My five step plan for coping with a mid-life crisis

Taking inspiration from contemporary dance and mixed metaphors

My five step plan for coping with a mid-life crisis

Sometimes it can feel difficult to make your voice heard, to have an impact, to feel like you’re making a difference to the people and the world around you.

You can feel lost, overwhelmed and a little powerless as the millions of people around you busily go about their daily lives, politicians bluster about things that seem important but remote, and the media constantly reminds us how bleak the outlook for everything is.

I was recently on a flight from Melbourne to Auckland, watching the movie Step Up 4 (surprisingly good), and in a small but powerful cameo, contemporary dance choreographer Mia Michaels said to one of the main characters:

‘Emily you are being blown like a leaf around this dance studio — take control.’

Wise words, and it is important to try and take some control of some of the key pillars of your life — it may not be possible to control everything, but even the process of beginning to take control of those things that you can will be an empowering first step.

This is what I’m telling myself anyway.

Turning 40 was a time of real change for me — I was single for the first time in many years, and I took a voluntary redundancy from a company where I’d worked for ten years. None of those were necessarily negative developments in my life, but it definitely felt as if some of the major things that used to be stable and constant were now no longer quite so certain.

I’m now approaching my 50th birthday, and if anything I’m feeling less certain about everything, but also somehow less worried about what happens next. However there’s some days when I do feel like a leaf, being blown around a dance studio.

Here’s the five step plan that I’m following to try to help me cope with those days when it’s tempting to succumb to a mid-life crisis. I’m making no assurances that it will be right for anyone else, but take from it what you will.

Step 1: Work

My career path has never been particularly defined, but I'm now working as a freelance writer.

There's a lot more to writing than just bashing out some words on a keyboard - I've had to teach myself about analytics, advertising, marketing, client management, podcasting, changing audience trends, emerging technologies, and the evolving distribution landscape.

I've never worked harder - every day, my list of things to do always outweighs the time available.

I’m not earning a fortune, but I’m enjoying what I'm doing. I like working in a field that is changing so rapidly that there’s not really any experts — everyone is muddling through with trial and error, and every day is a school day.

Step 2: Relationship

When I was younger I struggled a bit with what a successful gay relationship would look like — if I’m honest, I’m probably still struggling with that. It’s hard to escape that background concern about what happens as you get older — the fear of growing old alone.

Over the years, I've had numerous relationships. Some better than others, some lasting longer than others.

Right now, I'm single. I'm okay with that.

Step 3: Health

I’ve really fallen off the regime in terms of my health, and it’s probably the key pillar that I need to prioritise and focus on. When I turned 40 I was probably the healthiest I’ve ever been — I spent a lot of time at the gym, I had a personal trainer, I was eating right, and looking good.

However the uncertainty around my work, and the financial fragility that seems to bring with it, means that I’ve been finding lots of excuses to avoid exercise, drink too much, and make poor food choices.

So, here we are, ten years later, and I’m probably the unhealthiest that I have ever been. That needs to change.

Step 4: Family

My family are a bit spread out, so contact can be a bit sporadic.

I'm trying to make an effort to visit and spend time with them wherever they are - especially my parents, but also my siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.

The older I get, the more I value my family. It's very Vin Diesel.

Step 5: Community

Possibly the most intangible of the pillars of your life, ‘community’ is important in the sense that you need to feel some sense of engagement or connection with the world around you.

That doesn’t necessarily mean saying ‘good morning’ to all of your neighbours, or volunteering at the local cat shelter, but it’s important to find something that’s meaningful for you — that you can commit to, invest in, and feel part of.

I went through a phase of being a bit obsessed with gay sports. It started with a tentative attempt to play water polo with London’s gay water polo team. I quickly realised that I’m not much good at water polo but I loved being part of a team, hanging out with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, feeling a real sense of camaraderie.

Having retired from my international water polo career, I haven't quite found anything to replace that. Definitely something that I need to work on.

‘Emily you are being blown like a leaf around this dance studio — take control.’

Follow Gareth Johnson on Twitter