find myself looking for what's next… wondering what else life has to offer or more specifically, what else I have to offer it.
My "midlife crisis" comes after many years of going full speed ahead, chasing things like job titles and acceptance. But all I've really amassed was a big pile of responsibilities.
I've collected as many "things" as I can, I've impressed as many people as I can, I've gotten dream jobs, I've gotten promotions, I've saved money, I've set goals, I've reached goals. And I've always tried to do the right thing. So all this should lead to happiness and fulfillment, right? Spoiler alert. It doesn't.
After some serious soul searching, I've realized a big part of my so called "crisis" stems from the fact that my parents are getting older and, in some ways, their age is really starting to show, particularly with my mom who's struggling with dementia. This is one of those major events that forced me to reflect on what I've achieved in my life, and more importantly, what I haven't. It's very strange to suddenly make that shift from being cared for by mom to caring for mom. I look at her life and the things she wished she'd done differently, and I think, I don't want to have those regrets. I want to do those things now before it's too late. Because as they say, tomorrow isn't promised.
The second thing I learned after much introspection is that I'm not fulfilled professionally, which has lead me down a rabbit hole of questioning all my life choices. Like whether or not I can actually see myself continuing in the Advertising industry for the next 25+ years. And contemplating this is what keeps me up at night. Do I start over and go to grad school and begin my journey towards a second career this late in life? Will I be able to manage graduate-level coursework at my age? Can I financially afford to do this? Will this be good for my family in the long run? Or would I just be selfish for putting my happiness first for once? I don't know the answers, but at 41, I can't help but feel if not now, then when?
While I dream of a pressure-lite scenario that minimizes stress while enabling me to spend more time at home to be with my family, I think about the fact that Max will be off to college in nine years. Then what? What will satisfy me and feed my soul once I get my time back? What will my chapter two look like?
If I'm having these thoughts, I figure other gay dads are struggling with these same feelings, especially since many of us created our families a little bit later in life. So I threw myself into a ton of research, read a bunch of books and spoke to a handful of therapist friends and I learned different ways to cope with, manage and overcome a mid-life crisis. I've narrowed them down to nine tips that have inspired me as I navigate this life stage. Hopefully, they'll be useful to you, too.
1. Talk to Someone
Don't bottle up your feelings. Talk to someone you trust. Could be a friend, a colleague, your doctor, a trained counselor or a therapist. Ask yourself… have you lost interest in the things you've typically enjoyed? Do you feel pessimistic or hopeless more often than not? If so, you could be experiencing a mid-life crisis. And ignoring these symptoms could have some serious health implications. So start things off by going to your go-to. Confiding in that special someone will get things out in the open. And that's a great place to start.
2. Do a Life Audit
You may be feeling super dissatisfied right now and want to make some dramatic changes before it's too late. But, before you do, think long and hard about what's working in your life, as well as what isn't. Use this time to re-examine the things that are important to you. Has your sense of purpose changed or evolved? Here's some advice I wish I'd taken much earlier in life — don't compare yourself to others. It may seem, on the outside, that others have everything, but trust me, everyone's fighting some kind of battle they don't want you to know about.
3. Reframe Your Situation
Most of us think back to our younger years as the time of our lives. It's easy to forget the challenges and struggles we faced then (don't make me show you my High School yearbook photo!). Try to embrace the positive things about getting older. You're smarter. You've got experience… and you probably have more money, which means more security. Focus on what you still want out of life instead of thinking your best days are behind you. Because it's never too late to achieve new goals.
4. Pause Before Acting
Remember that song Impulsive by The Wilson Phillips? They were singing you bad advice. Sure, we're all tempted to follow our emotions and make drastic changes in a blaze of glory, but don't act too quickly and try not to be irrational. That means you probably shouldn't quit your job, get a face-tattoo, experiment with heterosexuality, or file for divorce without a lot of consideration and reflection. Instead, make logical changes that build on your skills, relationships and experience. Because, as we all know, making the wrong decision can result in terrible consequences — which could increase the intensity of your midlife crisis.
5. Embrace Your Creative Side
Everyone has a creative side. But many of us never show it. Now's your chance. Don't hide under "I'm not talented enough." That didn't stop Elizabeth Berkley from starring in Showgirls and it shouldn't stop you! Tapping into your creativity is one of the best ways to reconnect with your true self. So start writing in a journal. Learn how to paint. Take guitar lessons. Take a photography class. Not only are these things fun and relaxing, but they keep your brain active without feeling like work.
6. Be Thankful
Remember that Alanis song where she thanked India? (I know, sophomore albums are never as good as the first). Point is: Alanis was on to something here. Even though you're feeling dissatisfied with the way thing are currently going, it's worthwhile to sit down and make a list of everything you're thankful for. Doing this will take the focus off your problems and remind you that you have accomplished a lot in your life… so far.
7. Hang Out with Like-Minded People
They say being social is crucial to living a happy life. Thing is, most of us spend a majority of our time around people we don't necessarily enjoy: like annoying co-workers and the competitive parents of our children's friends (not you, Karen, you're the exception). Make the effort to find your tribe. Surround yourself with a community of people who share the same passions and interests as you. Call-up that old friend you once really connected with… because chances are they're going through something similar.
Laugh as Much as Humanly Possible
Whoever said, laughter is the best medicine wasn't lying. There are studies proving that laughter does great things for our psyche. Not only does it release endorphins and activate neurotransmitter serotonin, but it also relieves physical tension and stress, boosts the immune system and protects the heart. So instead of ending your day by watching the somber evening news, watch an episode of the Golden Girls or a little Carpool Karaoke with James Corden on YouTube. Lean into whatever it is that makes you laugh – and if you can't find anything good, check out my shirtless pictures on Instagram. That usually gets people laughing!
9. Appreciate the Life You Havw
Instead of resenting your responsibilities, think about all the things you are grateful for in your life. Every morning when you're brushing your teeth, try thinking about three things you are grateful for. Whether it's having a roof over your head, healthy children or hearing your favorite Whitney song on the radio. If you change your pattern of thinking, your behavior will follow suit. I know it's not always easy to focus on the good — you have to actually force it sometimes until they become a natural part of your life. Changing your mindset to one of appreciation and gratitude is the easiest and most profound change you can make in your life.
A midlife crisis doesn't have to be a crisis at all, but a chance for you to take control and make different choices in your life. So if you find yourself saying, "Is this all there is?" Ask instead, "what am I prepared to change?" Because no matter what age you are, every day provides an opportunity to do something new or change something old.