For someone who is so anal and organized and a total homebody, I’m also a free spirit and every few years, I need to feed that spirit. I’ll suddenly get an itch and need to go somewhere stat, and I’ll pack up and move on a whim. During my last quarter life crisis, I moved across the country with Andrew, months after we started dating, leaving my dream job and dream city behind. After my senior year of high school, I was feeling restless waiting to start college, so I headed off to the woods to be a camp counselor at an overnight camp for two months, a camp I had never attended no less. And now, I feel like I’m starting to experience the mid-30s life crisis.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the parenting version of the quarter life crisis (although I did google it, and a mid-30s life crisis is a thing), or maybe it’s just me, but I’m feeling super restless right now. So many of our friends are moving to the burbs and settling down and here I am, thinking maybe I want to move to Hong Kong or to California or start a new business or go back to school (I’ve been spending a lot of time at the doctor recently and made me wonder if I should have been a doctor or a nurse. Oh, and I hate blood btw — what is wrong with me?). Maybe it’s just that I’m over the city life and grind and actually ready for the burbs (check out more on my thoughts about moving to the burbs here) and working on a house and nesting. That’s actually the most confusing and stressful part of this all – I feel stuck because I feel torn in two directions. I want an adventure and then I also want a house and backyard and place to start making our own. I still go back and forth as to whether we’re/I’m ready for the burbs, or if I’m just ready for a new city or career or other life change. Aren’t I supposed to have this figured out at this point in my life? Is something wrong with me, or is having a mid-30s life crisis a real thing?
I didn’t think I’d be this confused about what I wanted to do with my life at this point. I thought this was something you go through in your early 20s and once you hit 30, you feel a sense of certainty about your life and what you want. Not so much. I’m still waiting to feel like an adult who has it all figured out and feels confident in her choices. Having a kid does complicate it and in some ways feel like it limits the choices, though James is still young enough where I feel like the choices aren’t truly that limited. Perhaps it’s also knowing that while right now, we could still pick up and go, it will be a lot harder to that once he’s in school and as we grow our family. Maybe it’s a sign I am ready to grow in my career or maybe I just need a hobby, but then sometimes I worry I’m supposed to have done something entirely different with my life, like be a doctor (even though I hate blood) or be an interior designer because I secretly love decorating and have spent my free time rearranging furniture ever since I can remember. But then I think about starting over and going back to school and I think I’m way too old for that and what about the career and life I’ve worked so hard to build? This definitely feels like a dilemma I should have had a long time ago, and yet here I am, experiencing a mid-30s life crisis, and I can’t help but think something is wrong with me.
Sometimes I think I’d be happier in a different city. New York City is such a grind and you’re constantly competing — for space, for a spot on the subway or sidewalk, in your job, to get into schools (even preschools)… It’s just so much and it’s hard. Don’t get me wrong, when I leave I’m often reminded it’s the greatest city in the world, and there’s truly nothing like it, but it’s also exhausting, deflating at times, and you never feel like you have enough — money, space, prestige, whatever it may be. There’s also the fact that sometimes I think I’d be so much happier in a small town, in a house with a big yard, and a quieter, easier life. But then I wonder if I’d miss the drive and would I lose my edge, and would I relate to the people? Would I be annoyed when people didn’t walk fast enough or get weirded out when strangers said hi?
I read once that if you’re not sure what to do, you should sit with the uncertainty until you figure it out. That sitting with uncertainty and indecision is so hard for us, but sometimes that’s where we’re meant to be and where we’ll grow the most. That goes against my doer ethos and the counterpoint is that stuff doesn’t just happen to you, you have to make it happen. Part of me is like if a move or big change is meant to be, it will happen like if one of us gets a job offer we can’t refuse somewhere or something like that. But then I fear what if that never happens and our whole life is just moving to burbs and living in the same house for 40 years rather than making things happen for ourselves? Idk. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad? But I also wonder if that sitting with uncertainty thing is all just an excuse to sit and do nothing rather than taking charge of my life and figuring it out. Like if I want to move to California, then I need to make it happen. The thing is though, I’m so riddled with indecision, I’m not even sure I want to move to California or if I’d be happy there. See what I mean about indecision and uncertainty? What is wrong with me? Why don’t I know what I want or have any direction?
You have the time to catch your breath and take stock of where you are in your life.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my mid-30s life crisis. Yeah, it’s totally a thing. I thought after the quarter life crisis I had at 25 (which is also a thing btw) and our epic move across the country, I was done… at least until my kids left for college and I had a freakout or whatever. But nope. Turns out, that a lot of people, women in particular, go through this in their 30s. Seriously. I googled mid-30s life crisis and there are like a million articles on it, which actually made me feel much better. Some of the theory behind it is that after so many changes in your 20s — going to college, finding a job, maybe moving cities, making new friends, building relationships, changing careers — in your 30s, you start to settle, in your career, in your relationship, in where you live, etc.. And then you finally take a breath and question it all.
As this article I found on Psychology Today says, “You have the time to catch your breath and take stock of where you are in your life”. While this seems like a good thing, it also means you start questioning if where you are is where you should be and why you aren’t somewhere else yet. Actually the article gets a bit bleak and depressing though there’s a lot I relate to. However, I did find this advice helpful: “It’s not that you’ve not done anything wrong so far as much as you need to reconcile the who you have become with the life you’ve created.”
It’s not that you’ve not done anything wrong so far as much as you need to reconcile the who you have become with the life you’ve created.
This line about feeling trapped also resonated with me: “Realize though you may feel trapped at times, that you are actually never trapped and it is matter of realizing your choices, however limited right now they may seem.” It can feel like you’ve put so much into one career path, relationship, whatever that you can’t turn around and start over, or it can feel like now that you have kids or a mortgage or whatever that you can’t change career paths or start that new business or maybe get out of a relationship. But who says we can’t start over at any age? You made it work before, you’ll figure it out now. Plus, you have so much more experience, connections, knowledge, and resources than you did before. Yes, more responsibilities but also more ability to be successful. As I said, the article is kind of bleak but this last advice really resonated with me. Sometimes I think where I’m currently at is a failure compared to where I wanted to be or think I should be, but remembering that if something didn’t work one way, it might mean you’re meant for a different path makes the perceived failures feel less like failures: “Try seeing your life as one of discovery rather than one that you build. That not achieving a goal doesn’t mean failure but that there may be another road that you need to explore and take.” I don’t know. Easier said than believed.
Realize though you may feel trapped at times, that you are actually never trapped and it is matter of realizing your choices, however limited right now they may seem.
This article was also really interesting. It talks about how your 30s are supposed to be the best years but also can be the hardest. One thing that did resonate with me is that while your career may be building, it’s also the time where you’re likely to feel the most burnout. As a working mom and a boss in a crazy industry, I feel that for sure. Like the previous article though, they blame this existential crisis on feeling trapped in a job, relationship, city, etc. “Generally, this period of existential anxiety and questioning is triggered by feelings of being stuck in a job or relationship that isn’t working.” So maybe the key to this all is remember you’re not trapped, that you have the power to reimagine your life at any time. Sure, it won’t be easy. You don’t just wake up and say I want this other life and it happens and you may not want to start over at the beginning or financially feel it’s possible. But I always think, if them, why not me? You can build a life and career out of doing things you love. It is possible and many have done it. It takes hard work, grit, determination and sticking with something even when you want to quit and it gets hard, which is why most people quit before they get there.
Generally, this period of existential anxiety and questioning is triggered by feelings of being stuck in a job or relationship that isn’t working.
Listen, I don’t know anything, clearly. I’m having a midlife crisis about two decades too early. But I do think that your 30s aren’t as easy and settled as everyone says and that feeling unsure and in some ways trapped seems to be a common feeling. Maybe the key is just remember you’re never trapped and accepting that maybe the life you once thought you wanted isn’t actually what you want now that you have it or are on your way there, and that’s OK. It just means it’s time to think of what you really do actually want. For me, that might mean sitting with the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty until I can figure that out. So I continue to feel lost and anxious about feeling lost and frustrated that at this point in my life, I don’t have a clue who I want to be when I grow up or even where I want to live. Sigh. Someone tell me it gets easier. Anyone else feeling the mid-30s life crisis?