“I want to change my life. I want to find a new sense of meaning. I want to reconnect to the meaning that once drove everything I did”
I’m having a midlife crisis. A midlife existential crisis to be exact. It took me a while to realize this is what I was experiencing- am experiencing. And before you think I’m just being plain old dramatic, let me explain.
I’m familiar with adversity. Not just familiar, but comfortable with it. I thrive on it. Through a variety of luck and not-the-most-awesome decisions, the last 6 or 7 years have been tough.
I was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses- Hashimoto’s and Lyme disease- and have undergone a whole host of treatment protocols, sometimes upwards of 60+ daily pills, restrictive diets, IV treatments, and dozens of tests. These have had varying degrees of success, though none have put Lyme into what anyone would call remission and more often than not, I deal with rather intense joint pain, headaches, and fatigue.
Another chronic, incurable disease of mine- Charcot Marie Tooth (yes, it’s actually called that, CMT for short), a genetic, degenerative neuropathy- has progressed substantially, leaving me with rapidly declining balance, tons of foot pain, and shaky hands. So I fall a lot, can’t wear heels anymore, and only write with felt tip pens now. (I wrote all about it here: I have a disease I don’t talk about, but I think I might start).
I’ve had multiple injuries, requiring one surgery and several months on crutches.
When my parents put nearly all of their possessions into storage while they built a new house, someone at the storage company removed all of their belongings and sold them all. Every childhood photo, every antique from 3 generations of my family, and every carefully piece of art. Everything. All of it.
I married a man I thought I would love and who would love me back for the rest of my life. And I divorced that same man after years of constant criticism, a rising temper, and-if I’m being truly honest with myself- verbal abuse that took me years to process.
I only share all of this to make clear that I know how to deal with loss, with challenge, and with the tough stuff that life sends our way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve also experienced wonderful things (growing a challenging and rewarding business, adopting an absurdly loving and sweet dog, going to night school to complete my MBA, and falling in love with a man who actually loves me for me) and when it comes right down to it, my life is one shaped by privilege and good fortune.
And so when a few months ago, I went through a professional upheaval and a betrayal that I can’t talk about, but that absolutely rocked me to my core, I braced myself for the standard rollercoaster of emotion I’m used to when facing and recovering from one of life’s inevitable hits.
I knew that it would take work, self-reflection, and a positive attitude to get through it. And I knew or thought I knew that it would feel devastating at first, but over time my high spirits would return and I’d feel stronger than ever. I was ready. I knew how to manage this. I’d done it so many times before. But this time, well, it’s different.
Oh the existential questions
There is something about this most recent experience that took me deeper than my typical process of getting through the hard times. I didn’t bounce back the way I’m used to. I couldn’t find that silver lining- or I could, but I didn’t really feel it. It felt hollow. And I felt…sad.
The situation is, indeed, a tough one, but this time it’s about more than this single situation. It’s deeper than the choices I made to get me into this situation in the first place. No, the challenge here is an existential one, not a situational one. It’s about who I am as a person, not about what I’ve done to get here.
I’m not sure if this is simply the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, the last of a long line of poor choices, leading me to finally question absolutely everything or if there’s something different about this circumstance in particular. And I don’t know that it matters.
What matters is that I’ve come to a realization. A big one. I’m here facing the fact that I’ve spent a lifetime desperately trying to avoid winding up alone. It’s the fear that underlies everything I’ve ever done- or at least every mistake I’ve made. Every poor choice. Every negative pattern. It’s why I am not the best friend, despite my genuine love for the people in my life and my desire to show that affection and support. It’s why I am terrible at reaching out, whether for help, celebration, or connection. I’m afraid of rejection. It’s why I used to rush into romantic relationships with men wholly ill-suited to be long term mates. And it’s why I have rushed into business partnerships over and over again only to be disappointed a few days, weeks, or months later.
You better work…
Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’d made it this far in my life- all 37 years!- without doing the kind of personal work that one does to uncover these existential realizations. In fact, I have been committed to this work.
Hell, all of my social media handles and even my business is called A Better Jones because I have been maybe a little obsessed with being a better version of myself.
I’ve been in and out of therapy for the last two decades.
8 years ago, I spent a week doing incredible intense personal work at the Hoffman Institute, where I made huge leaps forward, healing my relationship with my parents and finding a sense of faith in myself that previously had been impossible to even imagine.
And in the 2.5 years after my divorce, I probably spent about 80 hours in therapy, facing some hard truths about how I’d wound up in such a devastatingly dysfunctional marriage and learning how to be in a healthy partnership with someone who actually loves me for who I am, instead of some ephemeral idea of who I could or should be.
One experience changes everything
But it wasn’t until this most recent blow that I realized how deep these patterns ran. I knew they affected my romantic life- because holy moly that part of me was always such a mess- but I never really took a hard look at my lack of friends, my struggle to form close and long-lasting bonds with women, my tendency to jump into business opportunities without evaluating them with diligence and objectivity.
So when I started back up with therapy and working through the hurt from this recent experience, I was shocked when I realized I was struggling to shake this despair.
You see, I was always the girl that soldiered on, that dug in, that summoned my grit and kept on chugging. But this time a depression settled in that I couldn’t shake- at least not until I started to realize that this wouldn’t be about muddling through. This would be about changing everything. And it’s made me question everything- about who I am and who I want to be.
So here I am. In the midst of a midlife crisis. It’s not our father’s midlife crisis. I don’t want to start dating a 23 year old or driving a sports car. No, I want to change my life. I want to find a new sense of meaning. Or rather, I want to reconnect to the meaning that once drove everything I did.
Back to basics
In the startup world, the entrepreneurial life, we spend so much time focusing on the money flowing in, the traffic to our site, the likes or shares of our content, the logos on our website. And I’ve been caught up in it for too long.
When I was younger, all I wanted to do was change the world. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make the world a little more fair, life a little more just. It’s time for me to get back to that purpose. And to learn how to cultivate a genuine connection to others in the process. To remind myself that I am not alone. I never have been.
I’m realizing that perhaps coping with this experience, this midlife existential crisis of mine, is not all that different from the adversity I’ve muddled through before. You see, I’ve learned over the last decade or so, that the solution, every single time, is to find the lesson, to seek out that silver lining, that promise of progress.
It’s not always easy. Hell, it never is, but for every deeply troubling experience I’ve gone through, I’ve learned something important about life and my place within it, and that learning has cultivated a resilience that leaves me stronger each time.
At first, it seemed like that wasn’t an option here, but even though the nature of this crossroads is an existential one, the lesson is still there. Except this time, the lesson isn’t about life in general, the world in which I live, or even the changes I can make to improve my place within it.
The lesson is not about becoming a new person, learning a new skill, or even growing into a new role. No, this time the lesson is about returning to the me that has always been there, the values, the dreams, the vision that I have always had for my place in this world. The me that during my pursuit of personal growth, finding the right partner, building a career and then a business, and just getting ahead has been ignored, diminished, and passed over.
I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes, when getting through the bleakest periods of our lives feels insurmountable, as corny as it sounds, the answer is within us. It’s been waiting there all along, biding its time, whispering in our ears, hoping someone would notice. And well, I’ve noticed. Finally.
While I don’t have it all figured out (do we ever, really?), I have some plans that I’m shaping, some conversations I’m having, and some dreams of how I (and A Better Jones) can rise from the fire of this existential midlife crisis not as someone or something new, but as a more centered, more grounded, and yet, a more inspired version of myself.
If you have a similar dream, a plan in the works, or an idea you’d like to share, get in touch. I can’t do this alone and I sure as hell don’t want to.